While it may seem like a good idea on paper, adding a second division to the Canada soccer landscape now could potentially be catastrophic.
In the past few weeks, rumors of a new Canadian second division have been swirling around, much like the polar vortexes that chill our vast country. Sadly — and it pains me to say it — we aren’t ready for this, and if this new league launches as soon as the rumors state, it could be the beginning of another total collapse in the Canadian soccer ecosystem. After all, Canadian Premier League teams seem unlikely to turn a profit for at least a couple more years, even if we are optimistic.
There are a few obstacles that the Canadian soccer ecosystem faces before it becomes a lush, diverse landscape that can support multiple tiers of professional and semi-professional soccer.
The first being that there are somehow two “tier one” leagues that call Canada home, and the significantly larger one isn’t built to enhance Canadian soccer. For example, the three Canadian clubs in MLS are only required to carry three Canadians on each of their rosters. I’m no math wizard, but that means there is a minimum of nine spots available per year. Of course, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, and CF Montreal tend to carry more on their rosters, but there isn’t a huge incentive to develop the sport from a talent standpoint. Instead, these clubs are mostly commercially motivated to get people into the stands (pre- and post-COVID of course).
The Canadian Premier League was built to help rectify the issue of professional opportunities for talented Canadians and help build the bridge between our strong grassroots programs (soccer is the biggest youth sports program in the country) and our professional ranks. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Wouldn’t another league give Canadians even more opportunities?”
While the answer might be yes in the short term, I believe that in the long term, it could be a massive mistake to create a new league this early into the CPL’s life.
Any ecosystem, whether natural or social, takes time to develop. It goes through growing pains, loses some species (in this case franchises), and adds others more suited to the climate. In a soccer context, this means infrastructure, a large group of non-superfans that support the league, and enough sponsors to continue pumping capital into the project.
Currently, Canada’s landscape is like a desert — desolate with a few oases that provide for the animals strong enough to earn their keep. Slowly, these oases are growing, filling in the gaps, and supporting more and more life.
But what happens when you force life into one of those gaps? Well, it struggles to survive, often succumbing to a long, drawn out death. If we build that second division before we’re ready, we will be placing teams in a desolate wasteland. Some may find a way to survive, but most will die. The money that was invested will be wasted. Fans will be left with a sour taste in their mouths as their beloved teams limped to their collapses, and we may lose potential life-long supporters.
I think there will come a time where a second-tier Canadian league will thrive, and who knows, maybe our country can support multiple tiers of professional soccer. But before that happens, we should first figure out if we can actually support a single league (in addition to MLS).
There are a few criteria that I am looking for. The first is that teams can make a profit without selling on players, while also paying all of the players a living wage ($35,000 CAD minimum). The second criteria is that the demand for new franchises outweighs the supply of available places in the CanPL. This is an indicator of a healthy soccer environment, not one starving and desperate to add new clubs.
And finally, the youth system in Canada needs to evolve to meet the demands of professional soccer. The MLS academies are just starting to see success, 27 years after the conception of the now successful North American league. Hopefully, Canada’s youth system develops a bit faster.
Knowing Canadian soccer, I’d be happy if even one of these criteria were met.
I understand the craving for a fully developed ecosystem so that we as soccer fans in Canada can be proud of our national team and the many other benefits that come with a strong system, but we cannot force growth. We must build a sustainable system that works for Canada, not one that mimics those from other successful countries. And right now, it is a necessity that we place our sole focus on what we already have and let growth happen out of necessity rather than excessive ambition.