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Mississauga MetroStars take first step, saying time is right for indoor soccer

TORONTO — The Mississauga MetroStars hope to do what the Toronto Shooting Stars and Toronto ThunderHawks couldn't do — establish a foothold for pro indoor soccer in the Toronto area.

TORONTO — The Mississauga MetroStars hope to do what the Toronto Shooting Stars and Toronto ThunderHawks couldn't do — establish a foothold for pro indoor soccer in the Toronto area.

The MetroStars, who open training camp Tuesday and kick off life in the Major Arena Soccer League on Dec. 1, have lured former MLS star Dwayne De Rosario out of retirement to help make their case. 

Veteran defender Adrian Cann, another Toronto FC alumnus, is also on board.

"Totally excited," said the 38-year-old Cann, whose international soccer resume includes indoor and beach soccer play as well as Canada's senior side.

"It's hard for me to step away from a game that's been me pretty much my whole life," he added. "I admire everything that soccer has to offer, not only on the field but off the field.

"It's exciting, it's entertaining ... I still want to compete at the highest level possible."  

Other TFC products on the MetroStars roster include Mo Babouli and Anthony Osorio, younger brother of TFC midfield star Jonathan Osorio. 

"I think we're going to be quite an impressive side," said MetroStars president Serge Giancola, founder of Gladiator Sports Media Entertainment Corp., which owns the franchise. "We've got some terrific skill, speed, height."

Gladiator Sports tested the Mississauga market with a series of international games against Brazil, Mexico and the U.S., using many of the players now on the MetroStars roster. The company says it averaged 4,000 fans a game.

MetroStars coach Phil Ionadi doubles as the Canadian team GM. The 40-year-old De Rosario led the way on the pitch for Canada in the test games, scoring four goals including the overtime winner in a 10-9 victory over Brazil.

Unlike outdoor soccer, whose chain of command here involves the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA, the indoor game is governed by the Canadian Arena Soccer Association (CASA), which reports to the World Minifootball Federation (WMF).

De Rosario sits on the CASA pro development board.

FIFA and Canada Soccer sanction their own code of indoor soccer known as futsal, which has its own national and international competitions.

Futsal involves teams of five players competing in two 20-minute periods. Indoor soccer has teams of six players and four 15-minute quarters.

Indoor soccer has long been an alphabet soup of leagues with the NPSL and MISL — which had several incarnations — the most prominent circuits in the past.

The MASL will operate with 17 teams this season, with Mexico represented by the Monterrey Flash. Mississauga will play out of the Eastern Division alongside the defending champion Baltimore Blast, Utica City FC and the Harrisburg Heat.

Jerry Spanos, president of Gladiator Sports, points to the new ownership in the league like Game Theory Ventures. Led by twenty-something sports economist Colin Weaver, Game Theory bought the Kansas City Comets earlier this year

There is no salary cap in the league. Spanos says the MetroStars team payroll, including bonuses, will be about $500,000.

The MetroStars owners have a six-year window to develop other markets north of the border for the league, saying there is already interest from Hamilton, Ottawa and Edmonton. 

The MetroStars will play a 24-game regular season with the home half at Mississauga's Paramount Fine Foods Centre. Mississauga kicks off its season Dec. 1 at Baltimore with the home opener Dec. 8 against the Florida Tropics.

While the team has yet to announce single-game ticket prices, it is offering "founder's rate" season tickets from $225 to $325.

The owners believe their connections with youth soccer will pay off in the stands, with a 5,135-capacity venue making for exciting and affordable entertainment. 

"Lots of action and lots of goals," said Giancola.

The ill-fated Shooting Stars lasted just one season, 1996-97, in the National Professional Soccer League, playing their home games at Maple Leaf Gardens. The team's ownership collapsed three games into the season, forcing the NPSL to take over the franchise.

In one hellish trip in December 1996, they beat the visiting Edmonton Drillers 8-7 in overtime on a Sunday, then drove six hours in vans Monday to Columbus, Ohio, where they lost 19-13 on Tuesday. The team ate after the game and then drove to Buffalo, arriving at about 6 a.m. for a 9 a.m. flight to Chicago.

They then flew to Calgary, and drove through a blizzard to Edmonton, where they stayed the night before losing 11-8 to the Drillers in overtime Thursday. After the game, they jumped back into vans and drove to Calgary for a flight to Chicago, then Buffalo and then vans to drive back to Toronto.

The Stars stumbled to a 6-34 season and then promptly folded.

The ThunderHawks, based in Mississauga, played in the NPSL in 2000-01. Co-owner Neil Jamieson said the team lost "deep seven figures" in its inaugural season.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press