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Toronto FC Academy, territories, and exceptions

Just how MLS academies work is something that very little light gets shed on but an recent article provided some useful information to help paint a better picture of how things work.

Jose Villareal is a full time home grown player and part time TFC heart breaker for LA
Jose Villareal is a full time home grown player and part time TFC heart breaker for LA
Claus Andersen

Have you even wondered just how Canadian players end up training with Real Salt Lake or how young players from Ontario end up developing their skills in the Vancouver Whitecaps residency? Well, then today is your lucky day as an article on by Nick Firchau shed some much needed light on the territories that MLS academies are able to recruit from and the exceptions granted to each team.

MLS has put a system in place for academies around the league that is designed to help level the playing field for smaller market clubs. A club like the L.A. Galaxy has all kind of soccer talent right in their own backyard but the same is not the case for the likes of Real Salt Lake. That is why the MLS has worked with each club to put together territories that define where they are able to draw players from to stock their academy teams.

The starting point for each club's territory was a 75 mile radius around their training center. For some teams that radius is enough to give them access to a very large pool of players and they have stuck with that initial figure. For LAG, Chivas USA, Chicago Fire, D.C. United, and San Jose Earthquakes that is all they are allowed to draw from. The rest of the clubs in the league have negotiated with the league to allow them to scout a larger territory than that to make up for the fact that the player pool around their training facilities not being large enough.

The following is the list provided in Firchau's article that explains the territories for the remaining MLS clubs:Five MLS teams stick to the league's 75-mile radius rule to develop Homegrown talent for their academies (Chivas USA, Chicago, D.C. United, LA and San Jose), but a number of clubs operate under a different set of guidelines agreed upon by the club and MLS.

Colorado Rapids: The state of Colorado.

Columbus Crew: The state of Ohio.

FC Dallas: A 75-mile radius of the club's training facility and all of Texas north of Dallas and Fort Worth.

Houston Dynamo: A 125-mile radius of the club's training facility.

Montreal Impact: All of Canada excluding the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and a 50-mile radius of Toronto's training facility.

New York Red Bulls: A 75-mile radius of the club's home stadium, excluding a 25-mile radius of the Philadelphia Union's home stadium.

New England Revolution: A 75-mile radius of the club's training facility, plus the state of Rhode Island.

Philadelphia Union: A 75-mile radius of the Union's home stadium, excluding the state of Maryland and a 25-mile radius of the Red Bulls' home stadium.

Portland Timbers: The state of Oregon and Vancouver, Wash., and its environs.

Real Salt Lake: The states of Utah and Arizona.

Seattle Sounders: The state of Washington, excluding a 50-mile radius from Portland's home stadium.

Sporting Kansas City: The states of Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Toronto FC: All of Canada, excluding the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and Quebec.

Vancouver Whitecaps: All of Canada, excluding a 50-mile radius of Toronto's training facility and the province of Quebec.

As you can see there is a wide variety in the territories with some being simply limited to the boarders of specific states, some just being an increased radius, and others being quite complex to try and wrap your head around. It is also worth noting that their is a lot of overlap in the territories allowed.

Take the three Canadian clubs as an example of how teams are still in competition for certain regions. The Montreal Impact have sole rights to the province of Quebec while the Vancouver Whitecaps control Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and their home province of British Columbia. The rest of the country is shared by all three clubs though with each being able to draw players from the Maritime provinces as well as the territories.

Where it gets interesting is the province of Ontario. All three clubs are allowed to draw from Ontario with the only area reserved for Toronto being a 50-mile radius around the Downsview training facility. That gives Toronto control of most of the GTA as the 50 mile radius reaches south to the lake, north to Newmarket, west into Burlington, and east out to Oshawa. Once you get outside the GTA though you are free to pick between Canada's three MLS academies which is why a player from Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Windsor, or Ottawa could end up at any of the three academies without it being an issue.

Sharing Ontario between all three clubs makes sense for the league due to the fact that according the CSA's 2012 Annual report 41.79% of registered soccer players in Canada are from Ontario. When you go with just male players under the age of 18 the percentage is only slightly lower as Ontario still comes in at 40.79% of the total registered amount. Quebec and British Columbia are second and third respectively but remain some way behind Ontario in terms of registered players.

In fact, even when you add together all of the Whitecaps territory (excluding Ontario) it still only combines for a total of 36.13 percent of total registered players. Add in the portion of Ontario that they are allowed to draw from and it would still leave them with less players to choose from than TFC because so much of Ontario's population is located in the GTA. Vancouver has exclusive rights to four provinces but they combine to 28.99% of registered players which is only slightly more than the 22.08% of players that are located in Quebec.

MLS allows all three clubs to compete for players in so many parts of Canada because that allows them to have similar player pools to draw from while ensuring the best possible coverage of Canada. Even if each club were allowed to recruit from all of Canada that would give them access to a total of 402,622 registered male youth players which would still be fewer than a club like LAG have access to right in their own backyard.

That is why MLS added a second element to the equation to ensure that clubs are able to bring in enough quality players to stock their academies. That element is exemptions which allow them to sign a certain number of players from outside their territory to their various academy teams. Fichau's article also lists the exemptions allowed for clubs in both 2013 and 2014.

Territory Exceptions - 2013
New York, L.A., Chivas, Chicago, Philadelphia - 2
Dallas, D.C., Houston, New England, Seattle, San Jose, Toronto - 3
Montreal - 4
Columbus, Colorado, Kansas City, Salt Lake, Vancouver, Portland - 5

Territory Exceptions - 2014
New York, L.A., Chivas, Chicago, Philadelphia - 2
Dallas, D.C., Houston, New England, Seattle, San Jose, Toronto - 4
Montreal - 6
Columbus, Colorado, Kansas City, Salt Lake, Vancouver, Portland - 8

As you can see, for the majority of clubs the total number of exemptions allowed will rise in 2014 with only four clubs staying put with their current allotment. Clubs that have a smaller player pool to draw from are given additional exceptions to help compensate for the fact. That is why Toronto has the fewest exceptions of the three Canadian clubs and is in the second group of clubs.

Recruiting players for MLS academies is certainly not a straight forward process but all of these mechanisms have been put in place by MLS to achieve a pair of goals. The first goal to avoid having clubs competing with one another to sign young players when possible which will help to avoid driving up asking prices and the second goal is to ensure the most level playing field possible.

Leveling the playing field may be impossible regardless of the steps MLS takes though as certain areas have a long history of developing high numbers of talented players while other areas have very little history of producing that kind of talent. That means early in the game clubs like LA and Toronto have benefited from talent already being produced in their own backyard but if other clubs want to keep up with LA in signing homegrown players like Jose Villareal they are going to have to get serious about youth development.

Toronto has taken the first step by building their top class facility out at Downsview but the second step is to ensure they attract the best players their territory has to offer to that facility and then provide them with the best possible training. With Ontario's history of producing some of Canada's brightest soccer stars the talent should be there for the picking.