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Butler: Montreal to host the soccer world once more

Noel Butler
11/29/2013 9:08:17 PM
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La belle ville was abruptly woken up early Wednesday morning as it suffered through its first snowstorm of winterlude.

By mid-morning, those grey skies were getting replaced with blue ones. Rays of soccer sunshine began appearing over at City Hall as the great and good of FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014 began descending on the building.

The last such time I had managed to wangle myself into one of Montreal's most iconic of structures was shortly after your Montreal Impact were crowned 2009 USL playoff champions. I felt like a kid again that late fall early evening, as I waited on City Hall steps for the Impact's team bus to show up; packing the trophy, inside to receive a civic honour and back on the bus for their White House moment.

The entire Impact squad, coaching staff and exec feted on that fabled Montreal Canadiens' ice surface. As one, a sold out Bell Centre crowd rose to their feet to applaud their soccer champions. 

Tears were shed, and you knew at that exact moment, soccer had landed most firmly on Montreal terra firma.

The roots of that arrival though are traced back to the spring of 2007 when, not only a key host city for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup Canada 2007, the organizing committee bestowed on Montreal the honour and privilege of opening the tournament.

It was June 30 when Brazil played Poland with over 55,000 rocking Stade Olympique, including some Carlito football geezer best known as Carlo Ancelotti (I think he manages Real Madrid these days).

Start as you mean to go on then, as FIFA Under-20 World Cup Canada 2007 blew up the FIFA record book on previous U-20 or Youth World Cups as they were previously tagged.

Through the three weeks, close to 1.2 million supporters flocked to the venues across this fertile football land, all occurring under the watchful eye of Peter Montopoli, Canada 2007's National Event Director.

Wednesday morning at City Hall, Montopoli rose to the podium as Chief Executive Officer of FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014. On Friday, he briefly took time out to reminisce about 2007.

"The success of the 2007 competition was really a result of the people who came out and supported the players and organization. In Montreal, clubs made a huge impact on the attendance numbers and created a really dynamic environment, and the volunteer community was phenomenal." 

Since taking over as the highest ranking administrator in Canadian soccer, as CSA General Secretary in early 2008 reporting directly to FIFA and overseeing an organization that ticks as Canada's soccer nerve centre, Montopoli has stared down immense challenges both structurally and performance related over the intervening years.

Even a possible mutiny from a band of merry ladies who shrugged over Deutschland 2011 disappointments by going on to achieve unprecedented soccer fame and glory a mere 12 months later in London.

As optimistic as he may well be for Canada 2014 before that, Montopoli is realistic. The biggest mistake any organizing body for a national tournament can make is to expect much the same the second time around.

"We hope to replicate that in 2014, but we need the support of the community, and Wednesday's press conference was an important first step towards developing those strong relationships with the business, government and soccer community in Montreal," Montopoli disclosed.

"We are proud and very happy to be hosting the largest number of matches for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014 in Montreal. The City of Montreal will really be our headquarters for the competition, for both the National Organizing Committee and for FIFA, starting with the Official Draw on March 1."

Spoken like a seasoned diplomat, at City Hall on Wednesday morning, Montopoli stood four square with Montreal's highest ranked municipal officer Denis Corderre.

Elected mayor just earlier this month, Corderre didn't waste much time displaying his sporting credentials when taking to his personal Twitter account to take a pop at an underperforming extremely well-paid member of les Habs.

In an instant, Corderre went from little-known well-regarded local politician to Twitter celebrity.

That fame only fleeting, on Wednesday when he took to the podium at City Hall, Corderre deftly handled his introductory soccer speech in the same manner Messi waltzes around opponents.

Corderre may have been speaking to a hushed room but he was wise enough to know he was also speaking to a growing demographic of the Montreal electorate.

Montopoli was suitably impressed with his administrative team mate.

"We are thrilled to have the support of Montreal's Mayor, Denis Coderre," he said. "His participation in this week's announcement at Montreal City Hall of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014 venue pack on sale and official draw information demonstrated his commitment to supporting us as we move towards the competitions in 2014 and 2015."

The final part of the Canada 2014 podium in Montreal is Francis Millien. Instrumental in Montreal's extraordinary 2007 legacy, Millien is a veteran of the beautiful game with over 35 years service, mainly as an administrator.

Not many even in the Canadian media though can claim to have sat down with Zinedine Zidane but Millien has. There at Stade Olympique in full force for FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, Millien is well aware of la belle ville's football pedigree.

"Montreal is a soccer city. You can feel the excitement in the soccer community when big matches are taking place. I have always been confident that Montreal would be an excellent host city for international competition. We proved it in 2007, and we'll prove it again in 2014 and 2015," Millien told TSN.ca.

As Montreal will be Canada 2014's beating heartbeat, so was the city of Edmonton when the nation last hosted this tournament back in the summer of 2002.

No prizes for guessing which London 2012 medal-laden international soccer superstar waltzed off as tournament MVP and top scorer. Crushing all English hearts as she smashed five into the English net in the quarter-finals, Christine Sinclair is no recent football phenomenon.

A decade before that crushing London 2012 semi-final defeat, 19-year old Sinclair and many of the London 2012 heroes suffered the agony of defeat in that 2002 final played at Commonwealth Stadium in front of a very loud and very knowledgeable crowd. Compounding the misery? It came at the hands of the US in extra time with a second half so termed golden goal resulting in Canadian silver.

Montopoli recollected the heartache but like all bad, goodness ultimately prevails.

"The last time Canada hosted this competition back in 2002, we won a silver medal and helped set a still-standing record of 47,784 fans in the final. I have no doubt that Canadians will once again rally behind our U-20 team like they did in 2002."

"Canadians will remember how Christine Sinclair, one of this year's FIFA Women's World Player of the Year nominees, wowed fans in 2002 and received both the adidas Golden Boot and adidas Golden Ball for her efforts.

"Today, many of the 2002 Canadian players who captured the hearts of a nation are representing Canada on the senior women's national team," concluded the chief executive officer of FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014

Set August 2014 aside. Mark it in your calendars now. The world will be watching and Montreal will not disappoint. 
 
You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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