Amidst the gentle euphoria of the first home game the Montreal Impact played as an Major League Soccer club, there has also been sharp negativity. While there's the classless people who cropped pictures of the opening ceremony to make it appear that the Impact supported separatism, that's not what I want to write about.
What I'm talking about is the opinion supported by Max Harris (@maxtheguru), among others, in his recent guest spot on Cowehide and Rubber (found here). Namely that the Impact shouldn't be supported by people who wish for the Expos, or more accurately an MLB team, to return to Montreal.
I took issue with this sentiment on twitter and I'll explain why, but first I want to admit that unlike Max, I'm a life long soccer fan. I grew up playing the beautiful game, even though I wasn't that good, and one of my greatest childhood memories is winning the city championship in my hometown of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan with a ragtag group that lost more than half their games in the regular season. Soccer is near and dear to my heart, so now you know where I'm coming from.
I understand if someone doesn't like soccer and therefore won't put time into the sport. That's fine. I understand if someone is a purist and doesn't like the quality of MLS soccer so views it as a waste of time, but pleading for people to not support the team in the name of a defunct team that played a different sport is illogical.
Max makes the argument that due to a correlation of rising interest and soccer and waning interest in baseball, that supporting the impact will only continue that trend and hurt the chances of Major League Baseball returning to Montreal. I don't believe this to be true at all.
For starters, the survey information used doesn't exactly support this idea. The end date for the data collection is 2005, one year after the Expos left Montreal. In other words, interest in baseball among youth was declining rapidly long before the city of Montreal lost its team. But let's look at it another way. By 2005 enrollment in youth soccer was 9 percentage points higher than hockey. Do you ever hear people talking about hockey losing the battle of popularity to soccer? No. It's far more likely that during the 13 years this survey covers, that many Canadians discovered what the rest of the world already knew, soccer is cheap to play.
Max and others may be right that too many baseball diamonds have been destroyed and refitted into soccer pitches in Montreal, but without a reason for baseball's declining popularity, assuming this is the fault of soccer is fallacious. As Max himself noted, soccer pitches are being built in place of baseball diamonds because they're cheap to build and maintain.
The more important point to be gleaned by this information from Stats Canada is that youth involvement in sports has dropped 6% in just 13 years. That is a true problem.
But moving on, let's stop making negative arguments and make some positive ones. Why should Montrealers support MLS and the Montreal Impact?
For starters, soccer is an important sport the whole world over. It brings with it a unique culture that benefits any city, and bridges culture gaps between nations. Canada is way behind the 8 ball in terms of soccer talent and development, and we should encourage kids to take up this sport to partake in the world's most popular game.
Soccer is an incredibly physically challenging sport. You're constantly expected to run, and even after 90 minutes of running back and forth you're expected to have that necessary burst of energy to take advantage when your tactics break down a team's defending. With growing obesity concerns there isn't a better solution out there than soccer. It's cheap to play and easy to understand at a basic level.
Soccer is a thinking man's (or woman's) game. While half of the game is intense physical exertion, the other is using tactics to break through the opponent's defense. In soccer you rely on your teammates more than perhaps any other sport. Soccer is a great sport for kids to learn about camaraderie and working together.
MLS is a young league, established in just 1993. While the quality of soccer is nowhere near the English Premiership or other great leagues around the world, supporting the growth of the sport will increase the level of talent that plays in the league.
And above all else for baseball fans, supporting a major league sports team that isn't the Montreal Canadiens will show that this city is truly a great sports city. In case you haven't noticed, we have a very poor reputation. One that won't be helped by bitter fans sinking a soccer team because it isn't the sport they wanted most. If the Impact make money and become a successful franchise, that shines a light on Montreal for other sports leagues. One sport being popular doesn't preclude another from being popular.
If you want to make baseball more popular in Montreal, work for that. Don't talk down another sport due to lingering bitterness.