The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) isn’t too happy with Major League Soccer (MLS) at the moment due to its rule on foreign international players. According to the CSA, several of the league’s American-based franchises are overlooking Canadian players because they’re deemed to be international instead of domestic players and each team is allowed just eight internationals on its roster.
It appears that several Canadians who are currently playing in Europe have drawn the interest from MLS clubs over the past few years, but were ultimately passed over because of the rule. Stephen Hart, the head coach of Canada’s national team, has backed up the CSA on this issue by saying that a few MLS teams have inquired about the possibility of landing some of his players, but since they count as foreigners they haven’t followed through with negotiations. Hart added that he’s sure the players would have been signed if they weren’t classified as internationals.
At the beginning of this season the three Canadian franchises, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps were told they could each sign up to eight international players. The only other rule they had to follow was that at least three of their players be Canadian. The rest of their rosters could be filled with as many North Americans as they liked, meaning either Canadians or Americans.
However, the rules for the 16 American MLS teams differ. Canadians and Americans aren’t both classified as domestic North American players since the Canadians are internationals. The American teams are also allowed just eight roster spots for international players and this is where the dilemma comes in. Each time a Canadian is signed by an American MLS team one of the international spots is taken up, and of course, most American clubs would rather have a European or South American-based player using up one of the roster spots.
Hart said the rule concerns him because many of his Canadian national team players could be playing consistently in a good North American league, but because of the MLS regulation, they wind up playing in some pretty unstable leagues in other parts of the world. Dominic Kinnear, the head coach of the Houston Dynamo, said since MLS soccer is a North American league with Canadian teams in it, the rule should be looked into, especially from a competitive point of view. He said if the rule can easily be changed then it should be.
The Dynamo isn’t one of the franchises to pass over Canadian players though, since several Canadians have played for the Texas club, such as four-time league MVP Dwayne De Rosario, Andre Hainault, and Pat Onstad. But while Kinnear said if the rule could be changed easily then it should be, but that might not be the case. It’s believed that American immigration policy could be behind the current roster regulations as U.S. employers aren’t allowed to offer preferential treatment to citizens of a specific nation.
Earl Cochrane, the director of team and player operations for Toronto FC, said he thinks it’s a legal issue. He admits that it would be ideal if Canadians counted as domestic players since it would be easier for them to move from team to team. Don Garber, commissioner of MLS, is on record stating that one of the league’s goals is to help both the U.S. and Canadian national teams improve whenever it has the opportunity to do so.
Hart feels the league isn’t helping though due to its foreign-player rule. He said it’s tough for his country to develop its players if the league that Canadian clubs play in has placed restrictions on them. He said there are two cross-border countries that make up MLS and the rules should be reviewed since the Canadian franchises bring a lot to the league. He admitted if its U.S. immigration policy that dictates the rule, then there isn’t much that can be done. However, the league hasn’t confirmed if this is true or not.
It seems to many soccer insiders that Canada’s barking up the wrong tree here. Each of the three Canadian clubs can field as many homegrown players as they choose and the American clubs are also allowed to as long as they’re willing to use up an international roster spot on them. So, the argument about American immigration rules doesn’t really hold water here as it’s purely a club’s preference. It seems the reality of the situation is that the Canadian players that are available simply aren’t as good as those available from other nations, and that’s why they aren’t being signed.