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Why is Canada Trailing Behind in Men's Soccer? Episode 3: League Limitations

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A lack of professional league has been holding Canada soccer back for years, but is that about to change?

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Ahmed Najdat

Earlier in September, another Canadian journey to the world's biggest sporting event, the men's soccer  World Cup, came to an end. Canada failed to progress to the final qualifying round trailing behind Mexico and Honduras. Being placed in an embarrassing 104th position in FIFA's national teams' ranking, Canada needs to analyse the reasons for failure. This is the third episode of a series based on a year-long investigation trying to answer one question: Why is Canada doing so bad at men's soccer?

Episode 3: Letting Go of MLS

Earlier this month, news emerged that a Canadian Premier League is planned to take place in 2018. This was a step that Canadian soccer needed for many reasons, but most importantly, to develop a higher quantity and quality of players into the national team.

"I think it's pretty obvious that Canada does need its own league, so you know when that finally happens, that will definitely change the dynamics of the development of Canadian soccer, and also it would help the entire national team program improve in the long run," said Julian de Guzman, the Canadian national men's team captain.

While a Canadian Premier League is on its way, it is yet to be known if Canada's top three teams currently playing in MLS would join.

But how did MLS limit the development of Canadian soccer?

Canadian teams have long been part of U.S. professional sports leagues. Soccer is no different. Since the inception of the Major League Soccer in 1996, the goal for Canadian soccer teams was to be part of that league.

In 2007, Toronto FC was the first Canadian team to join MLS. The Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact followed in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

From Soccer to Law School from Ahmed Nazar Najdat on Vimeo.

One of the main limitations for Canadian players is that they are considered international players with American MLS teams. This means if a Canadian player wants to play in any of the 17 American MLS teams, he has to battle for one of six to 11 international spots with superstars like Sebastian Giovinco and Steven Gerrard.

On the contrary, American players are considered local when they play for Canadian teams.

Realistically, up-and-coming Canadian players will have to go through the youth academies of the three Canadian teams in the MLS, or go to the United States and claim one of the international spots. That task is becoming increasingly difficult with the level of superstars MLS teams are bringing in recently.


Only a handful of Canadians play a starting role in MLS teams.

"So far when you look at all the teams in MLS, there's still a handful that get their playing time on a regular basis. Then you turn to the NASL teams as well, there's a good bunch of players that are playing but that's just about it, and that's not enough," said de Guzman.

A Canadian professional league will mean an increase in number of professional clubs. This will lead to an increase in the number of youth academies that are attached to professional teams, hence producing more Canadian players for top-level teams.

While the idea of a Canadian Premier League is still very raw, it could possibly be a solution.

"We are looking to bring about change in terms of a possible new premier league in our country... We certainly need to look at more playing opportunities for our men's youth players... Is that one of the solutions? It's been talked about, " said Peter Montopoli, the general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association.