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.