Hooray for the CSA and the USL Pro Domestic Quota

By Benjamin Massey

September 6th, 2014 · 7 comments

The CSA is requiring that Canadian MLS reserve teams in USL Pro are at least half Canadian, and they couldn’t be more right.

Earlier this week on The 24th Minute Duane Rollins reported that the Canadian Soccer Association has set high domestic player quotas for the three reserve teams that Canada’s Major League Soccer franchises are entering into USL Pro. Half of the active team roster, as well as six of eleven starters, will have to be players eligible for the Canadian national team[1].

With the ostensible reason for these USL Pro teams being the young Canadian talent our MLS franchises have failed to integrate into the first team, you’d expect the MLS sides to accept this without a complaint. And, so far, they pretty much have. (Score one for the bright side of life!) Vancouver is still pushing the New Westminster scheme hard, the Montreal Impact just announced their own USL Pro team[2], and Toronto FC seems to be moving forward with their plans[3]. Obviously the franchises knew this was coming. It’s enough to almost make you believe the life of a Canadian soccer fan isn’t uniformly terrible.

Naturally some fans of MLS organizations aren’t as calm as the organizations themselves. The comments of Rollins’ post are filled with the usual. I look at my Twitter feed and this is being framed in “club versus country” terms like every other discussion that combines the words “Canadian” and “soccer”. It’s gotten a shade repetitive, and long ago became the sort of argument that ceased to persuade anyone ever.

How often have you heard the club-first people scoff “well, why doesn’t the Canadian Soccer Association do something to make the men’s national team relevant, anyway?” with the “pssh” and the “pfft” of the supporter dismissing Canada in favour of the accomplished winners that are our MLS teams. Well, the Canadian Soccer Association has done something! “Okay,” they’ve said “you guys want to put yet more teams in yet another American league and you’re saying you’re going to develop Canadian talent, then we’re going to hold you to that.”

When the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact joined Toronto FC in Major League Soccer, the CSA made a mistake that’s set Canadian soccer back years: it trusted the MLS group. The Whitecaps had given Canadian players over 10,000 minutes every season in the USL First Division, Montreal was behind but still not bad, and Toronto FC was making all the right noises. Bob Lenarduzzi wanted no quota at all, saying the Whitecaps should produce enough quality players to make one irrelevant[4], so the CSA compromised with an extremely low requirement for three domestic players, including Canadian citizens ineligible for our national team.

As a result the number of Canadians playing professional soccer in their home country has declined precipitously[5]. Whatever the intentions of Toronto FC or Vancouver or Montreal, in the real world they’ve found it easier to draft American NCAA players and sign imports for a season and a half rather than buck the MLS model and build around Canadian talent. With young players not able to get anywhere in Canada, and potentially talented veterans leaving the professional game in despair so they can raise families and play for Edmonton Scottish, the Canadian men’s national team has never been worse.

We know that hopes and aspirations aren’t good enough when you’re dealing with MLS, so the CSA is forcing them to do the right thing. It’s a pity that it’s necessary, but we’ve seen that it is. Clearly the people with the money, the Vancouverites and Montrealers and Torontonians, don’t think this is a deal-breaker (I mean, half these reserve teams can still be foreign; that’s more than enough for all your NCAA scrubs). And the fans who don’t care about developing Canadian players will whine, but let them: these are literally the last people on Earth the Canadian Soccer Association should answer to.

[1] — Rollins, Duane. “CSA requires strict Canadian quotas for USL-Pro sanctioning.” The 24th Minute, September 4, 2014. Accessed September 6, 2014. http://www.canadiansoccernews.com/index.php?/page/articles.html/_/24th-minute/csa-requires-strict-canadian-quotas-for-usl-pro-sanctioning-r4815.

[2] — Tremblay, Olivier. “Montreal USL Pro team.” ImpactMontreal.com, September 4, 2014. Accessed September 6, 2014. http://www.impactmontreal.com/en/news/2014/09/montreal-usl-pro-team.

[3] — Rollins, Duane. “USL-Pro to Vaughan for 2015?” The 24th Minute, September 5, 2014. Accessed September 6, 2014. http://www.canadiansoccernews.com/index.php?/page/articles.html/_/24th-minute/usl-pro-to-vaughan-for-2015-r4817.

[4] — Lenarduzzi, Bob, and Jim Taylor. Bob Lenarduzzi: A Canadian Soccer Story. Vancouver: Harbour Publishing, 2011, p190-191.

[5] — Massey, Benjamin. “Canadian Domestic Content Before and In the MLS Era.” Maple Leaf Forever!, February 14, 2014. Accessed September 6, 2014. http://www.maple-leaf-forever.com/2014/02/14/canadian-domestic-content-before-and-in-the-mls-era/.

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7 responses to “Hooray for the CSA and the USL Pro Domestic Quota”

  1. Ken Jamieson says:

    The fact that the CSA is now relenting from its previous position, which was totally against USL-Pro in Canada, is the real issue here. Notwithstanding that the CSA has placed higher standards for domestic players, it really appears that the CSA is abandoning its planned “Canadian 3rd Division” in favour of allowing USL-Pro to set up shot in Canada.
    For TFC and the Impact, the need for an immediate alternative to the de-sanctioned CSL for their reserve teams had to be addressed, it appears. Vancouver broke the taboo earlier this year when they courted USL-Pro, despite the CSA’s previous stand against that league entering Canada. The MLS trio cannot wait until the CSA gets it act together vis-à-vis the Canadian 3rd Division League, despite reports of a partnership with CFL teams to create a league.
    Does this mean the CFL venture is dying? Will Canada’s PDL teams be encouraged to move up to USL-Pro rather than the NASL (as Ottawa has recently done)? Is Canada doomed to never have a domestic professional league of its own?
    Unlike US Soccer, the CSA has continually failed to develop a rational and coherent plan for development of soccer in Canada, and we see the results every time Canada plays an international game or the FIFA international rankings are released.
    Yes, the higher quotas are a good sign, however I firmly believe Canadian soccer would be better served by a CSA-controlled league of 8 to 10 teams with these standards rather than 2 or 3 teams in a US-based league. Certainly the economics of the plan are daunting, however Canada’s 3 MLS teams are doing well and should be giving back to the grassroots, even if it is subsidizing such a league.
    If the CSA is truly interested in developing Canadian soccer it would make every effort possible to make such a league a reality, even if it means directing all professional clubs below the MLS level to be a part of that league. I really have to wonder who is pulling the strings at the CSA!

    • Benjamin Massey says:

      The needs of an MLS reserve team and the needs of Canadian semi-pro are very, very different. Look for example at League1 Ontario, where Toronto FC Academy (not even their reserves, their academy) is on their way to a fairly easy title. FC Edmonton’s Academy had the same problem in the Alberta Major Soccer League, which isn’t up to L1O standards but indicates a similar situation. MLS and NASL reserves need a higher standard of play than any existing or projected Canadian division 3. Should such a quality level come into view then the CSA still has options open: I don’t know if you read Rollins’s article, but the CSA will review the sanctioning of these three reserve clubs annually.

      As for the “division 1A” NASL Canada idea, the participation of MLS teams was never part of the concept. On the contrary: many fans, like me, would say that MLS reserve teams would trivialize a Canadian div1A and lead to it inevitably being viewed as (and, probably, inevitably becoming) an inferior and subservient organization, no more worthy of watching than the American Hockey League. The effect of MLS reserve teams on the independent clubs of USL Pro, it must be said, has been very mixed, with outsiders from MLS rosters determining league championships and fans of the independent teams watching their beloved Rochester Rhinos or Charleston Battery become a sideshow for MLS scrubs.

      If the CSA starts allowing independent Canadian teams to join USL Pro then I’ll worry. Those teams should either be going NASL or domestic div-3, absolutely. But there is nothing implying that will happen in this announcement.

    • Seathanaich says:

      Of course they’re abondoning their plans for a Canadian based league, because they never had any plans to do so in the first place. Empty hopes are not “plans”. The CSA has had twenty years to re-build the CSL, and the last five have shown that the appetite for the professional game could support a CSL today, and that is only one of the many factors that have changed since the early 1990s. Given the solidity of MLS and the long-term prospects for Van, Tor, and Mtl within it, the CSA cannot and will not ever organise a professional soccer league within our borders. You are correct in stating that these clubs cannot wait the 300 or 400 years the CSA will take to create a Canadian league.

      The quotas are needed, but what the CSA should have done is built a CSL in Vic, Cgy, Ssk, Wpg, Lon, Ham, Que, and Hfx. They should have invited Edm and Ott to join. They should have had this, not USL, provide the reserve structure for the Canadian MLS teams. But hey, they don’t have the ability to host CMNT games in Canada, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to be able to build any such structure, or even coordinate meetings between the stakeholders who could.

  2. Mike Corbin says:

    I expect that if/when USLPro gets it’s own Player’s Association this race based law the CSA is proposing will be demolished in the appropriate federal judicial body.

    Imagine a Whitecaps 2.0 coach having to make game time subs based on race/ethnicity versus every other reason!

  3. First, the news that all three of our MLS clubs are doing this is good. Second, the quota news is good. I’d be happy if the quota was even higher.

    We (Canada; the CSA) don’t have to sanction USL-Pro teams. If that league, MLS, and our MLS clubs, want them, we have every right and expectation to ensure Canadian players get significant places and minutes.

    I see these quotas as a good sign for any future Canadian professional league. One of the primary purposes – if not *the single* purpose – of a professional Canadian league will be to ensure a significant number of Canadians play professional soccer, and play it in Canada, for clubs controlled and sanctioned by Canadian clubs and the CSA so as to benefit the national team and program. To think that significant Canadian-player quotas won’t be a feature of a future Canadian professional league is just silly.

    What would be the point of the significant investment and undertakings of starting and maintaining a league without quotas and without that purpose? And how could that purpose be achieved without quotas? I’m not a “quota” person in most other aspects of life, but this future league makes no sense without them. I want local pro soccer everywhere, and all that good stuff, but it just won’t happen without the web of goals, structures, and targeted investment that the quotas represent.

    And yes, I think this package of news still bodes well for a future Canadian professional league, and does not detract from it at all (contra Ken Jamieson above). That league is a number of years off, if it happens at all. It isn’t close, so requiring any new, or even any below-MLS grade, clubs to enter our non-existent league would simply lead to no further pro soccer expansion in Canada until our unicorn league arrives. We can’t wait for everything to perfectly align. We need helpful interim measures like this, and gradual expansion, ultimately (we hope) culminating in a Canadian professional league.

    Quotas for MLS-run USL-Pro teams in Canada will allow more young Canadian players to get minutes against professionals in a relatively stable professional league, backed by MLS as a whole and our MLS clubs in particular. There’s no bad there.

    The MLS clubs don’t seem to be part of the proposed NASL-CSA-CFL league at the moment, at least outwardly. I actually see MLS-sponsored USL-Pro teams in Canada as a first step toward having our MLS clubs being a part of a future Canadian pro league. If they can satisfy themselves that running a second pro club in their own backyards is a good thing for them, and a worthy investment when coupled with the potential of the NASL-CSA-CFL league, there’s no good reason these USL sides can’t transition into being Canadian MLS club-sponsored NASL-CSA-CFL league sides once the time comes.

    I think sanctioning USL sides for our MLS clubs is a good decision from the CSA. It allows professional expansion in Canada, and more pro minutes for Canadians. It allows incremental improvement, and just might lead to our MLS clubs being involved in our pro league in the future. I can’t see that as a bad thing.