Vancouver Whitecaps' Pedro Morales: Soccer can one day overtake hockey in Canada
RICHMOND, B.C. -- If you were to ask people what they think is the most popular sport in Canada, a majority would most likely answer hockey.
In many ways, they would be correct.
Hockey is Canada’s official national winter sport and draws top spectator crowds and television viewers. But the signs have been increasing for several years now that soccer is starting to take a firmer grip on the country’s sporting psyche.
The success of MLS teams in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal has helped with this growth, and for one newcomer to Canada, Whitecaps Designated Player Pedro Morales, soccer is on the verge of a big breakthrough in North America.
"I can feel the excitement of the fans that fill BC Place every game," Morales told reporters Monday through translator Omar Salgado at Vancouver International Airport. "That environment that there is in Spain and these other countries is coming into countries like Canada and the US.
"It feels like soccer can take over hockey and football one day, and it should happen in 10, 20 years."
Vancouver have sold out nine of their 10 MLS games this season. It shouldn’t be surprising as stats from the recently concluded World Cup show just how much Canadians love watching the beautiful game.
Of all the countries that didn’t make it to Brazil, Canada led the way with 29,000 ticket sales to matches, according to FIFA. Only 10 of the 24 countries that did qualify sold more.
"The sport is going to grow through the fans," Morales said before flying east to face the Chicago Fire on Wednesday (8:30 pm ET; TSN/RDS2 in Canada, MLS Live). "That’s how it’s going to get to the level where we want it to be."
In his five months in Vancouver, Morales has already seen first-hand the passion and enthusiasm for the sport in the city and the country.
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The challenge now is to take the game to the next level, and Morales knows the part that talented and entertaining footballers like himself have to play in helping to grow the game and grow the numbers in the stands and at home watching. It's a role that he relishes.
"I have no problem interacting with the kids, with people who want to come up and want to have a conversation," Morales said. "I like it. I like to speak to the fans.
"A lot of the little kids come up to say hello and want a signature, but it feels like there could be a better excitement [about the game here]. I feel I can bring that into Vancouver."