When Canada hosts Mexico tonight at BC Place they will do so in front of more than 50,000 supporters. By the time kickoff comes around, the stadium could be completely sold out. They are already likely to set the attendance for biggest men's national team crowd ever. By the time all is said and done they could set the record for biggest crowd at a Canadian national team game, ever, in any sport.
A crowd of this size seems like it has come out of nowhere. Last World Cup qualifying cycle, in 2012, the average attendance at BMO Field for their fourth round games was 17,140. The 20,108 who attended Canada's 1-0 win over Honduras in November was one of the biggest national team crowds in years.
But the near sellout of BC Place is not as isolated as it would seem. The stadium has played host to some massive sporting events over the past few years, and a number of them have been soccer games. All of this has worked together to make 50,000 plus for a men's national team soccer game possible.
"I think it's a cumulative effect here in Vancouver where one thing leads to another in terms of feeding that pregame hype and the appetite for an event like this," said John Knox, the director of external communications for the Vancouver Southsiders. "We were blessed with a win against Honduras and we're riding a bit on the coattails of a very successful women's [soccer] program that has spent a lot of time in Vancouver and generated a lot of support."
The Southsiders are a Vancouver Whitecaps supporters group, who have the biggest membership of any group in Canada. They, along with the Voyageurs who are the official supporters group of the Canadian men's national team, have been instrumental in growing support in British Columbia.
The group had been advocating for the men's national team to return to BC for years. The program had spent the vast majority of its games of late at BMO Field in Toronto. However, renovations to the stadium forced the national team to find a home elsewhere, and they chose Vancouver.
"I think there was a lot of resentment here when the men's national side essentially became the defacto event for Toronto, while we were having to watch from afar," said Knox to Waking the Red. "It was frustrating because we saw the crowds fall in Toronto, and I don't mean that as any disrespect to their fans at all."
Canadian captain Julian De Guzman grew up in Toronto, and remembers being impressed by crowds of 10,000 when he was a ballboy at Skydome and Varsity Stadium. He says this inspired him to want to play in front of these crowds while wearing Canada red. Knowing the numbers that will be in Vancouver tonight have him excited for the match.
"Hearing these astronomical numbers for attendance for a men's national team game brings goosebumps," said De Guzman in a media call last week. "It's one thing playing for your country and representing them at the top level but to have this type of support for a home game is amazing."
For De Guzman, it is results that drive attendance. As long as the men's national team continues to play well they can expect similar sized crowds to come out and support them.
"The [women's national team] have gotten this type of reception before, and it happens when you do well on the big stage," said De Guzman. "This is now our turn, and this is our opportunity to make it happen for the men's side and hopefully create some type of trend for a new look for the Canadian program."
A win, or even a draw, against Mexico tonight would undoubtedly continue that trend of positivity. It would put Canada one step closer to their first berth in the final round of World Cup qualifying this decade. But it's not just the potential result that is worth celebrating about tonight's game.
"I think that just the number of tickets sold really already speak to the success before we've even kicked the ball," Knox says about tonight's game. "Certainly a positive result, whether that's a draw, whether it's a win that's icing on top of the cake."