Danny Dichio

Toronto's Soccer History: 1987 - Present

Canada had attempted a nation-wide professional soccer league before. The summer of 1983 saw the debut of the Canadian Professional Soccer League, an ill-fated project that lasted only 73 days. Toronto's representative, Toronto Nationals, folded on June 15th, found new ownership, and folded again after playing only one game. The league was, after a twisted playoff system, eventually won by Edmonton and swiftly forgotten.

A few years later and the Canadian soccer landscape had changed. The NASL had collapsed under it's own weight, with teams spending beyond their means and, much more importantly, Canada had been to a FIFA World Cup. While the performance of the Canadian team at the tournament wasn't necessarily a triumph  three games played, three games lost and zero goals scored  their arrival on the world's biggest stage was a clarion call to well-heeled soccer fans throughout the country.

The product of this interest was the Canadian Soccer League, an eight team league with two divisions. It opened play in 1987 with the erstwhile Toronto Blizzard representing the Queen City and back to playing out of Varsity Stadium. The Blizzard had a number of players left on the roster from the NASL days, with Randy Ragan being amongst those named to the All-Star roster at the end of the inaugural season. Toronto would finish third in their division in the first year, and make it to the playoff semi-final before being eliminated by Hamilton. The next two seasons would follow a similar pattern, as the league continued to grow, reaching 11 teams in 1990. That season saw Blizzard bring in a number of promising young Canadian players that would have Hall-of-Fame worthy careers, with Lyndon Hooper, Pat Onstad, and Paul Peschisolido among their number.

The CSL contracted rapidly after that, eventually winding up at the close of the 1992 season after six seasons. Vancouver 86ers, Montreal Impact, and Toronto Blizzard looked to the forthcoming World Cup in 1994 and gambled on the American Professional Soccer League attaining the official sanctioning from the USSF to become the top league on the continent. The Blizzard lasted one year in the APSL, as financial troubles forced  a move from Varsity Stadium to Lamport halfway through the season.

The decision by the USSF to create a new league from scratch – later to be called Major League Soccer – rather than promote the APSL was the final nail in the coffin and Toronto Blizzard folded at the end of the 1993 season. Toronto's involvement with APSL didn't end with the Blizzard, as North York Rockets moved to Centennial Park, re- named themselves the Toronto Rockets and played in the 1994 season. They, unfortunately, finished last in their division and left the league before the 1995 season opened.

Toronto was bereft of professional once more and watched on jealously as the new Division 1 soccer league popped up south of the border. Around the same time as play was in full flow in MLS, an announcement was made granting Toronto expansion rights for the new USISL A- League, an officially recognised Division II soccer league that formed after a merger of the numerous regional and semi-pro leagues that were around at the time. Toronto Lynx started play on April 12th, 1997, falling 3-1 to the Jacksonville Cyclones. Their first season saw some success, however, as they pieced together a 10 game winning streak and made it to the playoffs. They were knocked out in the first round by Montreal but had given some talented rookies their start.

Both Paul Stalteri and Dwayne De Rosario would perform well and leave after this first year, moving to Europe to further develop their careers. The roster of Toronto Lynx over the years has featured dozens of players who have gone to star for Canada or bigger clubs, with Adrian Serioux, Atiba Hutchinson, Marco Reda, and Ali Gerba being some of the more instantly recognizable.

The Lynx enjoyed their best year in 2000, making it to the Eastern Conference Final and falling to perennial A-League power, Rochester Raging Rhinos. The Lynx was a team that was renowned for finding and developing young players before losing them to larger clubs. At the end of the 2006 season they voluntarily relegated themselves two divisions to the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League and continued play at that level without ever really distinguishing themselves. The Toronto Lynx academy remains productive and the mens senior team merged with Oakville Blue Devils to field a team League 1 Ontario.

Of course, Canada is well known as being as supportive of it's Women's Soccer as it is of the boys, and the professional landscape is no different. The amateur game was dominated by teams from Edmonton and BC from the inception of the Jubilee Shield in 1982. Toronto Inferno were the first to dip their toe in the waters of professionalism, running a shortened schedule of exhibition games in 1998 before joining the USL W-League in 1999. Tina Blaskovic, Helen Stoumbos, and Tanya Franck were among those on the roster for that inaugural season. The Inferno continued play until 2004, folding at the conclusion of that season. Thankfully for fans of Women's soccer, Torotno Lady Lynx picked up the slack straight away, entering play in 2005. Lady Lynx played until 2014, folding their senior team and focusing on youth development. In recent years the Lady Lynx have seen Ashley Lawrence, Nichelle Prince, and Kadeisha Buchanan graduate from their program. All of which brings us up to date with our current team,

Announced in 2006 to start play in MLS in 2007, Division I soccer was finally brought back to Toronto after over a decade. The club's first signing was Canadian Jim Brennan, who was subsequently named captain of the new club in T.O. The years since have seen as many highs as they have lows. Last year, after League MVP Sebastian Giovinco followed Roberto Bettega's footsteps from Juventus to Torotno, TFC made it to the playoffs for the first time in their history. With the Academy playing in League 1 Ontario and TFC II providing seasoning for youngsters in USL, the future is looking bright for TFC to continue bringing experienced young players through their system to link up with the superstars attracted to the club, the city, and the fans.

 

Toronto Soccer History runs a lot deeper than you may realize: Part 1 & Part 2