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What Do MLS's Domestic Player Rules Amount To For Canada?

Today, the Canadian Soccer Association has been flying up the narrative that MLS's roster rules are hurting the Canadian men's national team. Canadian players of course count as internationals on the 16 American MLS teams, meaning that if a United States side wanted to sign a Canadian like Andre Hainault, Dejan Jakovic, Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman, etc. etc. they'd have to user an international slot on him.

This is, on one level, self-evidently overboard. Saying "this team was interested in an unnamed player, but it didn't happen because the player is an international" is a long-winded way of saying "this team wasn't interested in an unnamed player." International slots are not exactly priceless jewels that are impossible to come by in Major League Soccer. If you want a player you can pretty much always make that international slot happen, and if you don't think he's worth the effort then obviously you never wanted the player that badly.

On the one hand, it's sort of true. Right now, if a manager of 16 out of 19 teams has a choice between a marginal American player and a marginal Canadian player, he'll take the American because he doesn't have to use an international slot. When we're talking about the future of the Canadian national team we're not usually talking about the marginal players, but then again maybe Mozzi Gyorio would have found an MLS team willing to pay him more than minimum money if he counted as domestic. (This is assuming Kansas City was willing to part with his rights; a far more serious problem than who's international and who isn't and one that affects both Canadians and Americans. But that's a rant for another day.)

So I can't blame the Canadian Soccer Association for wanting to get this out there. It's to their advantage if Canadians become domestics across MLS, after all, and even if it's an impossible dream it can't do any harm to continue this old conversation.

As Kurtis Larson's article explains, American labour law makes it highly questionable that MLS could ever accept Americans and Canadians on equal terms; on account of NAFTA restrictions, the theoretical solution might wind up being that Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans would count as MLS domestics but imagination doesn't stretch far enough to grasp Major League Soccer accepting that.

Still, it's a nice idea, even if it would just help the fringe players. Every Canadian national team has needed a few Jonathan Bourgaults, a few Kevin Harmses, and a few Charles Gbekes along the way. Don't be fooled, though, that this would affect Canada's real quality.

But couldn't the CSA do more good by tilting at a different windmill? I've rambled about how MLS's restrictions on the lower third of the roster make it difficult for young players to get a shot; that seems like a good horse for the CSA to beat. Or finding meaningful leagues for those young players to play in under the MLS umbrella. Or even a reserve setup that isn't a waste of time.

This narrative, in short, suffers from a lack of imagination.