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Q and A with the Commish

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Major League Soccer says that it won’t be adding any more Canadian teams. So,with franchises in Ottawa and Edmonton, the North American Soccer League looks to be the place where we’ll see more expansion north of the border. We talk to NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson about those Canadian-division rumours, and how he sees his league in the Canadian market, both now and in the future…

PP: Over the last few months, we’ve heard talk about NASL and the Canadian Soccer Association looking to develop a Canadian division. What’s your comment on that?

BP: It really is too early to talk about a Canadian division, but it is not something we think is out of the question. There is enough interest in Canada for pro soccer. I think it is something that could possibly work, but I don’t know when.

PP: Do you think a more successful Canadian national men’s team would help build interest for NASL teams in Canada?

BP: I haven’t really thought about that, if there’s a link between the national team’s success and our league in that way. What I do think is that if we continue to be successful in Canada, it is going to contribute to all levels of development of soccer in Canada. And that will be of benefit to all the national teams. The things is to have more Canadian players playing professionally, and that will help Canada’s national team, much the same way that it has helped the United States.

PP: Do you see a time when Canadians are treated as domestics on both American and Canadian NASL teams (they are listed as foreigners on the rosters of American teams, now). And will we see more Canadians in NASL?

BP: The first is a federation question, so I can’t say ulitmately how that gets resolved. But do I see more Canadians in the league in the future, absolutely. But remember that soccer is a global market, so you aren’t just competing with Americans for spots, but with players from around the world. We have players from more than 40 countries in our league.

PP: FC Edmonton has finally put a winning formula together and is in the midst of a chase for a post-season spot in NASL. Do you think winning will help improve the gates at Clarke Stadium (attendance has been steady at about 3,000 per game)?

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BP: There are a lot of ingredients for a professional sports franchise to be successful, so I don’t really like to pick out just one thing and say that’s the thing. It’s not always one thing or the other. But being in the post-season race definitely helps; what it does is create more excitement amongst the fans. But I have seen some great matches, in terms of attendance, in Edmonton over the past couple of years. If the team continues to play the way they are playing now, people will continue to watch and support the

PP: The Ottawa Fury set a new NASL attendance record (14,593) for its first NASL game at the new TD Place. Howimpressed are you by what the Fury has done in its first season?

BP: I was there for the game, it was a fantastic game. It was a fantastic week for the entire ownership group in Ottawa. They have a great community, filled with very knowledgeable and very supportive fans. It’s an incredible facility and it shows the investment that has been made into the club. And we know they continue to invest as they look to get the right mix of players. They are going to be a very successful team in this league. And they prove to us that there are some great markets in Canada, and that there are more cities that we can possibly add to our league.

PP: So, Canadian-division rumours aside, you see opportunities for further expansion in Canada?

BP: We think that there definitely are opportunities. The following for soccer continues to grow in Canada. We have been talking to the CSA about it. And we’re trying to talk to people and see if there is specific interest in certain areas. What we need are people who are passionate about their community and passionate about our league.

PP: When the Women’s World Cup comes to Canada in 2015, both the Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton won’t be able to use their facilities for up to six weeks. FC Edmonton has planned for at least two “home” games in Fort McMurray. But how far will the league go to accommodate the Women’s World Cup in its two Canadian markets? Will the league take a break through at least some of the Women’s World Cup?

BP: We have spent a lot of time looking at it. And it will all depend on what league structure we decide to play under for next season. As I’ve said before, until we get to 16 teams (the league is at 10 this season), depending on how many clubs we have, we may have to change format from year to year. What we have this year, the short spring season (nine games per team) and the longer fall season (18 games per team) actually works better when you don’t have an even number of teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll decide on the structure we will have for next year. Once we have the specifics of that structure, we will work on a plan for the Women’s World Cup. It’s an issue, but the way I see it is that it’s a small inconvenience considering the opportunities the Women’s World Cup will bring to grow the game. The Women’s World Cup will continue to grow interest in top-level soccer, and certainly bring more interest to professional soccer. It is good for the game, a major event for Canada.

PP: And can you tell us your stance on Canada’s plan to bid for the 2026 World Cup?

BP: It is way too early in the process for me to comment on that.

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