On the nü-NASL Expansion Scheme

On Monday, Ben Rycroft of Metro reported that the new North American Soccer League was looking to aggressively expand into Canada with a total of six as-yet-unannounced Canadian franchises on the burner.

This is, obviously, fantastic news. More professional soccer in Canada is a good thing in almost category. If we had ten professional franchises, regardless of whether they were spread between MLS and the NASL or conglomerated into an all-Canadian league (the half-secret dream of an awful lot of Canadian football fanatics), whether they all followed the Whitecaps model of developing their own talent or whether they relied on the USL PDL, CSL, PCSL, NCAA, and CIS, whether they brought in high-priced talent from abroad or cheap locals, whether they won or whether they lost - so long as they were stable, each and every team would be a gigantic step. It would be that much more soccer on television and in the sports pages, one more opportunity for an improbable victory or an agonizing defeat to show up on TSN, a few thousand more screaming fanatics banging drums and singing songs and making merry, and a couple dozen more players with the chance to improve as professionals on home soil. It would be terrific.

But it's also a bit pie in the sky.

Rycroft's column mentions six markets: Hamilton, Ottawa, Calgary, Quebec City, Winnipeg, and Victoria. Devotees of the Maple Leaf Forever will remember my tragically aborted series on USL-1 expansion in Canada covering Winnipeg and Victoria (as well as Halifax) last autumn. I was positive on Winnipeg and negative on Victoria. Hamilton and Ottawa, according to Rycroft, are the most advanced bids, which is no surprise: Ottawa 67's owner Jeff Hunt all but had a USL-1 expansion franchise giftwrapped for his enjoyment last year, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young is already heavily involved with the NASL while investing in a renovated Ivor Wynne Stadium that will have only one major tenant. Those should be tap-ins. No problem.

But when Rycroft says that the other four bids are "less developed", it's hard to imagine a way in which they're developed at all. With the exception of Winnipeg, none of the four cities has an available field anywhere near USL-1 quality. Victoria's ironically named City Centre Stadium seats 2,000 and plays on a plastic pitch. Unless a Calgary team wants to go way overboard and share McMahon Stadium (plastic, capacity 35,650) with the CFL Stampeders and a legion of smaller teams, there is literally nothing whatsoever in the city or its environs above the municipal field level. Quebec City is infamous for its lack of a decent outdoor field: the only option would be to share the outdoor PEPS stadium (plastic, capacity 12,000-ish) with the Université Laval and its packed schedule for university and community soccer, as well as one of the spiritual homes of Canadian university gridiron, throughout the summer.

You could get a decent field in Winnipeg, no problem. Quebec City, well, if you were willing to make some compromises with the university, you could probably arrange it. Calgary, you would have to bankrupt yourself playing in a hugely inappropriate facility. Victoria, no way.

This is assuming that the ownership of these expansion teams wouldn't want to spend $15 million-ish to build their own outdoor stadia. Since there's no trace of who the interested owners might be, I think this is a safe assumption.

So when the NASL says they want to aggressively expand through Canada, I am of course excited. But until I see ownership and hear more than "oh, we're planning on it", I'll accord those rumours the same amount of hope I give to that long-awaited CSL Western Division.

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