A record crowd filled the old Skydome in Toronto for a soccer game in March between two MLS teams, Toronto and the LA Galaxy. It wasn't even a league match, although it wasn't a friendly, either. Instead, it was a quarter-final in something called the CONCACAF Champions League, a regional competition designed to replicate what the UEFA Champions League has in Europe.
This competition has been going on for several years but Americans haven't really cared about it. Teams have almost deliberately fallen-down after being chosen, including the Galaxy, whom I once saw lose a two-legged tie to Puerto Rico's A-League outfit in front of maybe 2,000 people.
As a result, Mexico has dominated the competition, whose champion goes into a year-end tournament against the best of every other continent. And the Mexicans don't seem to treat this World Team Cup right either — they've never gotten into the final round of it. That's important, because the only time the thing reached the larger public was when an African outfit made the final, beating South America's best.
But two things changed last night. First, the fans showed up. Second, LA came to play. (So did Toronto FC, by the way.) The contest illustrated just how far U.S. professional soccer has come, because LA sports such stars as David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle — Donovan and Keane are both very capable of playing in the English Premier League, and actually did their pre-season training as EPL stars.
That crowd actually went a little too far, leading to the dramatic high point, when with 2 minutes left some idiot tossed a beer can at Beckham, who was preparing a corner kick. Beckham picked up the can, showed it dramatically to the officials and the security officers around him, then (like Babe Ruth calling his shot) bent one like himself, which Donovan eventually put into the net for the goal that will likely see LA through. It was the type of thing you might expect to see at a World Cup or a major European championship, especially Beckham's celebration afterward, where he roared in the faces of the fans who'd taunted him.
And it's March. The MLS season hasn't even started yet. This sort of thing never happened before.
Professional soccer can now fill football stadiums, not just specialty-built soccer parks like the one the Galaxy has in southern California. There's enough money to take the American football lines off a field like that of the Seattle Seahawks, and enough money to fill the rim of the stadium with screaming, chanting fans. (Seattle beat Santos Laguna of Mexico in the other match last night, 2-1.)
This is change I can believe in.