Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We got a team! Now what!!

In an editorial published today at the online version of 90:00 Soccer Magazine the unspoken fear about MLS expansion in Canada is brought up—just where are the players going to come from.

For those unaware, MLS is a quota league. A certain amount of each team’s players must be domestic. Although the definition of a domestic player is a bit liquid—a player must only be legally eligible to work in the country that he is playing in. He need not be a citizen—the rule presents a challenge for Toronto FC. Domestic in Toronto means Canada. It’s American everywhere else. And, the Canadian talent pool is roughly ten times smaller than it is in the U.S.

Writing for 90:00, Managing Editor Greg Daurio suggests that what is challenging for TFC will be downright impossible if more Canadian teams come onto the scene.
“Toronto has struggled in its first two seasons to field a competitive roster, in part because the best Canadian players don’t play in MLS. Furthermore, the best Canadian players in MLS don’t play for TFC. MLS made a special exception for Toronto, giving them extra international slots, but that exception will have run out by 2011, compounding the problem. Toronto is already fighting for the scraps of Canadian players available, so the thought of them competing for those same scraps with another Canadian team isn’t a pretty picture.”

There is some truth to what he suggests. The best Canadians have stayed away from TFC so far. There is a multitude of reasons for that—money mostly, but also a distaste of FieldTurf and a lack of desire to leave Europe where they have established roots over the years. There is also the curious relationship between Mo Johnston and his agent Barry MacLean. Almost all of Johnston’s Canadian signings have been represented by MacLean.

Basically, Toronto’s Canada problem has as much to do with its manager’s inability to attract those players as it does with the lack of players available. At times it appeared that Johnston spent more energy last year trying to get the rules changed than he did actually trying to bring in Canucks. Meanwhile, Reds fans sat back and watched two Canadian USL teams—with a great deal of Canadians playing in key positions—embarrass the team in the Canadian championships.

Another factor at play is that other MLS teams understand that Canadians are more valuable to TFC than they are to American based MLS teams where they have to dress as internationals. So, when Toronto looks into acquiring those players the other teams can hold out for a great deal more than what those players would be worth in a truly open market. Canadian players based in Europe can approach Toronto in the same way.

Which is likely why the long-term answer to the issue is to make it a truly open market. If MLS is going to open itself up to Canadian teams than it should also open itself up to Canadian players. There was some scuttlebutt last year that the league wanted to do just that, but there was resistance in the United States Soccer Federation. So, to appease the isolationists in the USSF, MLS backed off and instead increased the amount of international slots available to every team. Toronto was also given a couple extra international slots for a couple extra years. It would seem that if the league is going to allow more Canadian teams in that it would also have a plan in mind to deal with the quota issue. The only logical way to do that with more teams is to make Canadians and Americans domestic players league wide.


Andrew Bucholtz said...

Great post, Duane. To make things equal for all teams, treating both Canadians and Americans as domestics is really the only way forward. The current situation isn't tenable with more than one Canadian franchise: it's bad enough with one. Daurio also brought up an interesting point on the national presence, though: a Toronto-Vancouver combination is likely more attractive to national television than Toronto-Montreal. Ultimately, it would be best to have all three (and maybe Ottawa down the road), and that's very possible if MLS is willing to loosen the +2 team rule or move Philadelphia.

Duane Rollins said...

I'm not sure the TV issue is all that big (although I understand MLS interest in Western Canada will stay down without Vancouver in). Soccer is a big urban sport in Canada. Bring Montreal in and basically 2/3 of your market is covered. I suspect that would be enough to satisfy the TV and business people into thinking that the league had a national footprint in Canada.

Anonymous said...

The logical thing to do would be to honor the original mandate of the MLS - develop AMERICAN soccer talent in an AMERICAN league.

If there's that much interest up there, form your own league. Trust me, no American MLS fan would complain.

Duane Rollins said...

How did a BigSoccer reader find his or her way over here! Archer link me?

Duane Rollins said...

But, to speak to my anonymous poster's point.

TFC was the second most profitable team in MLS last year. Actually, it was one of only three that made money and one of those three--Dallas-barely did. So, those red fans y'all hate on so much are making "your" league (single entity ownership, remember) more stable. And, although Beckham--he's a Brit, right?--had something to do with it, the success of TFC has helped to drive the expansion price up 4x in just two years...

So, remind me, how is this whole Canadian thing hurting MLS again?

The debate is over. Canada *is* part of MLS' territory now. It's time the isolationists dealt with that. The future of the club game is to become *more* international in its outlook, not less. There is no way in hell that MLS is about to turn back the clock now.

Oh, and thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Every country in the world has its own domestic league. The MLS is ours. We give an inch (2.54 cm, I believe), and all of a sudden there's 3 more Canadian cities wanting in.'re not far off a league yourselves, American MSL fans don't want you - the answer seems obvious enough: TFC can welcome their countrymen in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and wherever else you want in a CANADIAN league.

Trust me, the U.S. has seen more than its share of TFC's "fanbase" (read: loser 20 somethings who seek an identity in faux Britishness. I guess you guys are the Canadians who didn't learn to skate. Seriously, if that childhood trauma leads you ape the British working class, you need a shrink more than soccer league).

Red White and Blue Soccer Fan

PS Too bad about your World Cup bid. At least there's still curling.

Duane Rollins said...

American MLS Fans don't want us?

All of them? Really. Wow, you must have a lot of contacts.

You might want to take your issue up with Don Garber. I'm just some barely employed journalist. I don't think he will give you answers that you like, but knock yourself out.

And curling is a *great* sport.

Mike said...

anonymous did your Father not hug you enough as a child or something? So let me get this straight: you're complaining about I guess an abrasive nature found within Canadian soccer fans but in the form of an ignorant, stereotypically flawed reply? What are you gaining, how are you winning your argument in ANY way??

You know you're really not worth responding to, since Duane provided logical reasoning that you came back at with faulted stereotypes and insults - nothing to retort the points he has made. But just to let you know if I were an American - and not even an American soccer fan, I mean an American in general - I'd be distancing myself from you as much as I possibly could right now...

Anonymous said...

It's a no-brainer: Be big boys and form your own league. I think you have own Monopoly currency, and rumor has it you have a football league. Go for it, Canada! Try not riding our coat tails for a minute! You can do it!

No, I don't speak for all American soccer fans. But if you think I'm voicing some fringe opinion, you're mistaken. I don't doubt that there are Amercian MSL fans who are delighted having Canada in the league, I've just never heard anyone say as much.

If you want to be American, fine. Become the 51st state (officially, I mean). After a brief security check, I'm sure most of you will make fine Americans in a generation or three. If you want your own anthem, flag, government, that's cool. But go the whole nine yards and start your own soccer league.

I'm just saying.

Red White and Blue Soccer Fan

sager said...

That would be rumour, eh.

Mike said...

You still haven't touched upon any points presented in Duane's response - such as the money that TFC has brought into the league.

I for one do wish to see another Canadian soccer league restored once more but the MLS let Canadian teams on board, so it's not really our fault in any way. Like Duane said we're part of the territory now, and the MLS did not have to accept this no one was holding a gun to their heads. But now we're working within that framework, and is it wrong for teams to strive for the best when they're within a league? Or maybe you can only strive to be the best if you're American?

If this is such an issue why not try and get the MLS to banish all Canadian teams in all of their leagues, get them to mandate it officially, and we can all go from there.

And I sincerely hope that all the people thinking and supporting the same beliefs as you do don't speak in the same ignorant and stereotypical terms about countries outside of their borders the same way you do anonymous...

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Wow, so we have to become the 51st state just to play in MLS? I guess that makes MLB and the NBA un-American leagues, to say nothing of the NFL if they eventually get the Toronto Bills.

sager said...

Wait, you have to be part of a U.S. state to be in MLS?

Then why is D.C. United in the league?


Anonymous said...

For a bunch of socialists, you Canadians sure seem obsessed with the money angle. I don't doubt Duane's figures are correct, but my point isn't about a bottom line - it's about having a domestic American soccer league producing players for our national program. If the U.S. is going to contend internationally, an all-American MLS is critical. That was it's raison d'etre at the beginning, and we should stray from that at our own peril. Start your own league, sow the seeds of something successful, and maybe Canada playing World Cup qualifiers won't be a mere formality in a few years. In the meantime, the grassroots of American soccer wants its own "premiership," thank you very much. Sure, the brass might like a little CDN money, but the average American soccer fan could care less.

BTW, my face-to-face contact with Canadians had always been a pretty positive experience (until TFC). Jays fans in Detroit or hockey fans in general in Columbus have always been a decent bunch to have a couple of beers and shoot the breeze with. My brother had the best line last year: "Every Canadian who can't hold his liquor must be forced to become a soccer fan." I don't know much about Canada, but can't you guys come up with something better than being hooligan wannabe's? Or is pelting women and children with trash and bragging about it online the next day considered Canadian culture?

Anyhow, here's wishing TFC and its "firms" (LMFAO!) a great 2009 the Canadian Soccer League (you guys can use that if you want can even have two teams with the same name if you want, or is that a law or something?)

RW&B Soccer Fan

Anonymous said...

Boo hoo. Don't worry, President Obama -- speaking of socialist! -- will come up with a goverment program to help you get a sense of humour and perspective about yourself.

In the meantime, maybe America should bring democracy to Canada. It worked so well in Iraq.

Mike said...

From someone speaking on a whole singling out a few bad apples and using it to paint the picture of all Canadian soccer fans in general is quite amusing. I will definitely agree with your statement that you don't know much about Canada.

We HAD a CSL btw, not that it'd show up on your radar (even if it were still running successfully), but much like the USL it folded.

I understand your desire to keep the MLS purely American, but you present it such brash terms it makes it seem more about your manifest destiny than a desire to grow talent within your own country. Like I said the MLS let Canadians in and now they're working from there, and apparently from what you say every American soccer fan detests this fact and hates Canadians as a result of this action.

Well it's pretty obvious that now Canadians are developing their players thru this league since there ie option has been presented to them, so like I said before if the way that's going to change is if Canadians are no longer allowed. Would American teams and associations not do the same if they were presented this before them? There is no conspiracy here, if you don't like it take it up with "your" league that's the way I see it - plain and simple.

sager said...


Please ignore the last guy ...

I guess I want to look at your statement, If the U.S. is going to contend internationally, an all-American MLS is critical.

I am not so sure ... the U.S., and this site is written by Canadians who love the U.S., especially U.S. sports.

The NHL used to be all-Canadian and that didn't make us the best in hockey ... in the '70s and '80s we struggled to beat the Soviet Union ... since the breakup of the USSR and the NHL having more Americans, more Euros and more Russians, Canada has done much better in international hockey.

Look at your Team USA in basketball. It beat everyone in 1992 ... but the rest of the world caught up, and there were a few losses that were really tough to take, no doubt. But what happened in Beijing? The American team, because it had more exposure to players versed in a European and South American team, learned to adapt their style to that game, and they played some of the best basketball I've ever seen pros play. Everyone benefited.

You can't become an athletic hermit crab, to paraphrase Stewie Griffin.

sager said...

Obviously I mean anon., not Mike! He posted while I was commenting.

Mikey said...

Oh boy. I know the soccer posts don't get as much reader commentary as the others, but responding to RW&B (I doubt he's even American) winding you all up for laughts isn't going to help matters...

Duane Rollins said...

Actually, for what it's worth, his posts are similar to any I've seem on the BigSoccer Columbus Crew boards, where BS blogger and long-time Crew supporter Bill Archer continues to beat the ITS OUR LEAGUE GET YOUR OWN DAMMIT drum. He has a following. So, I don't think he was trolling (well, not pretending to be American anyway).

Cliched 51st state insults aside, I sort of get RW&B's argument. Sort of. If he's a Crew fan then he's been around since the early days of the league. I understand why he has a sense of pride in seeing MLS through those days and surviving. A LOT of people have argued that the league would ultimately fail. He hasn't. It's survived.

But, it hasn't thrived. Our two countries are very similar when it comes to this sport. There are pockets of passionate support in both Canada and the U.S. surrounded by miles and miles of indifference. For MLS to truly thrive one day it needs to be in every one of those pockets. And, since Canada *is* part of the territory, then what logic is there in ignoring two cities--Vancouver and Montreal-that *clearly* support the sport. The truth is the game isn't strong enough in ****either**** country to ignore viable markets. BOTH countries are stronger together than they are apart.