State of the MLS roundtable: Since there’s no movement on roster equality, now is the time for Canada to get tough By Steven Sandor Posted on December 2, 2014 1 0 629 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Don Garber Don Garber began his roundtable with a group of five selected journalists with an overture intended for Canadian ears. He said that if Canada doesn’t qualify for a World Cup in his time as MLS commissioner, “It will be a mark I truly regret.” He said he wanted to work with the Canadian Soccer Association, and that the United States, Canada and Mexico together could be soccer powerhouse. The feel-good vibes lasted until it was time for RDS’s Patrick Leduc to ask his question. He asked the commissioner about the league’s stance on roster rules as they pertained to Canadians. In MLS, Canadians are recognized as domestics on Canadian teams, but as imports on American teams. But Americans are domestics in both countries. In July, Garber said “We are working on a new approach to our international player rules as they relate to Canada. Stay tuned.” Well, at Tuesday’s roundtable, Garber confirmed that there isn’t going to be a new approach. When pressed by Leduc, Garber retreated back to the argument that U.S. labour law prevents Canadians from being domestics on American soil. He said a Canadians can’t be treated any differently than a Mexican, a Honduran or a Brit. So, Garber made it clear that the status quo will remain — and that roster equality will not become reality in MLS. But, MLS is affiliated with USL-PRO; the two leagues work together. And USL-PRO has treated Canadians as domestics league-wide for years. If a Canadians plays for the Charleston Battery, he’s a domestic. But if he plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy, he’s a foreigner. It was a double standard before the leagues were affiliated. But it’s now all the more glaring when the leagues are working in concert with each other to develop players. And, in an interview with me that featured in the fall issue of Plastic Pitch (CLICK HERE), NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson said that the issue of making Canadians domestics on U.S. teams was a “federation question, so I can’t ultimately say how that gets resolved.” Applying labour law to pro sports has always been a thorny issue, as we accept sports are naturally prejudicial. I’ve been told that by American lawyers when I have explored this issue in the past. If you want to apply strict labour laws, it would be hard to cut a veteran with 10 year’s experience so you can bring in a rookie who makes less. Apply labour law to that scenario. The fact is, we don’t. When Garber made the same labour-law statements to TSN’s Jason DeVos last year, MLS’s office then clarified the statements, saying that the league didn’t want to create a system where American teams could hold Canadian players for ransom, because our talent pool was so small. Basically, if Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver needed an elite Canadian player, the Portland Timbers could ask for a crazy return for Will Johnson. What Garber said in the roundtable is that, down the road, the rules may be adjusted down the road so Canadian teams can focus on Canadian players as domestics. So, any rule change would pertain only to the Canadian teams. “Canadian players aren’t good enough yet to allow their teams to be competitive,” Garber cautioned. Garber said he understands that it’s an emotional issue. That he understands that there are complexities that come when an American organization comes in and sets up shop in Canada. If labour law is the issue, dammit, maybe it’s time to lobby our soccer leaders. Since some claim it’s a “federation issue,” maybe it’s time the CSA demands Americans be seen as foreigners on our teams. Now. So be it if it hurts the won-loss records of our MLS and NASL teams. It’s better to be principled and do what’s best for our nation — because, after being teased by Garber in the summer that real change was going to take place, we now fall back to the status quo. Let’s see if Canada’s regulations can match up to the Americans. Maybe it’s time to see the day when Toronto FC, Montreal and Vancouver start teams with no Americans on the roster — because they had to give equal opportunity to Mexicans, Hondurans and Brits. The CSA was able to crack down on the three incoming USL-PRO teams, mandating that teams affilated with the Impact, TFC and the Whitecaps had to have six Canadian players on the field. Maybe it’s time to go after the bigger fish. The status quo will lead us to not qualifying for World Cups. Maybe Don Garber won’t regret that black mark as much as he said he would. Because, if it goes on, Canadian soccer fans will ask the toughest question of all — if the shared system continues to be prejudiced against us, maybe it’s time to ask for a divorce.