Roster equality

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A decade ago, I was the editor of the Edmonton Oilers game magazine. You know, the game program? Remember when you were excited to get a game program? Maybe you collected them.

But, game programs needed to be printed in advance, so they’d arrive in boxes the day of the game and be ready to sell by the time the gates opened. So, the stories would need to be ready weeks ahead of time. And that also went for the rosters, too.

So, each season, themNational Hockey League’s trade deadline was a living nightmare. The printer would hold off producing the mags till the last second. I’d have to make last-second edits literally minutes before the next issue would go to press. Sometimes I’d have to put disclaimers in stories where players who were traded from the Oilers were mentioned or quoted. It was like “player A and B and C are now with the Islanders, but were interviewed while they were still Oilers.”

(I use that example because, in the early 2000s, it seemed like the Oilers only ever made trades with the Islanders.)

So, why am I writing about hockey in a soccer mag? Well, since it’s a Canadian soccer mag, hockey is fairly safe topic. But it also segues into the realities of making any magazine.

Months before, the idea was hatched to do a piece that focused on Canada’s unique connections with the San Antonio Scorpions of the North American Soccer League. When the Scorpions came through Edmonton, I spoke with the three major players in the story: Coach

Alen Marcina, defender Adrian Cann and midfielder Shaun Saiko, pictured.

Days after the interviews were done and the framework of the story was crafted, I got a press release from the Scorpions that announced they’d made a trade for Costa Rican César Elizondo. But, Elizondo would have been the eighth international on the roster, and NASL rules allow only seven. So, later in the release, came the news that Saiko had been cut loose from the team.

As an editor, I had to choose. Omit Saiko from the story, or keep him in there? And, I chose the latter. Cut or not, Saiko was part of the team at the time of the story. The big adjustment I had to make was to make sure the piece was written in past tense.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN PLASTIC PITCH #3.

But Saiko’s release only illustrates the major divide in how differently Canadians are treated in the United States. Even though NASL and Major League Soccer have teams in both countries, they don’t offer roster equality. Both leagues allow American players to be seen as domestic talents on their U.S.- and Canadian-based teams. But reciprocity is not offered to Canadians. They are only seen as domestics if they play on Canadian teams.

It makes it hard for Canadians to find work in the U.S., because it’s hard to sell a Canadian as a sexy international signing to American fan bases, when there are Mexicans and Europeans and South Americans out there. So, Canadians are passed over. And when they do catch on, they are on the most-expendable lists.

MLS has often cited labour law in the U.S. as a reason. But, when we asked U.S. lawyers about it through our sister website, The11.ca, what we got was a lot of opinions that it might make an interesting test case, but that there’s really no precedent for preventing Canadians from getting domestic tags. Sure, someone could sue. Heck, people sue each other in America for taking parking spots.

The issue the lawyers had was this: Labour law is generally designed for places where things like seniority and experience matter, to make sure a good domestic worker isn’t replaced by a cheap foreigner, or even a cheap local. But sports don’t work like that. If they did, the outgoing veteran could sue a team because he was replaced by the kid taken in the draft. In sport, we understand that coaches make cuts based on gut feelings. They make decisions based on the ages of players. Maybe a coach needs more left-footed players, or a taller defender. It’s all prejudice. And we accept that, because it’s sport.

And, USL-PRO recognizes Canadians as domestics, league wide. Hmm.

So, it’s more than just a little interesting that, in this issue’s feature interview, NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson said the issue of Canadians-as-domestics lays with the soccer federations. He didn’t bring up the labour argument. He indicated that it’s a Canadian Soccer Association/United States Soccer Federation question. Again, hmm.

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