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    • The Ottawa Fury appear to have lost the game of chicken that they were playing against CONCACAF and the CSA. Yesterday, the club announced that they would not be allowed to play in the US-based USL for 2019. This is despite receiving a tepid approval from the CSA in September, when they refused to become founding members of the CanPL. This leaves the Fury in a difficult position just four months out from the start of the season. However, according to multiple people working inside the game, they shouldn’t be surprised. “They knew this was possible,” one source said. “Yet, they went ahead anyway and now they are crying about being discriminated.” Another person went even further, suggesting that the Fury might have “half wanted (to be denied sanctioning).” The suggestion being that OSEG doesn’t really want to be involved in soccer anymore, but didn’t want to be the bad guy in fans’ eyes, least it hurt them with RedBlacks’ ticket sales. What happened yesterday was predicted by many. In a Sept 6 article on CSN I quoted a source suggesting that this was a distinct possibility. “Who is going to sanction them,” they said at the time “They may get a ‘pity’ sanction for 2019, but beyond that?” Another person speculated that the CSA would be reluctant to directly challenge the Fury, but would work behind closed doors to challenge the legitimacy of the club playing in a US-based league. “They won’t say anything publicly, but they are hoping CONCACAF steps in,” they said at the time. We don’t know if CONCACAF is acting on behalf of the CSA, but CONCACAF did in fact step in. The question now is what happens next. Most still believe a temporary sanctioning for 2019 will come through, but only with the understanding that this will be the final year it is permitted. Will the Fury continue with that understanding? For the sake of the fans, let’s hope so. But, relations between the CanPL and the Fury weren’t great already and, although there is no direct link between the CanPL and CONCACAF denying sanctioning, yesterday didn’t help the relationship improve. Beyond the Fury, yesterday’s decision could have a trickle down impact on Canadian soccer. If CONCACAF is to enforce the policy evenly, you would have to think that USL-2 teams (formerly PDL) will be the next to be targeted.  The rule being referenced in the Fury’s case states that no team is allowed to play in a league outside its country if a league of the same standard is available in their country. Clearly, CONCACAF has concluded that CanPL is equal to USL. But, is League1 Ontario and the PLSQ the same as USL2? It’s long been the desire of the CSA to stop teams at the D3 level from playing out of country in the hope that the provinces would step up and start D3 leagues. So far only two have, which has allowed several D3 teams to ignore that desire and play in the US. With the CanPL buying L1O, there is speculation that the plan is to bring that model to all parts of the country. When that happens, you would expect that the existing D3 teams be asked to return to Canada. Anyone operating a D3 team now would be wise to plan ahead with this in mind. Which brings us to the MLS teams. Many fans will not accept the rational that they should be exempt from this. In the interest of “fairness” it will be argued that they too should be forced to join CanPL. It won’t happen, but it will create some bad optics for the CSA. The reason it won’t happen now is because it’s clear that forcing TFC, IMFC and VWFC out of MLS would be negative for player development and soccer culture in the country. That would be counter to the entire purpose of creating the CanPL. Although many USL fans strongly disagree, that league is not viewed as having a net benefit to the country and thus is fair game here.    Will this eventually change? Is there a scenario where the three MLS teams are required to enter the CanPL. Yes. And possibly sooner than most believe. (That is if one or more of the Canadian MLS teams isn’t part of a bigger league by then – a league that is launched as part of the United 2026 bid and is designed to disrupt the established order of world football. But, that’s a topic for another day).   
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    • It’s classic steak versus sizzle conversation. In the early days of the CanPL what’s more important? Getting the nuts and bolts of the league settled, or selling the idea of a league to those who probably aren’t reading this article? It’s a conversation that is clearly happening at the league office right now. And, it’s a debate that is quite clearly being won by those on the marketing side of the conversation. There have been increasingly loud groans from many in the soccer community about how the CanPL is not living up to what many hoped it would be. This is even when it is getting more attention than almost anyone thought it would.  Part of this is probably growing pains. There was always going to be issues with a start up league. Marketing is important to the league. But, it is often at odds with some of the things that soccer operations would want to see. A perfect case in point would be open try-outs that took place last summer. Billed as a legitimate opportunity for players to get looked at by CanPL coaches, most people in the soccer world viewed them as a traveling circus. The try-outs were bloated by no-hopers and avoided by anyone who seriously is looking at the CanPL. More than one person has told be that, at best, the open trials discovered “a couple” players that they were unaware of and have a reasonable chance to sign. Most of the Canadian players that will end up in the league were discovered through extensive scouting that has taken place over the last year. A team of scouts has created database of players that numbers over 1,000. Few of them took part in the open trials. From a pure soccer standpoint, wouldn’t the CanPL coaches’ time have been better spent looking at true prospects rather than hundreds of beer league stars? From a pure soccer perspective it isn’t debatable. Clearly, it would have. This is where it gets tricky. The open try outs were never about finding players. Rather, they were about exposing more people to the league. On that level it worked. At every stop on the tour the local media flocked out to do stories on this new league. More potential fans were found. That’s a positive. So, I fully supported doing the tour, even while knowing that very few players, if any, would emerge. The Marketing value was high enough that the soccer needs could justifiably be pushed to the backseat. The question is balance though. When does the Marketing start to get in the way of the soccer? Yesterday might have been when. In an attempt to stay in the news (for the sake of staying in the news), the CanPL rushed out its first signings. It was a mixed bag of players -- decent enough prospects, mostly, with a couple vets and one potential star in Kyle Bekker. But, it was hardly a group that was going to generate much buzz outside of the hardest of the hardcore (who mostly already knew Kyle Bekker, the only player that might grab a headline, was going to Hamilton). The result was a tad underwhelming. A quick Google News search turns up a tiny amount of traction. The same blogs that were talking about the league last year are still talking about it today, but this was hardly leading off SportsCentre. It’s probably fair to suggest that the signings had limited harm. These were mostly guys that will battle for time – the big splashes won’t come until January at the earliest.  What’s troubling though is it was an example of the tail wagging the dog. There was no reason to announce signings now. They simply wanted to hit a news cycle and by putting an artificial schedule on it they might have rushed decisions on players that could prove to be the wrong fit once the real business begins. Generally by the time it’s clear that there is a problem it’s almost too late to fix it. If you nip it at the first evidence of it happening you can control things a lot better. There is a bit of evidence that the CanPL is starting to think of itself as a marketing company more than a soccer league. They’d be wise to remember that if the product is bad the consumer isn’t going to buy it, even if it’s wrapped up in a pretty bow. Marketing remains vital to the success of the league. But, with just five months to launch it’s time for the soccer to take priority.      
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    • Professional soccer is coming to Mississauga. Well, sort of. Professional indoor soccer. Or, as they call it nowadays, arena soccer. The Mississauga Metro Stars (yes, you read that right), will begin play at the end of October in the Major Arena Soccer League, a 17 team league with teams across North America, including one in Monterrey, Mexico. This isn’t the first time that an indoor/arena/hocker/sockey team has operated in the GTA, although the history has not been strong. From 1980 to 1982 the Blizzard played in the NASL indoor season and the Toronto Shooting Stars played in the National Professional Soccer League in the 1996-97 season. The team’s owners walked away from the Shooting Stars just three games into season. They lost close to $1-million and averaged just 3,000 and change in attendance. I was one of the 3,000 on a couple occasions. My most lasting memory is the time the mascot got jammed in the door trying to get to the arena floor. The cheerleaders had to help him/her/it out. The team wasn’t very good and the atmosphere in the 15,500 seat Maple Leaf Gardens was…lacking. To say the least. So, this new enterprise will need to break new ground if it is to become popular. That’s not to say that it can’t – TFC was seen as a huge risk in 2006. That seems laughable now. So, who knows. Helping the cause will be one very familiar name. Dwayne DeRosario is coming out of retirement to play for the team (Adrian Cann, as well). In the early days, there will probably be more than a few people that make the trip out to Mississauga just to see DeRo play again. Beyond whether people will care about the team is just one half of the question though. The other half is whether Canadian soccer fans should want the team to find an audience. Many view…sockey…let’s go with sockey…as an abomination on the game that encourages all the wrong kids of technical play. Beyond that there is the matter of Mississauga as a potential CanPL market. Would having an arena team there take attention away from a “real” team? I have concerns about Mississauga as a market in general. Time will tell whether those concerns are misguided or, unfortunately, correct. Perhaps this sockey team will provide an opportunity for Mississauga soccer fans to prove that they can support a local team. Ultimately, this is harmless. The MetroStars aren’t going to change much about the soccer landscape in this region or country, but they might provide some lighthearted entertainment in the MLS offseason. And more DeRo! That alone makes this moderately interesting. Thanks to Dave Bailey for providing the photos of the event.      
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    • So far I love the Nations League format in UEFA and CONCACAF. Seeing bottom feeder teams actually have chances at victories and in the case of UEFA, automatic qualification to the Euros. The more games these smaller countries get, the better it will be for the rest of the countries.
    • A competing team in Gatineau would be a cool solution. I can  see where Ottawa is coming from but sometimes you have to take a risk at a greater chance at a nice payoff.
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