Canada-U.S. U-17 final should have MLS smiling

Bryce Alderson

Dare to dream.

We are in the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Both Canada and the United States are cruising towards qualification, with teams built on the backbones of the two U-17 squads who will face off in Sunday’s CONCACAF U-17 final.

Striker Keven Aleman and midfielder Bryce Alderson lead Canada towards Qatar 2022, while striker Marc Pelosi fills the net for the Americans. All of them are household names.

It would be the realization of a dream for Major League Soccer. When commissioner Don Garber was in Toronto last winter to announce awarding of MLS Cup to Canada’s largest city, he admitted that there was a slight change in focus with MLS. With Toronto FC in the mix, soon to be joined by the Whitecaps and the Impact, the league wanted to not only help U.S. Soccer be the best it could be, but to help prop up the Canadian program.

“We want to see Canada in the World Cup,” said Garber, who said he envisioned a CONCACAF where Mexico actually ranked behind the U.S. and Canada.

Now, this U-17 final has one elephant in the room. Even though it’s a dream for MLS to see the U.S. and Canada in the final — with lots of players from MLS academies on the pitch — Mexico isn’t part of this equation. That’s because, as hosts of the U-17 World Cup, Mexico didn’t need to be at the CONCACAF championship. So, we can’t talk about usurping El Tri just yet.

MLS has created a taskforce to work with the Canadian clubs and the Canadian Soccer Association to try and improve the program. But, even as the league lowered the Can-Con roster requirement for the Whitecaps and Toronto FC in 2011, their youth programs are showing they are in full blossom. Really, the reduction could be a moot point.

Even though the Canadian limits were relaxed, MLS also got rid of its restriction on the number of academy players each club could sign in the season. Now, every club is encouraged to stock its rosters by bringing up teenage prospects through their academies. Those prospects give clubs all sorts of discounts and freebies when it comes to the salary cap, too.

The U.S. team has five MLS academy players on its U-17 roster, while Canada’s U-17 team is made up mostly of players from the Impact and TFC Academies and the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency. Only six Canadian players aren’t from those three programs. While those Whitecaps and Impact players came up with the clubs while they were still Div.-2 franchises, the fact that they are producing top-drawer talent suggests they are already ahead of the curver when it comes to the MLS academies.

Alderson is from the Whitecaps’ Residency. Aleman is one of six TFC Academy players on the Canadian roster.

But, the fact that academies of the MLS teams (and those coming to MLS) have been more influential in the Canadian roster than the American roster isn’t a stunner. The U.S. has far more elite junior leagues and developmental circuits than Canada has, so more of these players choose to go into other streams than the MLS academies. Heck, AZ Sahuaros, whom the Whitecaps played in a friendly today and FC Edmonton will face in a friendly next week, is a perfect example — a developmental team with lots of elite players that falls outside the MLS system. And, well, not everyone lives within 50 miles of an MLS stadium.

But, even though the U-17 final will be ignored by the mainstream media and ignored by most of the home fans (when the host Jamaicans aren’t playing, at least), the soccer communities in Canada and the United States have reason to smile. The Americans know that yet another troupe of talented youngsters is coming up, to help keep it tat the top of CONCACAF for a long time to come; and Canadians finally get the feeling that we might be catching up.

At last.


About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.