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Bill Manning issues not-so-subtle warning to CPL over Toronto team

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The Toronto FC president wants his club’s interests represented in the new league.

MLS: FC Dallas at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve not talked about the Canadian Premier League for a while, but today Kurtis Larson of the Sun has an interview with Toronto FC president Bill Manning following his recent meeting with Hamilton Tiger-Cats chief executive Scott Mitchell.

It’s a... provocative read, and has drawn the ire of many CPL fans for comments such as these:

“Why would you want to do that to yourself?” Manning wondered. “Why would you want to come into this market (and compete with Toronto FC)?”

...

“I told (Mitchell): ‘We’re interested in the league.’ But we’re very protective of Toronto. This is our market.

“We want to be supportive of the CPL, but we don’t want to be competitive. That’s something we don’t want to do.”

...

“For a team to come into Toronto and try and compete with TFC, have fun with that.”

Manning has seemed tone deaf on more than one occasion when it comes to the CPL, previously contemplating the possibility of entering TFC III (III, not II) into the league despite the objections of many of its backers to the presence of any reserve teams at all.

I think Manning is a smart guy, and too smart to not be aware that his approach to the league thus far has been frustrating for both TFC and non-TFC CPL supporters alike. Any Reds fan with even a passing interest in the wider Canadian soccer landscape will be embarrassed if their club, with all its financial might, does not make any contribution towards making this work.

Without wanting to sound like Peter Thiel, I would hope that Manning and TFC’s actions might be slightly less antagonistic than their words. When you break down what the CPL could mean for TFC, after all, the upside far outweighs the downside:

  • The best case: There is a proper development pathway for young players to the professional game in Canada, improving and widening the pool of homegrown talent available to MLS clubs.
  • The worst case: Some wealthy investor convinces the CPL to let him or her create a standalone Toronto team that, without an obvious site for a stadium and in a lesser league, attempts to compete with TFC.

From an entirely self-interested, TFC-oriented position, the former sounds a lot more enticing than the latter does worrying. So enticing, in fact, that Manning should be very keen to get MLSE’s foot in the door when it seems the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact might stay away, at least to begin with.

That’s where the sticking point is, because if the CPL can achieve any kind of reasonable standard of play it becomes a very attractive proposition for TFC. MLSE is not in such a position of strength that it can opt out of this without considering it any kind of loss or missed opportunity - which brings us back to Manning and his somewhat inflammatory negotiating tactics. TFC wants in here, but faces some opposition and weakens its position if it has to keep asking for it.

In a way, it’s probably encouraging for the CPL that Manning is coming out with this stuff.

For what it’s worth, I do think allowing TFC to put their second team in the CPL can work for both parties. While I appreciate the concern over perception and the competitive integrity of the league, the stability offered by bringing in a team with no financial concerns and a USL-calibre roster straight out of the gate is, to me, too obvious a building block to turn down.

They’re damn lucky that the MLS club is good while they’re negotiating all of this, though.