Canada Gets Another Committee

Back in November, the Canadian Soccer Association woke from the deep, comfortable sleep they've been enjoying for the last 30 years and noticed something.

All across the indescribably beautiful land of the midnight donut shop, cities large and small were taking their local soccer teams and joining leagues based in, run by and sanctioned through the United States of America.

It wasn't just Major League Soccer, it was the entire panoply of USSF-sanctioned leagues from USL2 to W League to PDL to even the neo-NASL, which at this point holds the Worlds' Record for discussion and debate expended on a league which has never, ever existed.

The good burghers of the CSA suddenly realized that the train was leaving the station and they were still in the coffee shop enjoying a tasty Tim Hortons' chocolate glazed with sprinkles.

So they ran outside and threw themselves on the tracks, declaring a "moratorium" on Canadian teams fleeing the country for US leagues, and then established an "Ad Hoc Committee" to take a look at whether it might make more sense to have, you know, an actual Canadian league of some kind for teams in Canada to play in.

(There's no record of whether soccer fans in Toronto lit up the interwebs in high moral dudgeon calling these people hateful haters who hate for offering up that idea, unlike their reaction when yours truly says the exact same thing but no matter.)

But as even the most casual observer noted at the time, pretty much everybody who either had an established professional team and/or a city capable of supporting same had already left or had previously received permission to leave, and thus the ruling would not even apply to teams that hadn't even left yet: Vancouver, Montreal or the nascent Edmonton Trainwrecks, one of the real pillars of the neo-NASL.

Furthermore, since MLS strictly adheres to the first of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, ("Once you get their money, never give it back") The Canuckistan Three simply aren't coming back anytime soon.

Which leaves them with - well, not a lot. The owner of the Ottawa Senators flirted with Cohiba Don for a while but it got hung up on stadium issues. Places like Calgary, Winnipeg and Quebec City might be able to support teams of some kind but at the moment no one has stepped forward and offered to lose that kind of money.

Which brings us to the real crux of the issue, the reason there aren't already professional teams in those cities and dozens of similar urban areas across North America is that it's a sure-fire money loser.

It's been tried and tried and tried some more until it ought to be plain even to the most obtuse soccer fan on the continent (who probably posts on BigSoccer; I'd check MLS Rivalries) that in virtually every case the primary requirement for starting a soccer team isn't local population or youth participation numbers or the size of their immigrant population.

Because the fact is that you can hold all the committee meetings you want, ad hoc, post hoc or viz hoc, a great way to end up in hock is to own a minor league soccer team.

So unless that CSA Committee is sitting around cold calling wealthy people it's hard to see what the point is.

(Note: Please hold your hate mail - I'm just getting started here.)

Which brings us to this weeks' announcement of the MLS roster rules for 2011.

You may recall that last year Toronto was required by league mandate to carry 8 Canadians - or reasonable facsimiles thereof - on their 22 man roster.

Having to carry this onerous millstone around their necks, and not abysmal management and ludicrous signings, was apparently the reason why they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the third time in their three years in the league.

Even winning the historic, highly prestigious "Look, we have a fake national championship so we can get into the CCL" Cup - managing not to get knocked out again this year by a second division team - failed to assuage their anger over having to have all those Canadians around.

So they, along with the new Vancouver Whitecaps, wanted the rules changed, and they didn't just want a reduction in the numbers; they wanted the requirement eliminated altogether so that they didn't have to have any Canadian players.

The CSA, reduced as they are in all things MLS to begging and pleading and pouting, didn't like this plan one bit. They dimly recalled that, somewhere or other, there was something about how they're supposed to try and help Canadian soccer players improve, rather than just glom onto free VIP seating, priority parking and the best buffet lines at MLS events.

They reportedly wanted the quota left at eight, but in the end they compromised and accepted three per team. But as a further sop to the CSA, (apparently there was some concern that they might hold their breath or something) MLS established: no, not another "ad hoc" committee, this time they established a "Task Force".

Be still my heart.

The committee will consist of various Canadian representatives and one from MLS, namely Executive Vice President Schmidlap Feebledorfski - hey. that's a lot closer than he got to a bunch of names he announced at the Superdraft - and their misson will be to monitor the progress of Canadian blah, blah, blah in order to further blah, blah, blah and ensure the progress of blah, blah, blah.

This is being hailed far and wide up there as "real progress" and "a positive step" and "wow, this is, like, some really good shit, man".

If you really want to read utterly delusional silliness on this subject, THIS CAN'T BE BEAT

What it really amounts to is a 25% reduction in Canadian roster spots despite a doubling of Canadian teams, but a bunch of suits will get together from time to time and look at some numbers so it's OK.

Back when MLS was founded the USSF kicked in five million bucks as seed money (and, as far as anyone can tell it was never paid back but who cares?).

The primary reason was that one of the main purposes for the league was to provide a place for young American players, who were by and large either unable to get signed overseas or were being treated like free kick dummies if they were.

The USSF and everybody else knew that the only way the US Men's National Team was ever going to get better was if a place could be found for hundreds of young American players - mostly college grads - to continue to play and improve and learn under professional coaches and against decent quality competition.

And if you were around back in 1996 then you know that a lot of the players were, to be generous, utterly awful.

More to the point, while it's impossible to put a number on it I think it's safe to say that half of the American players in the league that year would have trouble making an MLS roster today. Feel free to disagree.

And the teams, whose sole concern was and is winning, would have replaced a good number of them with foreign guys if they could have but the number of "international" slots was severely limited. Assuming that they planned on putting 11 players on the field week after week they had no choice but to roster a bunch of American players and muddle along as best they could.

Call it Affirmative Action for white suburban boys.

I checked with Roger Allaway* who graciously supplied some numbers from the real NASL:

In the 1976 season, teams could have no more than 10 non-North Americans on the field at one time. That ceiling was dropped to nine in 1978, eight in 1980, seven in 1982 and six in 1984.

In the 1976 season, teams could have no more than 15 non-North Americans on their 30-man roster. That ceiling was dropped to 14 in 1978, 13 in 1980, 12 in 1982 and 11 in 1984.

Those teams were in the same position as MLS teams were in 1996: if you didn't force them to take on some Americans many of them wouldn't have had more than one or two if that.

(And I would also point out in passing that there were a good many very good Canadian players back then as well. In fact one of the best all time was Bob Leonarduzzi, who is now running the Whitecaps.)

Everybody knows that I have some fun at the expense of our pale and chilly brothers up North and don't expect much to change any time soon.

But the fact is if their goal is developing Canadian soccer players and moving themselves up a notch or two so they can present a credible challenge to US and Mexican dominance of CONCACAF - which would be wonderful for all concerned - then they need to recognize that, at the moment, MLS is impeding that progress.

Nobody would expect Toronto or Vancouver or, next year, Montreal, to ignore their investment and the fact that their goal is to win and take on a bunch of players who can't cut it for the sake of helping along their national team.

That's asking too much of anybody.

But for anyone up there to be seriously convinced that committees and task forces and a blizzard of what will surely be "Reports" and "White Papers" aren't ever going to solve the problem.

I think it was Jay Leno who once said that the problem with trying to become a comedian today is that there's no place to go and be bad. There's no place to go and learn while stinking up the joint. You either have to be good right out of the chute or go back and work in Dad's hardware store.

And that's the real issue with Canada right now: there's just no place for their young players to go and be bad.

MLS was the USSF's solution, but they're still looking for theirs.

Otherwise, it could be a long, long time before their national team has the trained, seasoned raw materials to begin building anything resembling a winner.

And particularly now that Jack Warner has decided that Mexico and the US won't be playing meaningful games any more so that a bunch of tiny Caribbean islands can host big games, the Confederation desperately needs a couple countries to raise their level.

Canada would certainly be the prime candidate; I just fear that with them tied to MLS the way they are it's going to be a long time before they get there.

* Roger, being the modest sort, does not want to take credit for coming up with the NASL quota numbers; he says he got them from Colin Jose and David Wangerin,

So noted.