When the City of Hamilton's Public Works committee meets on December 2nd they will finally get around to discussing the correspondence that they received from the Toronto Lynx this August. After months of waiting for news it seems that the committee will recommend that the city of Hamilton take no further action in regards to the request that would have seen a USL Pro franchise playing at the new Tim Hortons Field.
The agenda for that December 2nd meeting of the Public Works Committee includes the correspondence from the Toronto Lynx as item 5.3 with the recommendations just needing committee consent. The full report is available along with the agenda but here are some of the highlights:
- Due to the delivery date of the Stadium (July 2014) and the presence of the Pan American Games Soccer Event in the stadium (June 8 - August 6, 2015), 2016 represents the first year that a full season of professional soccer could reasonably be played in the stadium.
- The City is committed to presenting the highest level of soccer in the Stadium.
- The Hamilton District Soccer Association is looking for the highest level possible of professional soccer to be played at the new stadium, as well as the best development pathway that allows for local soccer players to reach soccer excellence
The conclusion of the report is that "given the time frame for which a league could play a full season (2016) and the extension to the MOU for soccer exclusivity to the Tiger-Cats, staff are recommending no further action be taken with the Toronto Lynx Soccer Club request to relocate its soccer franchise operations to the new Stadium."
The news is a blow not only for the Toronto Lynx who were hoping to increase their profile and return to operating a professional squad but also for Toronto FC. With the Lynx unlikely to be in USL Pro any time in the near future it leaves TFC without a partner in MLS' new reserve league setup. While other clubs are moving towards partnering with existing USL Pro franchises or launching their own teams, TFC are now stuck in limbo.
There will be other options for TFC to get minutes for their reserve players but missing out on Hamilton means they will have to look for other situations which they may not have as much control over. It is possible that they could loan some fringe players out to NASL clubs like the expansion Ottawa Fury but that would not assure them of playing time as the Fury would do what was in their own best interest. A similar relationship did have some success between the Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Edmonton but it would be far from ideal.
TFC could also look to partner with a different USL Pro franchise but in that regard they have already fallen behind as a number of the league's strongest franchises already have partnerships. Rochester is the closest of the existing franchises and they already have a partner in the New England Revolution.
The City of Hamilton has not completely closed the door on a USL Pro franchise coming to the area but it looks like the only ones who will be bringing professional soccer to the city are the Ticats ownership group. The report also makes it clear that the preference would be to bring a higher level franchise to the city as either MLS or NASL would make better use of a facility with a capacity of 22,500.
The report includes some interesting notes in regards to where the Canadian Soccer Association stands on the matter. In the past, they were quite clear about not wanting to sanction teams in American division three leagues in hopes of forming a Canadian alternative. Their initial support of the Lynx's request seemed to go against those statements but now it is clear that even if the Lynx were to move and be able to join USL Pro their was no guarantee that it would lead to sanctioning.
The Canadian Soccer Association identified that next steps will require dialogue and discussions at the National level as to the scope and concept of the USL Pro. For a Professional Club to be sanctioned, it requires approval from the CSA membership which is typically during the CSA Annual General Meeting with the next meeting being held in May 2014. The CSA also noted that before any discussion on sanctioning, there needs to be a National discussion on the development and creation of a National pathway and National League Structure for men's soccer in Canada and how the Toronto Lynx Soccer Club proposal for a professional team fits into this national pathway prior to any sanctioning approval. The CSA is recommending Hamilton, in conjunction with the CSA; undertake a soccer strategy for the new stadium and soccer in Hamilton
For those holding out hope that the CSA will implement the recommendations from the Easton Report and launch their own league this is good news. If that discussion about the future of the National League structure in Canada does happen it could lead to things moving forward and opening up new opportunities for Canadian franchises other than joining American based leagues.
In the long run, this may prove to be good news for soccer in Canada as it means that USL Pro still does not have a foothold in Canada and domestic alternative could yet take place. It could also work out well for fans in the city of Hamilton who will hopefully have a NASL franchise to support in the coming years if the Ticats owners can make it a reality.
As for Toronto FC, they are now going to have to figure out what plan b is. The MLS reserve league will not be around to provide games from fringe players and as things stand they could be left scrambling to try and find places for those players to get minutes in 2014. Hopefully for the sake of the club's young talent they can work something out with Ottawa or another club in time for the new season.