• Duane Rollins

      Covering the world’s game from a Canadian perspective, the 24th Minute has been at the forefront for Toronto FC coverage since 2008. It is the source for breaking news, analysis and all things Canadian soccer.

    • Michael Crampton

      Mike Crampton has been an avid follower of Canadian club soccer and participant in the emergent Canadian soccer supporters scene for over a decade. When not playing, watching, or writing about the game he continues to serve the grassroots as an administrator at the local level. You can follow Mike on Twitter @BHTC_Mike

    • James Grossi

      James began covering the game in 2011 after a slow process of two decades saw him gradually consumed by it. He contributes to The Shin Guardian, Waking the Red, and had a piece featured in Issue Two of The Blizzard, as well as maintaining his own site, Partially Obstructed View. He covers the rest of MLS in the hope of providing context to fans on the edge.

    • Sober Second Thoughts: An opportunity that needs to be taken

      Canadian Soccer News’ Ben Knight once said that MLS was like watching a series of McDonalds restaurants play against each other -- everything was basically the same, only the colour of the strips changed.

      MLS’ insistence on absolute parity may have made all teams competitive (in theory anyway), but it also made the league a tad bit vanilla. Without significant separation between the best and worst teams, it was hard to care about anything other than your local branch of McMLS. And that prevented the league from truly growing.

      He said this around 2009. At the time the league had just started to implement some changes that were designed to take the training wheels off and allow some individual expression by clubs within the league. Now, about four years latter, we are starting to see some changes.

      Most famously the league started the Designated Player program in 2007, which allowed big names to come into the league so long as the wage bill was paid by the club signing the player rather than by the league. That rule was eventually expanded to allow up to three DPs and it provided even more opportunity for the wealthier or more ambitious clubs to be aggressive. Signing a DP wasn’t a guarantee to make you better (TFC is a glaring example of that), but the rule has helped to create individual identities for clubs.

      The league is still a bit McMLS, but far less than it was in 2009.

      Of course the DP rule wasn’t the only change MLS made back then. It arguably wasn’t even the biggest change the league made to allow teams to forge their own identity – for that you might have to look at the academy system rule changes.

      Although they were instituted with far less fanfare, the academy programs give teams far more ability to shape themselves in their own philosophy. That’s especially the case now that all limits to signing players have been removed.

      Today, MLS continued the process it started with the DP and academy rule changes when it formally announced that it is teaming up with USL-Pro to grow the reserve league.

      They were clear. The move is about development with an eye to their stated goal of becoming “one of the world’s best leagues” by 2022.

      It's badly needed. Bluntly, the current reserve system is a joke. They play too few games and the games they play are not competitive enough to help the development of younger players.

      Players need to play and this move will allow them to do so. Unfortunately for the Canadian teams, we are still a year away from the benefit. All three teams will continue to play in the MLS reserve league in 2013 during the transition year of the program. What they do in 2014 is still up in the air, however.

      What isn’t up in the air is what they should do. The partnership allows teams to either go in halfway by affiliating with a USL team and loaning out at least four players. That will be fine for the four (and it won’t be much more, based on the small roster size of MLS teams), but not so great for the rest of the non-starting players – including the academy kids that everyone wants to see playing more.

      The other option – and the option that all three Canadian teams absolutely should be doing – is putting a stand alone team in USL-Pro.

      That option will be far more expensive, but far better for the long-term development of players.

      There is no excuse for all three teams – three teams that are in the upper level of MLS teams in terms of profits – not to go full-in on this plan.

      And the CSA won't stand in their way. President Victor Montagliani confirmed with CSN today that they have no intention to block the Canadian MLS teams from playing reserve games as part of USL-Pro. The only caveat, he made, was that the reserve teams would not be sanctioned separately from their senior teams and, as such, would not be able to participate in Canadian competitions – most notably the Voyageurs Cup.

      It takes time to build a pro team, even if much of the infrastructure needed is already in place. So, it should not be viewed as a negative that the three teams are not participating this year. In fact, it’s probably a good sign they haven’t entered into an affiliate relationship as it means the door is still open to playing as a stand alone team in 2014.

      But, this needs to happen.
      Comments 14 Comments
      1. mowe's Avatar
        mowe -
        Agreed. This NEEDS to happen.

        My only question is will academy players be allowed to play on USL-Pro teams without jeopardizing their college eligibility? Isn't there a rule that you're not allowed to play with professionals?

        I look forward to three new professional Canadian teams playing in a competitive developmental league starting next year.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Quote Originally Posted by mowe View Post

        My only question is will academy players be allowed to play on USL-Pro teams without jeopardizing their college eligibility? Isn't there a rule that you're not allowed to play with professionals?
        That rule was changed a couple years ago. As long as they aren't paid themselves they can play against pros.

        This question was directly asked at the press conference today.

        Duane
      1. Soccerpro's Avatar
        Soccerpro -
        This has some promise. However, at the moment, what has stopped Vancouver, TFC or Montreal from loaning young players to FC Edmonton or some other team up to this point?
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Quote Originally Posted by Soccerpro View Post
        This has some promise. However, at the moment, what has stopped Vancouver, TFC or Montreal from loaning young players to FC Edmonton or some other team up to this point?
        All 30 players on the roster and some academy kids train daily with the first team. Sending them on loan in another city prevents that. Having a B-team playing in the same city is much better from that standpoint. And the reserve players can more easily be put on the 18-man gameday rosterwhen needed.
      1. Miguel Fig's Avatar
        Miguel Fig -
        Why doesn't Toronto Lynx upgrade to USL Pro then we could affiliate with them. Toronto Lynx is in the PDL USL league wouldn't this option work?
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        ^ it is quite unlikely that the Lynx can afford to operate at the USL Pro level. They're a fairly bare bones operation these days, more of a pay to train youth academy than they are an elite senior program
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
        ^ it is quite unlikely that the Lynx can afford to operate at the USL Pro level. They're a fairly bare bones operation these days, more of a pay to train youth academy than they are an elite senior program
        Victor was pretty clear that the CSA would not sanction clubs to play at the D3 level. The reserve teams, by virtue of already being sanctioned, can pay against American D3 teams, but any other organization looking to play at the semipro level (which is what the CSA calls D3) must do so in a Canadian set-up.

        Additionally IMSSoccerNews reported that MLS is requiring that the stand alone reserve teams play in the same facilities tat the first teams play in. When it comes to lower division reporting no one one's it better than IMSSoccer so I fully trust that info.

        TFC could possibly buy the Lynx brand and call the reserve team the Lynx (there is some value in having a different branding for the reserve side - the club could sell merchandise to off- set additional costs and market the tem separately from TFC proper. Although I have a better re-branding idea. If anyone from TFC is reading I think you should call your USL -Pro team something that rhymes with Boronto Tlizzard.)
        Duane
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        ^ I HATE typing on the iPad...sorry for the typos.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Interesting and insightful. Exactly what's been lacking lately with your articles. This is a welcomed change and an interesting step in hopefully the right direction for the Canadian MLS teams and Canadian soccer in general. These reserve league matches will help immensely with the development of our younger academy grads who don't necessarily get much first squad playing time. Hopefully they do go all in and have their own team without any affiliation to an American team.

        My question is, isn't NASL the official D2 league? Maybe I'm wrong but, wouldn't it have made more sense to have an agreement like this with NASL as opposed to the D3 USL Pro? I'm out of the loop. Can anyone fill me in?

        Good work Duane.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Do we know yet how the roster rules will be? Meaning, if they put in a reserve team into USL-Pro, do players on that team count against the 30 roster spots they have? I hope they wouldn't (and I wish they would get rid of the 30 player limit too). If TFC had a team like this a couple years ago, Lindsay, Cordon, Makubuya could have played there instead of signing for the senior team, and would have gotten some playing time, and likely would have been better off than they are now, still with a shot at getting into the first team instead of looking for work.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        All I have to say is that if the CSA is going to bank on a local D3 league: it better be good.

        If they dont pull this off properly, they've harmed their own interests, the MLS clubs' interests, and the interests of Canadian players.
      1. Duane Rollins's Avatar
        Duane Rollins -
        Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
        Do we know yet how the roster rules will be? Meaning, if they put in a reserve team into USL-Pro, do players on that team count against the 30 roster spots they have? I hope they wouldn't (and I wish they would get rid of the 30 player limit too). If TFC had a team like this a couple years ago, Lindsay, Cordon, Makubuya could have played there instead of signing for the senior team, and would have gotten some playing time, and likely would have been better off than they are now, still with a shot at getting into the first team instead of looking for work.

        The USL-Pro team would have its own roster -- up to 30 players -- made up with some loaned players from MLS (the 25-30 roster spots plus players coming off injury and a few extended trialists) and players on a USL-Pro contract (in theory could be anyone, but most likely would be largely made up of academy prospects, many playing on an amateur contract to protect NCAA eligibility).
      1. Fhurion's Avatar
        Fhurion -
        Agreed Duane. I've been glad to see Ben, Ben & yourself all be strong proponents of the Academies and more robust development systems. This is definitely a step in the right direction, no questions asked. As most people are saying, it'll be interesting to see how this develops and what kind of dividends it pays in 5 or so years' time.

        I'm also in full agreement on the co-opting of the Lynx or Blizzard brand. That'd be preferred to creating a "TFC Young Boys" or whatever they'd label a TFC reserve team. It's a bit of a shame really that any new USL Pro team can't play further afield. ie. TFC reserves in Hamilton, Caps in Victoria, MTL in QC. But I'm guessing this is a strategic move by USL to preserve those markets for future expansion?

        Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
        My question is, isn't NASL the official D2 league? Maybe I'm wrong but, wouldn't it have made more sense to have an agreement like this with NASL as opposed to the D3 USL Pro? I'm out of the loop. Can anyone fill me in?
        NASL is certified D2, yes. The reason MLS went this route, IMO, is that there have been ongoing concerns about the financial viability about any level of pro soccer, but especially the professional "entry" level of D3. This move bolsters D3/USL Pro, keeping it viable, expanding the footprint of MLS as a brand, while also giving a major PR and developmental boost to D3.

        NASL is showing signs of strength with its newest franchises (San Antonio, Cosmos etc.) and expansion (Indy, Virginia, Ottawa), and the value/strength of the league would be undercut if it's seen simply as an "MLS feeder league," which is a title that USL Pro will likely thrive under. NASL is striving to be the legitimate 2nd division and to have the same level of professionalism and brand identity as MLS (some whisper they want to compete head-to-head with MLS, but I think that's foolish and suicidal). If the cards are played right, this move solidifies all 3 levels of the pyramid and *deep breath* sets the stage for any possible promotion/relegation down the road...even if it's decades away.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Quote Originally Posted by Duane Rollins View Post
        The USL-Pro team would have its own roster -- up to 30 players -- made up with some loaned players from MLS (the 25-30 roster spots plus players coming off injury and a few extended trialists) and players on a USL-Pro contract (in theory could be anyone, but most likely would be largely made up of academy prospects, many playing on an amateur contract to protect NCAA eligibility).
        Thanks for the details. That's encouraging. Unless a sweeter deal comes along from the CSA, I agree that they need to take advantage of this opportunity.
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