This past weekend Tim Horton's Field officially hosted its first ever soccer event. While the kickoff for League 1 Ontario's women's division did not draw a large number of fans it did provide a glimpse of what the stadium has to offer soccer fans in the area.
While the L1O games on Saturday were a test run for the venue the real debut will come this weekend when it plays host to the Canadian Women's National team as they take on England in their final tuneup for the Women's World Cup which is just around the corner now.
That friendly is very close to being sold out with only a few dozen tickets remaining to be sold as of Tuesday afternoon. It will show fans just what Tim Horton's Field can do as a host venue for soccer with 24,000 fans in attendance.
The Ticats ownership group is hopeful that this game will result in an increase in excitement for soccer in the city of Hamilton. That increased excitement will hopefully carry over to the Pan Am games in July which are selling well but not trending towards a complete sellout.
According to a report in the Toronto Star the organizers expect the knockout round matches to be sellouts but not all of the group stage games. That is not surprising considering the size of the venue and the number of games that it will host in a short period of time.
Getting soccer in the forefront of Hamiltonians minds is great news for the Ticats group as they work to secure a professional team for the city. It seems to be something that they are set to capitalize on as Waking the Red has learned that the ideal time for an expansion announcement in Hamilton would be at some point in the next month.
Timing it between the CanWNT friendly and the Pan Am games would allow the ownership group to use both events to create buzz about the new professional team and take advantage of soccer coverage in the city being at what will likely be an all-time high. Add in Canada hosting the Women's World Cup and the Ticats are just hoping to make the most of soccer being on Canadians mind this summer.
The expansion plans for Hamilton do not seem to be completed yet as they are still in talks with NASL but the two sides appear to be making progress with sources close to the league indicating that getting things done in Hamilton is a top priority for the league.
Hamilton should be next in line for NASL expansion with the league having announced Miami FC as their 12 team for 2016. The announcement that NASL would potentially be going toe-to-toe with MLS in the city of Miami was greeted with some mixed reactions by observers of the league who questioned the viability of that market and the need for further expansion in the state of Florida.
Miami would be the 12th team in the league with Virginia and Oklahoma City both unlikely to ever actually take to the field after being announced as expansion teams. With 12 teams in the league NASL is now able to add another expansion team in Canada while still abiding by the rules set forth by USSF for their division 2 sanctioning. Only 25% of teams in the league can be based outside of the United States which means that the league now has enough American teams in place to allow for them to add a third Canadian club.
To be fair, NASL could have made Hamilton their 12th franchise without breaking that 25% rule but the option to expand in Miami came out of nowhere and it seems like it was too good for the league to turn down. In fact, some close to the situation have said that there was only a period of 3 months between the league learning of the Miami group's interest and the expansion announcement. NASL has already been working with the Hamilton group for more than 3 months and should now be next in line barring any other groups with someone like Paolo Maldini connected to them.
For now, Hamilton and the league are working to iron out the final details on expansion to the city but if things continue to go smoothly the formal announcement could not be far off. With the ideal timing for Hamilton being in the next month or so things will have to move quickly to allow the new team to capitalize on the growing soccer interest in the city.
Expansion in Hamilton would be good news for Canadian soccer which is also heading in to a very important summer. Hosting the Women's World Cup and the Pan Am games is just two parts of what will be a very big summer for the CSA and its teams.
With the looming deadline for World Cup bids for 2026 having another professional team already in the mix should only help to strengthen the CSA's bid. It could also help to further the goal of launching a domestic league which the group in Hamilton is very interested in one day being part of.