[b]The movers and shakers of local soccer are finally getting their collective chance to meet with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Tuesday night, and one of the main things they'll hear is this: The Cats want to have a professional soccer team playing at Tim Hortons Field by 2016 and there's some chance it will be in a Canadian or Canadian-based league.
Between 80 and 100 coaches, administrators, local league officials and Ontario Soccer Association officials will be introduced to the soccer configuration of the Pan Am Stadium at a reception, and hear how the Canadian Football League's Ticats want to be an integral part of an intensified development of local players to the highest levels: professional and national team play.
They'll also learn, if they didn't know already, that the two biggest Hamilton names in soccer development have been hired by the team. John Gibson, president of the Hamilton and District Soccer Association, and John McGrane, who played and coached pro soccer and played in the Olympics, are soccer advisers and consultants to the Ticats.
"No one can speak to pro soccer in Hamilton more in Hamilton than John McGrane," says Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell, "and I would say the same in amateur soccer about John Gibson. They're there to help us wade through this opportunity."
Mitchell says confidentiality restrictions during the long three years it took to finalize the stadium lease prevented the Ticats from discussing the stadium with local soccer organizers.
"This (reception) is really about Hamilton pro soccer and aligning it with the other soccer stakeholders in the city," Mitchell says. "There is zero chance for any pro soccer team without the support of the local organizations."
Their public silence doesn't mean the Cats have been idle on the soccer front.
They've had lay-of-the-land meetings with Mark Abbott, president of Major League Soccer, the only Division-1 league in North America; have met with Bill Peterson, commissioner of the North American Soccer League, the current Division-2 league in the U.S. (which also has teams in Edmonton and Ottawa); have spent time with the Canadian Soccer Association; and are in step with the CSA's aim of providing a place for more Canadian players to play at a higher level.
Canada is one of the world's few soccer nations — along with Wales, San Marino, Luxembourg, Andorra, Monaco and their tiny ilk — that doesn't have its own national league and also has teams playing in another country's top league: Major League Soccer teams in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
The MLS is off-limits to Hamilton because, in a distinct echo of hockey, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment owns the territorial rights.
Division 2 is Hamilton's natural level but the North American Soccer League may not be the end game here because there is no quota for Canadian players and Mitchell, Gibson, McGrane and, above all, Cats owner Bob Young agree with the CSA that the country's dismal men's soccer results won't improve unless its pro teams are compelled to play a minimum number of Canadian players.
"The vision we all have for Canada at some point is our own league," McGrane says. "The CSA is the second oldest soccer association in the world and we don't have our own league."
The Cats aren't talking aloud about negotiations to either join or form a pro league, but are known to have contacted soccer interests in other CFL cities without MLS teams about the all-Canadian concept.
For the moment, they're celebrating the soccer-friendly Pan Am Stadium — "as good as any soccer-specific stadium built in North America in the past 10 years," Mitchell says — and exploring how they can work with local organizations.
"All of us want to have as many (local) players on the field as we possibly can," Gibson says.[/b]