Major League Soccer in Canada is a topic rarely addressed by league commissioner Don Garber. It makes sense, in many ways MLS in an American league with a Canadian tenant, something that isn't likely to change any time soon. As a result the Canadian agenda is rarely top priority.
So when Garber does talk about the state of the league from a Canadian perspective it is worth talking about. He recently sat down with Kurt Larson of the Toronto Sun to discuss a variety of issues related to the league's place in Canada.
On Roster Rules and Canadians being Considered "International" players
As always, this is the biggest bit of news when it comes to Canada's place in Major League Soccer. For Canadians, nothing points more to the fact that this is an American league than roster rules, which considers Canadian players to be internationals and therefore only able to occupy a limited number of player spots.
The longstanding reason behind this fact is that American immigration laws make considering Canadian players to be domestic complicated, and that reasoning hasn't changed.
There have been some rumblings about this changing in the past, but the rule remains in place with little evidence that it will be changing any time soon. This is one of the primary reasons many around Canadian soccer think now is the time for a Canadian professional league.
For his part, Garber did mention that the league is considering potential incentive for teams to sign Canadian players. The problem, however, would be fitting this in without creating another designated player type spot which would be external to the league's salary cap. This is something that the league is not interested in doing.
So it doesn't look like there will be movement on this any time soon, and if it does it probably won't be substantial, which is unfortunate. However, it is also clearly one of the reason's why other avenues are necessary to get Canadians spot on pro teams.
Expansion into Canada, Could more be coming soon?
In a word, no. While some interest does exist, with possibilities including Ottawa and Calgary, having another MLS club in Canada is feasibly a long way off considering the current soccer landscape in the country.
While Garber didn't echo this sentiment exactly he mentioned the fact that there was work to do with the current Canadian teams before any expansion could be considered. He listed what needs to improve, including a more national fanbase and higher TV rating.
Basically, if another Canadian team is going to join Major League Soccer they really have to prove their viability to the league. This is going to be difficult as they will have to compete with a large number of American markets who have both history and funding behind them.
Ottawa would likely be the best fit considering the strong soccer program that they are building, complete with their trip to the Soccer Bowl this season and their high attendance numbers. But they are more likely to join a Canadian league option before then.
More than likely any market who has Major League Soccer aspirations in Canada will be swept up by a Canadian professional league, including Ottawa, Calgary and even Edmonton eventually. The CSA will definitely push hard to this and recommend that option to clubs versus joining Major League Soccer.
As such, it is highly unlikely that there is a fourth Canadian team in Major League Soccer any time soon, although it can never be ruled out completely especially if a club like Calgary or Ottawa make a hard push. This will especially be true if the Canadian league project continues to move forward slowly.
For now, however, American expansion is the main goal as that is where the league will make profit and gain exposure.
The Importance of Growing the Game in Canada
Garber has been on record saying that one of his key goals as a commissioner is to get Canada to just its second ever World Cup. While the league hasn't necessarily shown a great commitment to this in the past, there has certainly been some growth this year in the Canadian markets.
With all three Canadian teams making playoff appearances, albeit brief, it was a good season on the field for the league north of the border. The health of all three franchises is in good shape and they look like they will be an important part of the league for many years to come.
However, Garber says that the league can do better to help Canadian soccer grow, and it is something they are working on. He set Canada qualifying for a World Cup as a bar for that success.