A NASL franchise is coming to a city near you. Of course, that assumes that the city of Hamilton is a city near you.
The North American Soccer League is working towards announcing another round of expansion franchises with the current front runners to land teams for as early as the 2016 season being Hamilton and Hartford. The expansion plans in Hartford appear to be the furthest along and could be announced in the near future with Hamilton and potentially others not being far behind.
Bill Peterson, the NASL commissioner, has gone on the record in recent months to suggest that a big part of the league's expansion plans includes refocusing their efforts on adding more Canadian clubs. The plan, according to Peterson, is to add two new Canadian teams in the near future with the likes of Hamilton, Quebec City, Calgary, and Winnipeg all coming up as potential candidates for teams.
What we know is that professional soccer will be coming to the city of Hamilton in the near future. Part of the plans for the new Tim Horton's Field has always been to bring a soccer club to use it alongside the CFL team. The City of Hamilton has decided that the Ticats ownership group should have exclusive rights to bring that team to the city and those rights were extended last year despite several delays in securing a team.
Tim Horton's Field is now completed and will get to showcase itself as a soccer facility over the course of the next month as it will play host to the opening weekend of League 1 Ontario's inaugural season for the Women's division as well as the Canadian Women's National Team's final friendly before the Women's World Cup. That friendly against England is now over 75% sold-out and should be a very good showcase of just how the stadium can perform as a home for a soccer team.
The completion of the stadium has also allowed the Ticats ownership group to really get down to the business of securing a soccer team. They have met with representatives from MLS, NASL, and even the CSA to try and get a sense of what their options are for a team.
With the City of Hamilton rejecting a USL team last year in favour of securing a team in a higher division the options really have been limited to NASL and MLS. The issue for Hamilton is that securing a team in MLS would be nearly as difficult as securing a NHL franchise has been. With MLSE down the road standing in their way bringing MLS to Hamilton is not an option despite the Ticats group having met with Mark Abbott.
While their meeting with MLS proved that the league would not be an option for the city their meetings with Peterson and NASL have been far more productive. According to the individuals that Waking the Red has spoken with regarding the talks, the ball is now rolling and they expect progress to be quite quick with the league hoping to announce several expansion teams in the coming months.
The deal to bring NASL to Hamilton is not done yet but it is very much alive and well which is an improvement on the status of plans in recent years. Hamilton being linked to NASL is nothing new due to Bob Young's role with the Tiger-Cats and his connections to NASL in the past but this time around the links seem more concrete than ever and the existence of Tim Horton's Field is a big part of that.
Another big part of the plan for Hamilton is the hiring of a pair of individuals who are very connected in the local soccer scene. John McGrane and John Gibson have both been brought on board to serve in consultant roles for the Ticats groups as both are well connected in the local soccer community. Gibson is the President of the Hamilton and District Soccer Association while McGrane has a long history in professional soccer including serving as the General Manager of the Hamilton Steelers in the old CSL.
Both men understand the local soccer landscape and have been brought on board to help ensure that any professional soccer team that comes to Hamilton is connected to that community and is able to work with them to serve the best interests of the game in the city.
The Ticats group have also met with many individuals who are part of the Hamilton soccer community including giving a large group a tour of Tim Horton's Field earlier this month to show them how it could serve as a home for a soccer team. Some of those who took part in that event earlier this month noted that they were impressed not only by the facilities but also by the vision that was laid out.
It seems that the group in Hamilton are looking to go about things the right way which includes looking out for the best interests of the local soccer community and Canadian soccer in general. While their are no quotas for Canadian players on NASL teams the Ticats group has already stated their desire to develop as much Canadian talent as possible.
There was even some indication from those who have met with the Ticats about their soccer plans that the group would be interested in one day joining a domestic professional league. Such a league may still be a number of years away though so joining the NASL makes more sense in the short-term given the mandate to bring professional soccer to the city within the next few years.
The team in Hamilton will almost certainly be in a different league than Toronto FC and the two would probably only ever meet every few years in the Voyageurs Cup making the formation of any rivalry difficult but having a competitor for the interest of GTA soccer fans may just prove to be a needed kick in the pants for MLSE. They certainly won't like the idea of losing their monopoly on professional soccer in the region but they can only block Hamilton from joining MLS. When it comes to NASL, MLSE have no sway over where a team can be located.