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The MLS Canadian Quota is Dead

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Would the new MLS roster rules keep the likes of Adrian Cann, right, out of North America? (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Would the new MLS roster rules keep the likes of Adrian Cann, right, out of North America? (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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For something that's so critical to Canada's Major League Soccer teams, the demise of the Canadian quota was revealed in a shockingly cavalier fashion. The now former general manager of Toronto FC Mo Johnston blithely mentioned it in an interview about something else as if it were the most common knowledge in the world, and then on It's Called Football Whitecaps president in Bob Lenarduzzi out-and-out confirmed it. There will be no Canadian quota in Major League Soccer for the 2011 season and beyond.

Nobody was treating this as a surprise, which is interesting because Vancouver had already shown signs of trying to load up on Canadians. Alain Rochat and Terry Dunfield were both Canadians brought in rather explicitly for Major League Soccer. Kyle Porter and Alex Elliott were new arrivals this year who presumably also had a chance. Meanwhile, Vancouver has picked up only one American, Cody Arnoux, and it's unclear that they'll be able to keep him. The Whitecaps were sure acting like a team bracing itself for a world of Canadian content, yet on It's Called Football Lenarduzzi sounded rather non-plussed as if his strategy hadn't been affected at all.

That's the trick with Major League Soccer. The only thing they love more than arcane rules constantly being revised is almost sociopathic secrecy.

Well, what does this mean, beyond simply making a hash of that series about potential Canadian content for the 2011 Whitecaps I ran back in August? It's hard to say, since MLS hasn't released the full roster rules (have I mentioned sociopathic secrecy?). But in broad terms, we can at least look into what that means for the Whitecaps and Canadian soccer.

First off, let's go over how domestic players will be defined. For Toronto, Vancouver, and starting in 2012 Montreal, Canadians and Americans both count as domestic players; to quote Mo Johnston, "North Americans are North Americans" (Mo's from Scotland and he thinks North America ends at the Rio Grande). However, for the American MLS teams, only Americans count. Dejan Jakovic takes up one of DC United's import slots but wouldn't for Vancouver. In short, the Canadian teams have a larger pool of domestic talent to call upon than the Americans do.

It's obvious, therefore, that the Canadian teams will be required to carry more domestic players than their American counterparts. Formerly, they had to carry eight Canadians and up to five Americans who counted towards their international limit (barring trades of international spots and so on). It's actually a great deal more complicated than that but that'll do as a summary, especially since I'm not sure I understand the details myself. Formerly, Toronto FC got thirteen international spots of who five could be American whereas the rest of Major League Soccer got eight international spots.

If, starting in 2011, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto all get eight international slots like the rest of Major League Soccer but can fill their domestic quota with both Canadians and Americans, that would give the Canadian teams a significant advantage. I have to expect, therefore, that if the league is paying attention to the potential affects on parity we will have fewer international spots than the rest of Major League Soccer to offset that edge. It bodes ill for the likes of Jonathan McDonald, Alexandre Morfaw, and Ridge Mobulu: if there are only seven or six international spots to go around it becomes that much harder to carry younger, less experienced internationals who may be considered development projects. Of course, it's great for Cody Arnoux, who could take up an MLS spot at little cost even if he winds up not being ready.

This is unquestionably good news for the Whitecaps, particularly if MLS isn't smart enough to limit the international slots. But it's bad news for the Canadian national team, which has now lost its best route to get young but fairly marginal Canadian talent playing at a high level. Of course, the cream will still rise to the top - the likes of Nana Attakora would be playing in MLS no matter what he was classified as. But it would be that much harder for, say, Adrian Cann to come to MLS with low expectations and wind up being a revelation when Toronto could have just signed whatever journeyman American centreback was kicking around.

However, it's unlikely to have a major impact. I predict that the new domestic rules would simply mean fewer Tyler Hemmings and Andrea Lombardos being brought in just to fill a spot, never play, and fade into obscurity. All three teams have youth programs developing young Canadian talent, and they may be able to get established Canadian talent to sign in their home country in cases where they'd turn down an American MLS team. There's also going to be less competition for bright Canadians than for Americans. In short, there are lots of good reasons for the Canadian MLS teams to sign Canadian players beyond "but thou must".

On balance, these changes seem to be good for everyone. I'm still cautious, and am eagerly awaiting the full details. But so far, so good.