With MLS moving towards a stronger partnership with USL Pro to provide better competition for their reserves a lot of Toronto FC fans have been left wondering just what the club would do in terms of finding a location for their reserves to potentially go out on loan. As Kurt Larson wrote earlier this week TFC are clearly interested in taking advantage of this program but with no USL Pro clubs currently in Canada the options seemed limited for Toronto FC. It looks like the Toronto Lynx could be on the verge of making a big move that would allow them to fill that void though and become a potential partner for the MLS club.
In a letter to the City of Hamilton dated the 10th of July, Alain Theroux the President of the Toronto Lynx requested the city's "consideration for our application, to relocate our Soccer franchise operations into the City of Hamilton, with an ambition of making the new Soccer Stadium our home base location."
The initial letter goes on to lay out some of the plans for the relocated soccer franchise and that is where things get interesting for TFC fans. "We have complete support from the USL and the Canadian Soccer Association to return to USLPRO, together with a ground breaking affiliation with Toronto FC and MLS, in very concerted and combined effort to develop our young Canadian potential, for Professional and National team opportunities"
That ground breaking affiliation with Toronto FC would almost certainly be part of the partnership between MLS reserves and USL Pro. As such, it would allow TFC to send a number of players out on loan to the possible Hamilton club to provide them with much more consistent playing time than is currently available in the reserve league setup. Such an agreement could help provide the missing stepping stone for players coming from the draft or the academy who are not yet ready to play a regular role in the first team.
The correspondence between the Lynx and the City of Hamilton included attached letters from a number of interested parties including Peter Montopoli of the Canadian Soccer Association, Earl Cochrane of Toronto FC, Ron Small of the Ontario Soccer Association, and Tim Holt of USL Pro.
All of those letter enforce the fact that the club in Hamilton would have the support of USL Pro, the Canadian Soccer Association, and Toronto FC. They also have significant financial support laid out in the letters making it clear that the Lynx are serious and ready to make this move.
The letter from Earl Cochrane is likely the most interesting to Toronto FC fans as it provides more insight into how they would relate to the new club. This is what Cochrane had to say on behalf of the club:
This letter is a confirmation that Toronto FC and Major League Soccer (MLS) have been in discussions with Mr. Alain Theroux and Mr. Duncan Wilde and their partners at United Soccer League (USL) for the past several months regarding an affiliation agreement that would see the Hamilton group become vital development partners with Toronto FC/Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The plan would have the Hamilton franchise play in the USL PRO division and become the developmental team for Toronto FC's MLS team -with significant technical, marketing, sponsorship and financial assistance from Toronto FC.
In early 2013, MLS and USL PRO announced an unprecedented partnership agreement that was aimed toward enhancing the development of professional players in North America. At present there exists a delta in the development path of the North American elite player and this partnership was designed specifically to address that while at the same time, strengthen the competition in both leagues, and establish a solid foundation for future collaboration.
Toronto FC was and remains a strong advocate for this relationship and structure but also believes that for it to work for us, a Canadian solution needs to be established and we immediately began discussions with USL, Alain, and Duncan to find a solution - and Hamilton became the ideal situation.
Hamilton's rich sporting history, the support it has shown professional soccer in the past and the infrastructure being developed in the City in our minds make Hamilton the ideal partner. We are confident you will share our belief that this initiative set forth by Mr. Theroux and Mr. Wilde will greatly enhance the sporting landscape in Hamilton and soccer not just in the region, but nationally.
The USL Pro partnership has already been paying off for the clubs that chose to take part this season. Sporting Kansas City have used the loan system to great affect as it has allowed them to keep the likes of Dom Dwyer sharp and match ready rather than just sitting on the bench waiting for their chance. If Toronto had such a partnership it would have given the likes of Emery Welshman, Quillan Roberts, or even Kyle Bekker the chance to play a lot more competitive soccer.
With it looking like the Toronto Lynx group have all their ducks in a row they could step up to fill that void for Toronto FC and bring USL Pro into Canada. It would also mark the return of professional soccer to Hamilton following the city losing their USL PDL franchise to Kitchener-Waterloo prior to this past season.
Now the ball is in the City of Hamilton's court as they will have to process the request and then decide if allowing the Lynx to join the Hamilton Tiger Cats at Tim Hortons field would be in the best interest of all parties involved. When the stadium was initially planned it seemed that Hamilton was close to bringing an NASL team to the city but with that off the table a USL Pro franchise and a partnership with Toronto FC might just make even more sense.
When the City Council meets on Friday evening (August 16th) the proposal will be item 5.6 on the agenda. It is quite unlikely that anything will be passed at that time as the agenda notes that the recommendation is that the correspondence "be referred to the General Manager of Public Works for a report back to the Public Works Committee."
That could take some time to sort out but if the City of Hamilton is serious about bringing soccer back to the city and making the most of the new Tim Hortons field this would be a good opportunity for them to get that done. With the Lynx group having the support of all the other parties needed to make this move happen they are now just waiting on the City of Hamilton.
It is news that will be of interest to soccer fans in southern Ontario as well as Toronto FC fans. Bringing a USL Pro club in to Canada would be a big step towards opening the door for further division three expansion. The fact that the request includes a letter from Peter Montopoli is also good news considering in the past the CSA did not seem interested in sanctioning division three clubs from USL Pro in Canada. His letter is not clear that such sanctioning would be provided but Montopoli does state "that prior to any sanctioning by the Canadian Soccer Association,
the Club must meet the professional soccer standards and apply for Professional club membership within the Canadian Soccer Association for membership approval at the next Annual General Meeting."
So the door is certainly open for this to happen. Now we have to wait and see what the City of Hamilton does starting Friday evening at their council meeting.