Home Canadian Premier League CanPL News and Notes Reserve teams in CanPL? Thanks, but no thanks

Reserve teams in CanPL? Thanks, but no thanks


Since Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani first publicly unveiled a plan to launch a national “Division 1A” (back in issue 2 of Plastic Pitch, Summer 2014), I have been reserved in my writing about the planned Canadian Premier League. There hasn’t been a lot of info out there, and rampant speculation only seems to divide fans into two camps:

  1. The militant “we can do this!” crowd
  2. The “it will never work” or “this will be bush league” crowd.

All of this before any team has been announced.

Last Friday evening, I was invited to the launch meeting of a group calling itself the Edmonton Soccer Project; basically, this is a grassroots initiative that looks to show City Council and other levels of government that soccer is lagging in terms of new facilities — that Edmonton is falling behind because it still doesn’t have a single full-sized covered field, pretty well a must for soccer development in any winter city.

What does this have to do with the CanPL? Well, over and over, the discussion at Edmonton Soccer Project came back to how disorganized and adversarial the various clubs and organizations are in the city; that, because the soccer community isn’t united, other sports and funding initiatives get put ahead of what the clubs and kids need. The message, over and over, was unity, unity, unity. Can the soccer community pull it off?

Tobias Oliva, of FieldTurf of Dreams, created several logos in honour of the #MakeCanPLSoviet discussion on Twitter. Here is VIKTORIA VICTORIA
Tobias Oliva, of FieldTurf of Dreams, created several logos in honour of the #MakeCanPLSoviet discussion on Twitter. Here is VIKTORIA VICTORIA

To me, Edmonton Soccer Project was reflective of the Canadian Soccer scene as a whole. Lots of people pulling in different directions. And I get the nervous feeling that this is the way it might go with the CanPL.

But, before I go on, let’s review what we do know.

  • The stated goal of “Division 1A” is to co-exist with existing MLS and NASL teams.
  • Montagliani has publicly stated that there’s a target date (not a for-sure launch date, a target date) of 2018 to get the league off the ground.
  • During this process, there were actually two league proposals floating across the desks of various investors. In fact, two rival league proposals. The second one wasn’t one to be taken very seriously, but the aggressive nature of the person/people behind it actually hurt the real CanPL start-up.
  • FC Edmonton has repeatedly stated its opposition of a move to CanPL. Of course, the owners are also shareholders in the North American Soccer League, where the team plays at the moment.
  • Meanwhile, NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson said earlier this year that the league would not block the Canadian teams from going to CanPL if they felt it was in their best interests to move on. (Now, it needs to be said that a lot is going on with NASL; WRAL reported that Fort Lauderdale will need league support to keep making payroll. Rayo OKC had an ownership split and cleared out the front office. As well, the league — driven by spending by Minnesota, Miami FC and the New York Cosmos — is becoming a have-and-have-not circuit.)
  • Toronto FC told the Toronto Sun earlier this week that it might be interested in putting a reserve side of some sort in CanPL.
Tobias Oliva, of FieldTurf of Dreams, created several logos in honour of the #MakeCanPLSoviet discussion on Twitter. Here is TRAKTOR SASKATCHEWAN
Tobias Oliva, of FieldTurf of Dreams, created several logos in honour of the #MakeCanPLSoviet discussion on Twitter. Here is TRAKTOR SASKATCHEWAN

Now, let’s get to that final bullet point. Because if the Canadian soccer community wants to come together to rally behind its own national league, we can’t have any of the member teams serving more than one master.

The stated goal is to co-exist with the other North American leagues. And that’s the right approach. The three MLS teams and the two NASL teams should not be censured — they’ve put a lot of investment and effort into building their clubs and their academies. Their investors put money forward and waded into an American-dominated system.

But, to allow them to put affiliate teams in a CanPL, as TFC President Bill Manning suggested, would do more harm than good.

Why? First off, the three MLS teams have a hard enough time drawing a national TV audience as is. According to the piece Chris Zelkovich wrote in our latest issue of Plastic Pitch (10, out now), for the first half of the 2016 MLS season, Toronto FC average a TV audience of 38,000 per game on Sportsnet. If the big club does so poorly in national ratings, how would its reserve team be perceived?

As well, placing a reserve team in a national league that’s selling itself as “1A,” well, it’s parochial and arrogant. Put yourself in the shoes of someone living in Edmonton, Calgary or Winnipeg. These cities have NHL teams. They see themselves as major league. In the case of the two Alberta cities, the metro populations are well in excess of one million each. The reaction in these places to seeing a road teams with “2” or “II” (or worse, a “III” or 3) at the end of their names would be extremely negative. It would hammer home the kind of regional divisions and resentment we need to shake off if a Canadian league is to work. People in these cities don’t want to be reminded that those in the largest three Canadian centres see the rest of the country as minor-league or worthy of reserve teams.

To put it bluntly, it would be insulting.

As well, reserve teams would hammer home the notion that the Canadian league is still subservient in some way to the greater American soccer hegemony. A “2” from an MLS is a reminder that a Canadian league isn’t “1A,” that’s it’s not actually coexisting with the North American leagues. No, it hammers home the idea that the Canadian league will never be anything but minor.

Look, no matter what the budget — the first few seasons of Canadian PL aren’t going to be top-level quality. We get that. Heck, if you’re in the stands to see Barcelona or Bayern recreated, well, that’s naive. But the dream has to be there that it can build into something greater — that it can improve year after year. And no glass ceiling should be placed on ambition.

Tobias Oliva, of FieldTurf of Dreams, created several logos in honour of the #MakeCanPLSoviet discussion on Twitter. Here is CHEMOPETROL CALGARY
Tobias Oliva, of FieldTurf of Dreams, created several logos in honour of the #MakeCanPLSoviet discussion on Twitter. Here is CHEMOPETROL CALGARY

Now, because of the silence and secrecy surrounding the CanPL, burst with random tweets with unattributed tidbits, Canadian soccer Twitter has turned away from Benny’s and mango ladies to debate the Canadian PL. Of that, I’d be safe in saying 99.9 per cent of us are under-informed on the topic. I’ve said in the past that the process should be a little more transparent — but at least we know have a target date and sense that the wheels are moving.

But we have to give this process time and see how it evolves. We need to accept the fact that, yes, Canada is in fact home to several well-heeled sports investors — and that maybe this league won’t be another CSL. Maybe this league won’t be run by the owner of the local mattress store “who really loves soccer.”

Maybe what we need is a Canadian solution. And not worry about comparing ourselves to any other nation. Maybe it’s about creating our own league with our own rivalries. The 401 rivalry in MLS is wonderful, but we need more of them across our country.

What we need is a united voice on this. No judging a league before it’s hatched.


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  1. James

    September 22, 2016 at 8:08 am

    I wouldn’t mind if any of the MLS or NASL ownership groups put a team in the CPL. Heck, I wouldn’t even mind if they did so with the view of them being a feeder club. But I would impose certain criteria, namely that any club be distinctly different in name from “Big Brother” in MLS or NASL and that the two clubs financials and rosters are 100% independent of each other. In other words, you may perceive the CPL club to be a feeder but moving players from the CPL team to the MLS or NASL team would have to follow the same process as any other transfer between clubs.

    The CSA is driving this initiative, not private enterprise and the reality is, their number one goal of this league is to develop Canadian players, give them a place to play and more minutes and feed into the national team. The only way that happens is by maximizing player opportunity thus it would be foolish to turn away a proven, financially stable investor.

  2. BCM

    September 22, 2016 at 6:17 am

    100 percent agree. Having the reserve teams would also kill attendance figures and add to the voices calling it a ‘bush league’. I have no problem with CPL teams taking MLS and NASL players on loan, but every team must be stand alone and marketable.

    • CorbeauNoir

      December 2, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      The mere fact that MLS teams exist and will continue to exist on Canadian soil make the CPL ‘subservient’ by its very nature of not being MLS. It’s not about being ‘underinformed’, the basic reality of the situation is that the pro soccer landscape in Canada is permanently, irrevocably split. It negates the ‘1A’ philosophy before a single game has been contemplated, let alone played. If anything, making the whole league a reserve/farm pool for Canadian MLS teams would be more unifying than this throwaway-CFL-sideproject option. It would if anything insert more money into the league, heighten the quality of play, and probably generate more public interest.

  3. Tom

    September 21, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Good article and your spot on, the CPL can not have any of the MLS’s USL farm teams in the league.

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