By Marco Sasso
In Ryerson’s home opener, midfielder Muaz Saleh’s scored a remarkable second-half goal in a 1-0 win against the Queen’s Gaels, but that goal did more to extend the Ryerson’s men’s soccer team’s unbeaten streak at home to 14 games.
It was a goal that provided the Rams with a rare sight at Downsview Park—a goal celebrated in front of a full capacity stadium.
Weeks in advance, Ryerson’s soccer program invited the Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) to bring in local teams to help increase attendance numbers for both the men’s and women’s soccer teams.
Their presence was dynamic on opening weekend, with shouting soccer parents muffled by a sea of ‘Rams’ chants that were representative of the school spirit usually reserved for Ryerson basketball events at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).
Despite the success of Ryerson soccer’s home openers, the decade-long disconnect from the rest of the student body remains. From campus, it takes an hour-long subway ride to get to Downsview Park, which for students, is too much of a trek to support the Rams soccer programs consistently.
“The game would be a blast, but commuting there an hour and commuting back, I’m not really too inclined to do that,” said Thomas Lamarre, a third-year fashion design student.
“Since I commute a lot, it’d be kind of far to commute on the weekends as well as every day of the week. You get one day off, or two, to stay at home,” echoed Christina Favot, a third-year engineering student.
Established as their home in 2017, Downsview Park was a welcoming change for a soccer program that endured season-by-season insecurity. Former Ryerson athletics Director Ivan Joseph—who declined to comment when contacted by The Eyeopener—scrambled during the entirety of his decade long tenure to establish a home base for Rams soccer.
“In my early days at Ryerson, it wasn’t uncommon for us to train at up to three different fields downtown in a week,” said men’s soccer head coach Filip Prostran.
And although the rotating cast of temporary home venues—spread all across the far edges of Toronto’s downtown core—the team has ultimately settled on Downsview Park because of a sense of stability, customized change rooms and offices, and a casual recruiting partnership with Toronto FC III—who play at their BMO Training Ground just a field over.
“Everyone knows that this is Ryerson’s home field now,” said Prostran. “Before it was like, ‘Oh, where are they playing? They’re over there? They’re over there?’ Just knowing where our games are all the time and having that consistency has helped.”
Prostran says that for playoff matches and showdowns with downtown rivals like the University of Toronto, the team draws campus support of “two to three hundred” people. But for the majority of their matches, there’s much to be desired, with “closer to one hundred” in attendance.
“I’d be lying if I said it’s ideal right now, but we’re going to grow [attendance] just like we’ve been growing everything in the program.”
Natalie Bukovec, head coach of the women’s soccer team, says that the team this season aims to create an “off-campus community feel” by recruiting alumni fans through weekend events.
“There’s no reason why alumni wouldn’t want to come out and support, but I guarantee you they don’t even know where we are playing,” said Bukovec.
Last season at the MAC, the basketball programs assembled just under 500 fans per game. During their home openers, they drew just under 1,000.
Why is there a difference between the MAC and Downsview’s attendance numbers? From a practical standpoint, Lamarre, who made regular trips to the MAC to watch Roy Rana’s men’s team in action last year, says location made all the difference.
“There is the opportunity to walk over and leave at any time and come back. I could maybe stay for half of a game or a full game if I had time,” said Lamarre. “It’s also easier to get a group of people to go with you.”
According to Ryerson athletics, the team is in the second year of a three-year deal with Spectra Venue Management—that also manages operations at the MAC—to keep the Rams at Downsview Park and “is in no active search for an alternative.”
In the interim, the Rams will have to continue to settle with their isolated, but comfortable home—which Prostran says the players “love.”
But for the majority of Ryerson’s student base, 19 subway stops and a 20-minute walk will continue to restrain them from ever attending a match at Downsview Park to cheer on one of the most talented soccer programs in the country.