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Could Canadian teams be pulled out of MLS?

Drastic action is on the table if Canadian players are not awarded the same status as Americans within the league.

MLS: Toronto FC at New England Revolution Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It has been generally accepted until this point that Toronto FC, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact will not be members of a potential new Canadian professional soccer league.

Well, not so fast, according to an article published yesterday in the Guardian and featuring the thoughts of Canada Soccer president (and new CONCACAF chief) Victor Montagliani on the the future of the Canadian game following another failed World Cup qualification campaign.

The issue of the lack of equality for Canadian players within MLS - namely, the fact that American players do not take up international slots on Canadian teams but Canadian players on American teams do - has Montagliani at least floating the idea that the trio of clubs north of the border could be pulled out of the league if there is not a more serious commitment to change.

Here is the passage in question:

Montagliani warns that unless a critical issue is addressed – that Canadian players are treated as equal to Americans under MLS rules – Soccer Canada may take sweeping and dramatic action to block Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps from continuing to play in the league.

“It is always going to create a glass ceiling when a Canadian passport makes you a second-class citizen in a league where three of your teams play,” says Montagliani. “We have been trying to address the issue but it has been frustratingly slow. Until that is dealt with, it is always going to be a challenge to put the Canadian flag equal to the American flag in MLS.”

The big problem, as Bob Foos, the executive director of the MLS players’ union, explains in the article, is the potential for a lawsuit if the league is accused of discriminating against non-Canadians in the United States in favour of Canadians by awarding them the same rights as Americans.

You would like to think there is some kind of compromise that can be reached given the fact that Canada is the only other country with participant clubs within MLS, but that has not happened thus far and, to be blunt, is hardly likely to be a priority for a league sanctioned by U.S. Soccer. Canadian teams have been welcomed into MLS because they offer markets with the potential to grow it, not out of some altruistic desire to help improve the Canadian men’s national team.

Extraordinary FIFA Congress Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Which leaves things at a bit of a stalemate, because it is even more difficult to imagine Montagliani actually taking the dramatic step of blocking Canada’s presence in MLS. TFC, Vancouver and Montreal compete at a higher level than any potential Canadian league could realistically offer in the near future, which has obvious benefits in terms of preparing Canadian players for the international stage. The trouble for Canada Soccer, of course, is that they have to rely on the clubs to take development of Canadian players seriously rather than having significant means to enforce it.

On that front, TFC could certainly have been accused of not carrying their weight in the past, but this season that has started to change. In 2015, Canadian players made only 60 appearances in MLS for the club; during the current campaign, that figure is up to 102 and rising in most part due to the opportunities handed to Jordan Hamilton, Jay Chapman and Mo Babouli as well as the signing of Will Johnson.

If Canada’s MLS clubs can continue to ease out their American fringe players in favour of the best young homegrown talent and the proposed Canadian Premier League’s 2018 kick-off comes to fruition, it seems to me that we will be getting somewhere. That does not mean Canada Soccer should simply settle for second best as far as the status of its MLS players is concerned, but for now the exit of the league’s fourth-most valuable club and reigning MVP seems more like a bargaining chip than a genuine option.

Eager to hear your thoughts on this below the line.