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    CONCACAF says no (and who they might say no to next)

    Duane Rollins

    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).   

    Edited by Duane Rollins

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