Duane Rollins whose work I respect a great deal has stated that Toronto FC’s failures hurt the growth of football in Canada. The other night Vancouver took a giant step towards becoming the second consecutive USL-1 side to represent Canada in the two year old CONCACAF champions League.
You’d be hard pressed to find an expert on soccer in Canada with Duane’s background. I’ve previously interviewed him about both Toronto FC and the Canadian National Team. But on this issue, I think he is wrong.
First off Vancouver’s presumptive triumph much as Montreal’s last year is a triumph of home grown Canadian players. The Impact and Whitecaps both have a long standing tradition of fielding largely Canadian teams and developing young Canadian players. Toronto FC on the other hand under Mo Johnston took until this season an approach that brought second and third division European players and fringe American talent to Toronto. For every Jim Brennen, the Reds had two Laurent Robert type signings.
Certainly the qualification of USL-1 sides over MLS teams to CONCACAF is worrying. Both the CSA and USSF recognize MLS as a first division, and USL-1 (or actually the A-League) as the second division. Yet USL-1 teams have beaten MLS sides with alarming regularity in the US Open Cup and the Canadian Championship. The usual laundry list of excuses come up about MLS sides fielding second choice teams and USL teams being more motivated not withstanding, the results don’t lie.
The gap between the leagues is not where it should be or where we should all want it to be. Toronto FC is a prime case as to why USL-1 doesn’t serve as a classic second division. TFC has clearly demonstrated rather than promoting home grown talent or Canadian soccer they are more interested in fielding a cosmopolitan European oriented side. This is not limited to TFC, as more and more MLS teams fill up with foreign players who best days were playing in second tier first divisions or second divisions abroad.
This leaves several workmanlike journeyman type domestic players to the USL level. Montreal and Vancouver both are more Canadian than TFC. Many USL-1 sides have greter depth and squad continuity than MLS teams.
But enough of the USL-1 vs MLS argument. It’s tired, it’s old and even though I enjoyed engaging in it a year ago have grown tired of it- personally I support both leagues.
Back to the TFC vs Canadian USL teams argument. Duane in his piece believes fewer Canadians are interested in the Impact or Whitecaps representing the country than TFC. I am not Canadian but I have to believe it would be the opposite. When you field more Canadian nationals and have a fan base built up over 35 years in the case of the Whitecaps, or have a massive supportive fanbase over many years like the Impact, shouldn’t it actually be more galvanizing for one of those teams to represent Canada.
On the American side of the border, the Impact’s run in the most recent CONCACAF Champions League was a bigger story than any deep run by TFC would have been. I have to believe Canadians viewed the cup run similarly.
I could be wrong, but I believe TFCs failure is actually good for Canadian soccer. Canada’s National Team last made the Hexagonal Round of World Cup Qualifying in 1997. In 2009, you have two professional clubs committed to growing the Canadian player and the Canadian game. You have one professional club that until signing DeRo and Adrian Serioux, resembled a third division English side. Canada’s growth is best served by the Whitecaps and Impact continuing to succeed.