On Tuesday morning, NASL commissioner Bill Peterson made an appearance on the Backheel show "Soccer Morning" and while most of the conversation focused on topics like Minnesota United heading to MLS and the upcoming NASL season there was one topic that may be of interest to Canadian fans.
Most of our readers will be familiar with the reported idea that NASL could one day launch a Canadian division of the league with a handful of new teams joining FC Edmonton and the Ottawa Fury in the league. Such a new division was rumoured to be part of Canada's bid for the World Cup and could still happen even if the league has consistently shot down the reports any time they have been asked about them.
That league did not come up on the American show but they did talk about expansion plans and it seems that even if a Canadian division is not just around the corner the league continues to look at options for expansion in Canada and we could see more teams north of the border in the coming years.
In the interview Peterson noted that the league is currently dealing with more interest in expansion teams than they have ever had with the total number of interested parties being in double digits. He also noted that the hope is for the league to grow to 18-20 teams in the next 3-4 years as a result of all that interest.
That goal would mean the introduction of at least 8 new clubs as the league currently sits at 11 teams but will have to replace Minnesota in the coming years when they make the move to MLS. Of all those new teams the commissioner is hoping that some of them will be in Canada (thanks for bringing that up Vince in Toronto!). Here is what Peterson had to say to host Jason Davis about the potential for further Canadian expansion:
"We would like to see two, at least two more teams up there in the short term. We've talked about this in the past, we've talked with (the) CSA about working with them to develop even more teams but just from our perspective I believe there is at least two more good opportunities up there. I don't think we've done a great job of the last say nine months. We sort of had a plan and we wanted to execute it and we just haven't done a good job so I've reached out to our owners in Canada and said look, lets get the season started and then I want to have a task force of owners and some other people who are influential in Canada and let's get off of our chairs here and get busy in some of these cities and figure out whether there is a future for us or not. We'd love to have at least four, we are open to more teams there as needed, if you will, but its on me, its on our group here, to get busy with it."
That is all encouraging talk for fans in Canada who are hoping for more teams to further the playing opportunities for Canadian players. With Ottawa and Edmonton using a lot more Canadian content than any of the three MLS franchises it seems that the best way forward in the short term may be further NASL expansion until Canada is at the point where a fully domestic league might actually be feasible.
The question is just what two markets would be the front runners to land NASL teams in Canada within the next couple of years. The logical guesses would be Hamilton and Calgary who both have groups that have been working on bringing soccer to their cities in recent years.
The group in Hamilton has a mandate from the city to bring professional soccer to Tim Hortons Field in the next few years and they have been in contact with NASL in the past so that seems like a very logical fit. They would wind up with a similar setup to what we have seen in Ottawa where the soccer team would make use of the same stadium as the CFL team and be run by the same ownership group.
The only question mark for Hamilton is the fact that there have been reports of other groups looking to bring a team in to the GTA and take advantage of the bigger population and being in Canada's largest market. If NASL had a serious ownership group with plans for a stadium within the GTA it could be enough to convince them to head in that direction rather than heading to Hamilton. Either way, it seems quite likely that NASL would add one of those two teams to Ontario.
Calgary seems to be the other logical choice as back in 2013 The11.ca was reporting that a group in that city was closing in on acquiring an expansion team. The drop in the Canadian dollar seemed to derail those plans in the short term but they could very well be one of the cities that were in the short-term plan that the league didn't do a good job with according to Peterson. A re-focused effort on Canadian expansion could get things back on the rails in Calgary.
Adding teams in Hamilton and Calgary would also establish two new rivalries for the league. Ottawa-Hamilton and Edmonton-Calgary would likely be among the best rivalries in the league right from the get go which is something that would only help the new teams succeed.
If it is not Hamilton (or the GTA) and Calgary for the next two NASL expansion teams there are some other options. A place like Winnipeg could come forward with a similar CFL/NASL proposal and make sense or you could see a group make it work in Quebec City though they would need to figure out a playing location.
No matter what happens it seems clear that NASL, unlike MLS, is not done expanding in Canada and we could have some positive news about more professional soccer in our country later this year. It may not be that dream of a domestic pro league but each new team is another big step in the right direction for the game in this country.