Home Canadian Premier League CanPL News and Notes Montagliani’s vision: A Canadian Division 1A that “coexists” with MLS, NASL

Montagliani’s vision: A Canadian Division 1A that “coexists” with MLS, NASL


The second issue of Plastic Pitch, released today, features a 16-page section on Canada’s bid for the 2026 World Cup, with stories from five different writers.

(For those new to us, Plastic Pitch is our dedicated magazine for iPad, smartphones and Android readers — you can get either issue 1 or 2 or subscribe through iTunes, Newsstand, Google Play or Amazon, links at the bottom of the article)

But, there’s one part of that World Cup section that’s sure to get a lot of attention. And that’s the stated Canadian Soccer Association goal of an all-Canadian Division One — or “1A,” as CSA President Victor Montagliani called it in our interview.

Say it with me. An all-Canadian league. Division one, not two or three or four.

Over the last year, I’d heard whispers about the possibility of an all-Canadian Division One. But getting anyone to confirm that… well, that was the thing. It was like the Great White Whale. Now, it’s out there. Officially. The recognition that Canada needs its own league; that we can’t redefine our developmental pyramid unless a Canadian Division One — which puts the interest of Canadian soccer at the forefront — is at the top.

Now, before the message boards are filled with flame wars over the future of the shared U.S-Canadian pyramid, some context needs to be provided. The discussion about the possibility of a Canadian Division One came at the end of an interview I did with Montagliani about the 2026 World Cup bid. It was the add-on to a simple question: Does a country needs its own league in order to have a successful World Cup bid? Montagliani’s answer was no — it doesn’t. But then he said that he would really like to see Canada have its own Division One, anyway. Montagliani stressed that the league was an end goal to itself, and not part of the bid. And, most importantly, that this was a long-term vision, not something that was going to happen tomorrow. For a Canadian Division One to hatch, it would need investors. It would need broad-based support.

Really, we’re at the stage where the toe is wiggling in the pool, seeing if the water is warm enough to go in.

Still, the fact that the CSA president says that he has a goal of seeing an all-Canadian Division One come to pass. Well, that’s news. Big news.

And, there wasn’t any hostility in the conversation. Montagliani was clear that this concept wasn’t mean to trip up MLS or NASL’s work in Canada. He used the term “co-exist” to describe the relationship that would/could evolve between 1A and the American-based leagues that have teams in Canada.

As the person who conducted the interview, I need to be fair to my subject — and knowing how a passionate soccer community can jump on news like this, I wanted to make sure we all have clear heads going into this. So, make sure this is clear: This isn’t about leaving MLS or NASL. It’s about creating a new professional pathway.

So, now that the “context” is handled, we can discuss what a national Division One could mean.

We know that MLS has no real interest in having its Canadian content go any higher than three clubs. Commissioner Don Garber has made it clear that the current expansion plans don’t include looking north of the border. The question is, can Canadian soccer really grow to what it needs to be with just three first-division clubs?

We all know the answer to that.

This isn’t to knock MLS. I don’t want people to think that this site or the publication is anti-MLS. It’s not. But we need to understand and accept what MLS is: An American league, which allows three Canadian clubs to participate in it. When Garber or other MLS officials speak to the gathered media, they speak about what MLS can do for “our country” (as in the United States, singular) rather than “countries.” When Don Garber was recently in Montreal, he chatted with the media about the problems the league was having in getting a stadium approved in Miami, not about making the Canadian national program better.

Canadians should see our participation in MLS as a simple business transaction.

What MLS gets out of the deal? In Toronto FC, the league got the franchise that, along with Seattle, acted as the catalyst for what we call MLS 2.0. In Vancouver and Montreal, the league gets teams that finish near the top of attendance lists. The MLS TV numbers, per capita (in English) are better in Canada than the U.S. The Canadian economy continues to outperform the American economy; even though we are a smaller country with fewer consumers, we offer sponsors a better likelihood, per capita, that their products will be seen by affluent potential buyers.

The Canadian part of the bargain? We got the chance to kickstart a Division-One process, to get pro teams which would create academies and nurture talent. The next part of that equation, though, is where MLS hasn’t lived up to its part of the bargain, yet. (And we stress, “yet.”) And that’s Canadians actually getting minutes in the league. Based on the numbers, Canadian minutes played in MLS — on a per-team basis — are about the same in 1996 as they are in 2013 (we showed this back in the first issue of Plastic Pitch)

Anyone who tells you that “Canadian minutes are up” simply because there are more teams in the league is a charlatan. Of course there are more total minutes played by Canadians now than there was back then. There were 10 teams then, there are 19 now. There are more jobs available.

But the only real measure, when it comes to seeing how Canadians are being treated in MLS, is to look at the minutes on a per-team basis. And they really haven’t changed. In fact, they have been on a downward trend since Vancouver and Montreal joined the league. In 2013, the number of minutes played by Canadians, per team, worked out this way. On average, each MLS team gave less than 12 full games playing time to one Canadian player.

A Canadian league is desperately needed on the development side. But, let’s face it; outside of the Canadian Football League, we have a unique problem. Because we have such massive neighbours to the south, in terms of international importance and media, we consistently judge ourselves by American standards. For us, playing in a league that has teams from Los Angeles and Houston and Chicago and New York gives us stronger feelings of legitimacy than a league that has teams from Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Halifax. It’s an understandable national complex, as most of our population lives a short drive from the American border. Heck, most of our “original” Canadian TV programming are simply copies of foreign reality shows, repackaged in Canada. So You Think You Can Dance Canada, Amazing Race Canada, Master Chef Canada… The number of Canadians who live in Los Angeles is in the hundreds of thousands. Think about it: For most of us, moving to L.A. will be a more realistic future than moving to Winnipeg or Regina or the Maritimes.

So it’s easy to see how we lose the ability to define ourselves. It probably explains why we are so damn protective about hockey. It’s the one thing we identify as ours, even though we know that a “World” championship means we really are better than just six or seven other nations that really care.

So, the current MLS deal is good for soccer fans in Canada’s three major cities: But, in a very provincial way, it shuts the rest of Canada out from the first-division dream.

Right now, the best anyone can hope for is to have their city join FC Edmonton and Ottawa in NASL. And NASL is still a massive financial commitment for an entrepreneur. Constant road trips to the American south. Keeping up with the payrolls of Minnesota and the New York Cosmos. You need to post the $750,000 guarantee and have net worth in the millions.

So, we need a third way — not just MLS and NASL.

But, the Whitecaps, TFC and Impact don’t deserve to be punished for their successes. Same with the Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton.

And, in no way should a new Canadian league depend on the stick rather than the carrot.

So, Montagliani’s approach is correct: The “co-exist” with MLS and NASL mantra is spot on. The teams that are already in U.S.-dominated leagues should be allowed to remain there. They should be allowed to continue down their paths.

There’s no need to burn bridges here. We need to redefine ourselves (some would say “define”) as a soccer nation. But we can’t subject the five existing teams to some kind of ultra-nationalist scorched Earth policy. If any existing pro team moves to a Canadian league down the road, it should be because it’s what the fans and the front office wants — not because the team was forced to go.

Yet, there are some other issues. If Canada sanctions a “Division 1A,” how would this country’s lone spot in the CONCACAF Champions League be awarded? Let’s face it, if we have our own internationally recognized Division 1, choosing to not award the spot to the champion of said league would be kind of… odd.

The hope would be, down the road, is that by having a Division 1, and also having teams in U.S.-based leagues, CONCACAF would allow Canada to have more than one spot in the CCL. That would solve the problem — one guaranteed spot for Canada’s Division 1 champ, then another spot to the winner of the Voyageurs Cup, in which MLS and NASL and other Canadian teams compete.

But, right now, a national top league just a dream. A dream, though, that has been identified by the CSA. A dream that has a “1A” name. And for Canadian supporters in Regina and Winnipeg and Halifax and Calgary and Hamilton and Quebec City and Victoria, it means the possibility of having a Division 1 soccer club to support, without having to watch MLS on TV to get it.

And that’s a far more noble goal than the status quo.

Oh, and if anyone cares, I think Canada League 1 has a nice ring to it. CL1. Sounds a bit better than “1A.”

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  1. Kahkakew yawassanay

    August 9, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Pretty simple solution…:.16 clubs in two leagues, each with their own divisions that supports rel/pro. It would be 8 clubs in the NASL and eight in the USL…both will end with 24 and 32 clubs. Canadian NASL clubs play own division twice and the othe NASL clubs once for a total of a 30 game regular season. USL clubs will play in a larger league of 32-48 clubs. Same deal, Canadian USL clubs play 14 games in their own division and then 16-20 more against USA USL based clubs. No way any Canadian based football league/division is ever going to be division one quality so being a part of div 1 and 2 in the already established American based leagues makes far more sense…if CSA are pigheaded and see a stand alone league as their only option, then realistically it will be a div 3 league in quality at best and candadian clubs will be better served joining the NASL first and USL second; the MLS already has the market and copyright on an inferior overhyped league that is solely designed to meet owner/investors’ profit targets instead of improving the quality of the beautiful game nationally and internationally

  2. Jt

    June 30, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Ottawa won’t fail they have set the stadium for soccer to hold only 8000.

  3. Mike

    June 22, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Learn from the past. We already had a Canadian Soccer League. It folded for a variety of reasons: bad players, bad venues, bad owners, bad fan support, etc. IMO a Canadian Division in NASL would be nice.

  4. Antonio Yat

    June 21, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Don’t see why this can’t happen the UK has a similar situation with the English Premier League having Welsh teams when there is a Welsh League

    • Seathanaich

      June 22, 2014 at 5:14 am

      Except that nobody – anywhere – pretends that the Welsh League is “1A”. More like “4”.

      Of course “it” could happen here, if “it” means some sort of Canadian league set-up that doesn’t include the three existing Canadian MLS teams . . . but let’s see the CSA build a D3 league in BC, Ontario, or Quebec before they start getting delusions of Div 1A grandeur.

  5. Ted Godwin

    June 20, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    This is so absurd that it beggars description. Why can’t Montagliani and Sandor be honest and simply call it a national D3 league? What is wrong with being honest and filling the horrible gap in our development system?

    CL1 is a fine name even, just don’t pretend that it is a “1A”. Stop lying and start building and maybe we can actually make progress.

  6. poktik

    June 20, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    C—League (short for Canadian League).

    and then expand the Voyageurs Cup to include all Canadian clubs (c-league, mls, nasl, league 1 ontario, and even amateur teams). this would be similar to the US Open Cup and the Champions League berth awarded to the winner.

  7. Jim

    June 19, 2014 at 10:44 pm


    Td Place can be up graded to 45,000 for large events.

    • Seathanaich

      June 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

      Jim, an open field can be “upgraded” to 45,000 for large events. FIFA will say “no thanks, we’re going to go with this bid that’s using actual real stadiums”.

      45k in Ottawa does nothing to address FIFA’s requirement for one 80K and at least three 60K stadia; so, as I wrote below, it’s just one of the many recent stadia that are not only too small for FIFA, they’re too small for the CFL (and MLS). If we were seriously going to have a WC bid we’d need one x 80K and three x 60K in our three largest cities (Van, Tor, and Mtl) and our capital, Ottawa.

      If we built a 40K in Ottawa that could expand to 80K, and had 60Ks in Van, Tor, and Mtl that could be “draped” for CFL and MLS games, then we’d have the big pieces in place. Under that, we’d need 35Ks for the CFL in Edm, Cgy, Reg, Wpg, Ham, and Que, all expandable to 50K for Grey Cups and a WC bid. These facilities would also be able to host major music concerts. That would leave a need for two more stadia, preferably in Halifax and Victoria, to give us a total of 12. The Vic and Hfx could be temps built around CIS football hosting facilities. This whole project would be amazing for the CSA, pro soccer, the CFL, CIS football, and rugby; but it would be a hell of a tough sell.

      • Steven Sandor

        June 20, 2014 at 3:09 am

        Just some clarification here. As Victor says in the Plastic Pitch piece Canada feels eight to 10 venues will be enough for a bid.(and, please remember, this post is only a companion to the 16-page feature in the magazine. Yes, this post is designed to give some context, but also drive traffic to the magazine, and I won’t apologize for it. We’ve spent months working on the overview of the bid, we feel it’s worth your while)

        We have a 56,000-seat stadium in Edmonton already. We have a nearly 60,000-seat stadium in Vancouver. Which gives us two. And we will see how FIFA feels about FieldTurf by 2026… my guess is that it would be approved. The 2015 WWC will be a big test, and FIFA clearly backs the artificial surface and wants to see it used a LOT more. Talk to FIFA people, and they’ll tell you that they feel artificial surfaces are the way of the future.

        As well, in Brazil, some of the stadiums being used were under 40K, but expanded (some temporarily) over the 40K threshold. So, an expanded stadium is OK with FIFA.

        • Seathanaich

          June 20, 2014 at 10:51 pm

          Brazil has built or re-built 12 x 40k, 50k, 60k, and 80K football cathedrals. The Wikipedia article on the 2014 WC shows them all. They are stunning. Canada doesn’t have a single stadium that compares to ANY of those. Not one. BC Place doesn’t compare to any of them, with it’s complete inability to get sunlight onto a grass surface. Commonwealth Stadium doesn’t either, with the seats five miles away from the playing surface thanks to the stupid track. Montreal and Toronto aren’t even on par with Vancouver and Edmonton.

          The CSA thinks that they are going to cobble together a WC bid based on string, duct tape, and five or six CFL stadia that hold 24 or 33 thousand fans normally, and with the addition of massive expanses of wobbly scaffolding and aluminum bleachers would hold another 10 or 15 thousand people, squinting in the sun or shivering in the rain due to lack of overhead cover.

          No thanks, I’m not interested in a repeat of the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games embarassment, where Canada looked like a Third World country to a global audience, hosting an event at U Vic in a decrepit old barn and scaffold benches.

          Build six 10K stadia in Edm, Cgy, Wpg, Ham, Ott, and Que; build a realistic D2 league or a network of D3 leagues in B.C., Ont, and Que; and then I’ll believe that the political will and organisational competence exists to do this. Until then, it’s a dream done on the cheap.

  8. James

    June 18, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    Montagliani is correct in saying that a country does not need an existing national league in order to have a successful World Cup bid; however, the awarding of the 1994 World Cup to the USA was contingent on the creation of a national soccer league a.k.a the MLS as we know it now. This requirement is standard to FIFA’s worldwide growth of the game. FIFA would surely expect the same of Canada if a 2026 World Cup bid were to succeed. After all, there is not a single World Cup host nation without its own national league that didn’t already exist or come into existence shortly after hosting a World Cup. Heck, even Qatar has a national league! We absolutely do need our own national 1A league that can “co-exist” with the MLS and the NASL first and foremost for the betterment and development of Canadian Soccer but it would be fallacy not to recognize its need for a successful World Cup bid as well.

  9. Seathanaich

    June 18, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    This isn’t big news at all. It’s just the same old delusional nonsense from the CSA. What planet do these idiots live on? Nothing is going to happen. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

    These guys can’t coordinate legitimate D3 leagues in BC, Ontario, and Quebec. They can’t create the environment in which small, soccer specific stadia are being built anywhere in this country. They can’t hold a meeting to bring together potential D2/D3 owners in Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, and Quebec – the next tier of cities in which professional soccer should be built.

    If the CSA were planning for anything to happen – FOR REAL – the CSA would be announcing plans to support the establishment of NASL or USL Pro teams in Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, and Quebec. From there we could form a real Canadian D2 league, because Victoria, Saskatoon, London, and Halifax would then become viable as well. If it lived in reality rather than fantasy, the CSA would be talking to provinces, municipalities, prospective owners, and prospective sponsors, to get 5-10K soccer specific stadia in those four cities, plus Edmonton and Ottawa (which is going to fail or move out of New Lansdowne Stadium as soon as they figure out it’s far too large for NASL soccer). What I have described is the potential of reality for mens pro soccer in Canada. What the CSA is talking about is not going to happen.

    World Cup bids are also delusional. We don’t have the facilities to host one. The CFL stadia that have just been built, or will be built in the next few years are ALL TOO SMALL FOR A WORLD CUP. We don’t have an 80K stadium and never will. We don’t have enough 60K stadia – Skydome and BC Place are too small (only Olympic Stadium is 60K). Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ottawa – all have, or will have, stadia that hold 24K or 33K (which is incredibly short-sided and small-thinking). That’s too small for CFL crowds let alone World Cup bids.

    Clearly the new CSA administration is as delusional as the ones that have come before have been incompetent. Which is too bad, because with some of the good moves they’ve made on the women’s side, there was hope that, for once, it wasn’t lunatics or stodgy old fossils running the show.

  10. Dennis LL

    June 18, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    BCer: Is your position then that Canada League 1 (I agree, has a good ring to it) should also, as you prefer for MLS, be at the top of a promotion/relegation pyramid, have no salary cap, and not be a single entity? Or are those simply your preferences for MLS’ future? Honest question. I happen to agree that that is where MLS and the other American leagues need to get to eventually too.

    I don’t think that Canada League 1, if it is going to get off the ground in the next 10 years or so, can have such conditions imposed on it. We all will have our structural preferences but establishing a sustainable league needs to be priority #1; structural preferences that don’t directly affect its sustainability need to be a lower priority. And I view pro/rel and single entity as secondary priorities. A salary cap may be necessary to ensure sustainability, either in the short or even in the long term. See the CFL.

  11. BCer

    June 18, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I would rather see an all Canadian pyramid with TFC, VWFC FCE and other Canadian teams. MLS is a farce football league and would be best for Canada to drop out of it unless MLS adopts pro/rel, no salary cap, no single entity. Better not to be in US pyramid anyway. Canada has over 30 million people, much larger than many nations around the world who have their own leagues.

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