TORONTO – There aren’t any victories sweeter, admits Toronto FC radio broadcaster and former Canadian international defender Bob Iarusci.
It has been nearly 33 years since the Toronto-born right back helped the Toronto Metros-Croatia upset the Minnesota Kicks in the 1976 Soccer Bowl at the Kingdome in Seattle.
On Saturday, Iarusci and his former Metros-Croatia teammates will be recognized as Canada’s Soccer Hall of Fame’s 2010 Team of Distinction.
Despite all of his accomplishments during an outstanding soccer career, that championship winning moment still remains one of his greatest.
“It was without a doubt the greatest win of my career and the Metros-Croatia were the best team I ever played on—even better than the star-studded New York Cosmos,” Iarusci said. “We were a complete team and didn’t have a weakness and just steamrolled over Minnesota in the Soccer Bowl that year.”
Once a rugged take-no-prisoners defender, Iarusci was one of the first 11 players inducted during the Hall of Fame’s inaugural 2000 ceremony.
He is now a senior executive with Labatt’s Canada and also acts as a color commentator for Toronto sports radio station TheFan590 for Toronto FC broadcasts and their Thursday night Soccer Show.
Some of Iarusci’s teammates in that magical 1976 season included Portuguese legend Eusébio, Brazilian Ivair Ferreira and Croatian striker Ivan "Big Luke" Lukacevic.
Eusébio and Iarusci were reunited earlier this week when the World Cup legend made a promotional appearance in Toronto ahead of the World Cup.
“The first time I saw Eusébio at Lamport Stadium, I couldn’t breathe because I just couldn’t believe he was there in practice with us,” Iarusci said. “When we started to play together, words can’t describe what an incredible player he was. Smooth at silk and even at 35 and after several knee operations he just seemed to belong on the soccer field.”
During his recent visit, Eusébio was able to recall several moments during that championship season and Iarusci said he still rated his days in Toronto as among his greatest.
After playing two seasons with Toronto, a midseason trade in 1977 sent Iarusci to the New York Cosmos, where he would team up with soccer icons like Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer.
“I didn’t want to go to New York at the time – I had just signed a new contract with Toronto which went from $3,000 to $6,000,” said Iarusci. “In June I got the call saying I had been traded. My first reaction was disappointment and my mother was in tears. I was on a championship team where I had been named rookie of the year, so my first reaction was extreme disappointment. I later realized what a great move it was for my career.”
Iarusci represented Canada’s national team 26 times and also played with the NASL’s Washington Diplomats and San Diego Sockers.
Iarusci had hoped that his former teammate Eusébio would attend Saturday’s induction ceremony, but a prior engagement in Portugal made his attendance impossible at this year’s event.
Other inductees at this year’s ceremony include Silvana Burtini, who scored 38 goals for Canada’s women’s national team; Gordie Ion, a member of Canada’s first men’s team in 1957; and the late Dr. Walter Thompson, who was part of a Canadian team that toured England in 1888.
Toronto FC will honor all of this year’s Soccer Hall of Fame inductees before the kickoff of their home game against the Kansas City Wizards on Saturday afternoon.
The induction ceremony takes place later that evening at the Liberty Grand, just west of the stadium on the grounds of Exhibition place.