MLS commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday that the league has been in talks with the Canadian Soccer Association, and “At this point for next year we don’t see there being any changes (to the roster rules), though perhaps there could be.”
NOTE: Interestingly, this quote was omitted from the transcript of the press conference posted on the MLS website. But you can hear it on the tape… 30-minute mark. I asked the question…
Yes, it’s a confusing message. There could be some adjustments. But, it looks like the elimination of Canadian roster quotas isn’t going to occur as predicted. As for tweaking the roster quotas, the clock is ticking. Once the free-agent and expansion drafts happen, MLS can’t go and change the roster rules after those points. Well, maybe it could.
Both Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining MLS in 2011, had hinted that the special rule requiring them to carry only Canadian players outside of their international and American allocations would be scrapped, and that a new rule would be put in place requiring all MLS teams to carry a specified minimum of North Americans.
Without taking allocations into consideration, TFC has 13 of its 26 roster spots open to international players, with a minimum of five needing to be used on American players. Because MLS is very open about how teams use allocations, TFC was actually able to boost the number of international spots it could use.
Both TFC and the Whitecaps have argued that, with a smaller talent pool and Montreal coming into the league in 2012, that they would be hard-pressed to strike a competitive balance with the American teams. TFC has never made the playoffs in four seasons in MLS.
“We have no intent of having any competitive imbalance between our American-based teams and the Canadian-based teams,” said Garber, but added that boosting the fortunes of the Canadian national team is a priority for MLS.
“With three first-division teams, they will be able to drive increased quality and, ultimately, success of the Canadian national team.”
Sounds like Garber wants the Reds, Whitecaps and Impact to have as many Canadians as possible on the roster, doesn’t it?
That logic fits with the announcement that the league is bringing back the reserve league in 2011, and allowing teams to boost their rosters to 30 players each, without any extra cap hits. After the first 24 players, there will be six spots open to players who are under 24, with no cap hit.
The reserve teams will be split into three six-team divisions and play 10-game schedules, plus playoffs. All roster players, trialists and academy players are eligible. Reserve teams may also schedule additional exhibition games, including tilts against NASL and USL-PRO sides.
And, the league eliminated the limit on academy players who can graduate to the roster. Now, teams can sign as many academy players as they want, urging teams to sign and nurture homegrown talent.
Garber said MLS is the only league in North America “where a player can train in the shadow of the stadium in which he will make his professional debut.”
Now, with both USL-PRO and NASL, which has its application for official Division-Two status in front of the U.S. Soccer Federation on Sunday, facing uncertain futures, does the roster-size increase and increased homegrown player initiative make the new MLS reserve division the new de facto Division-2 of North American soccer?
It may make the Canadian Soccer Association’s reported directive to not sanction any more domestic teams to play in Div-2 American-based leagues moot. In fact, the relevance of NASL and USL was massively downgraded by the MLS announcement.
It’s clear from Garber’s words that he envisions the MLS homegrown initiative to be the great nurturer of Canadian soccer talent, not a home-based Division 2 that’s envisioned by the CSA.