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When Vancouver and Ottawa Fight, Who Wins? (Nobody)

When I was trolling the Southsiders forum in the wee small hours of this morning and saw a link to this article by the Vancouver Sun's Bruce Constantineau about the Canadian Soccer Association's belated but very, very forceful objection to the new MLS Canadian quota (starting next season there isn't one), I gave it a read and filed it aside. "Ah, hell, I'll have plenty of time to write a reaction to this one later," I said to myself and got back to my actual job.

Not quite right. Some Canadian Guys Writing About Soccer already have a post up and Metro Toronto's Ben Rycroft has dropped a Tweet about it. Bloody Eastern time zone. I'm going to stick to blaming that even though I was, of course, already awake.

But the reason I haven't already written about the subject is more than the usual laziness. In Constantineau's article, vice-president Victor Montagliani of the Canadian Soccer Association is quoted as saying how a lack of a Canadian quota will hurt this country's ability to develop top-tier soccer talent, and Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi replies that the professional teams in general and the Whitecaps in particular have done a huge amount to support Canadian soccer development quota or no quota. Assessing such an article practically obliges me to pick a winner, and the infuriating thing is that they're both right.

This is Canadian soccer. We can't ever do anything the easy way.

Montagliani is quite aggressive in his treatment of the Canadian MLS clubs that pushed for the change in the roster rules. He says that they've let Canada down and now our players won't get a "fair shot" in MLS - his definition of fair is different from mine if he thinks that mandatory national quotas are fair rather than merely practical, but in terms of improving the national team Montagliani is correct. The reason the Canadian MLS teams wanted the Canadian quota eliminated is that Toronto and Vancouver believed they couldn't fill the quota without hurting themselves competitively. Now that Vancouver doesn't have to carry eight Canadians on its twenty-four man roster, they presumably won't, and that means fewer Canadians (and, almost as worryingly, more Americans) playing in our highest domestic league, training with international-quality players, and enjoying the best soccer you can get in this country. There's no possible way to deny that's bad for the Canadian national team. It's not opinion, it's math. Disputing Montagliani's point would be like arguing that two and two make five.

Lenarduzzi, of course, quite sensibly points to the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency program as a counter-argument. The Residency program takes a group of mostly, but not entirely, young Canadian players and trains them to a higher standard than any equivalent program in North America. The Residency program has already produced one regular Canadian national player, Adam Straith, and a large number of promising U-20s. While they don't grab exclusively Canadian players, the laws of geography and economics will ensure that most members of the Residency program are Canadian into the indefinite future. A similar situation is already emerging in Toronto, and many of these players will naturally graduate to the Whitecaps or other professional clubs. These professional youth programs are just as undeniably good for Canada as the lack of a Canadian quota is bad.

The two soccer executives bicker charmingly around the edges, too. Montagliani puts forward the old Canadian pipe dream of a domestic second division that could serve as a step for our players between MLS and obscurity. Lenarduzzi asks who would pay for such a scheme and reminds us of the old Canadian Soccer League, which had more folding than a laundromat. Of course, Lenarduzzi questioning the viability of a league because teams move and collapse is a bit rich coming from a guy who's been involved with the bloody A-League for almost twenty years: the Americans certainly haven't let endemic franchise instability stand in their way.

(As it happens, I think Montagliani is right about a Canadian league. But that's a story for another day.)

While both parties are right, the Whitecaps are probably more right. It's dubious how much Canadian soccer has been helped by the likes of Andrea Lombardo, Tyler Rosenlund, Gabe Gala, and soon-to-be Jamaican international O'Brien White taking up Canadian spots and doing nothing to help the team. This change will most hurt Canada in terms of the tweeners such as Adrian Cann and, once, Kevin Harmse, who could count on the Canadian quota to help them get a leg up breaking into a major club, or youngsters who might not really be good enough for MLS yet but could be strung along as Canadian content to see how they develop. It's hardly likely anyone good enough to be a national team regular would be affected by these changes: anyone at that skill level ought to be able to make the Whitecaps or Toronto FC on their merits regardless of any quota.

But the Canadian Soccer Association's argument raises a valuable point we'd all do well to bear in mind. The Canadian teams in Major League Soccer are guests in an American league, a league explicitly created to improve soccer in the United States. Our value to Major League Soccer lies in our money and the fact that our teams provide almost-guaranteed places to American soccer players. If Major League Soccer was really interested in allowing its teams to be more competitive, it would abolish the quota system entirely. Instead, they modify it to allow the Canadian teams greater access to American talent. The cost to Canadian talent is, in this equation, entirely irrelevant.

A Canadian quota in MLS is not a hill worth dying on. But it's worth remembering that the league's priorities are necessarily going to be very different from the Canadian soccer fan's. Sometimes they will be in direct opposition, and as MLS grows in Canada we're going to see that more and more often.