MLS will start subsidizing Canadian teams signing big Canadian stars

MLS is working to grow their reach in Canada and one way they will do that is subsidizing the signings of major Canadian stars. The league wants Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps to be able to fill their teams will some of the biggest names in Canadian soccer.

“We will subsidize Canadian teams’ efforts to bring a Canadian designated player in to Major League Soccer,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said at a town hall in Vancouver on Monday. “We’re doing that for the same reason we subsidized L.A. to bring in David Beckham — because we believed that’s in the best interests of Major League Soccer.”

One of the players who would have fit the bill for years now — and still could, although he has retired from the national team — is Atiba Hutchinson, currently playing for Besiktas.

“I know there has been interest in bringing Atiba home,” Garber said. “I don’t know why a deal was never done with him, so I can’t comment on that. As we did with the top American players, we do need to bring as many of the top Canadian players home to Canada to play in Major League Soccer. We want our league and our clubs to be a league of choice.”

There aren’t any Canadian Designated Players in the league right now. Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman were Designated Players before, with De Rosario doing so for D.C. United and de Guzman for Toronto FC.

Outside of Hutchinson, there aren’t many Canadian stars for MLS teams to sign. Junior Hoilett is an option, but it may make more sense to go after players like Samuel Piette, Manjrekar James and Fraser Aird, none of whom are really stars yet, but are rising youngsters in Europe. Similarly, the money could also be poured into retaining young players, like Cyle Larin, although he is with Orlando City and not a Canadian team.

Oct 16, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando City FC forward Cyle Larin (9) during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium. Orlando won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Retaining players will probably end up being the big focus. Garber mentioned in the town hall how the three Canadian teams have spent a lot of money building academies, like the $6 million the Whitecaps have spent, but that won’t mean much if those youngsters jump to Europe the first chance they get. If those academies start producing great young players — Marco Bustos is a player who could be it — then MLS needs to make sure the Canadian teams can retain them.

That, along with increased marketing support is how MLS intends to grow its footprint in Canada, not expansion.

“We’re very focused on the three clubs we have representing very large cities in this county — and representing … 50 per cent of the population — and our task is to make sure those clubs become more relevant,” Garber said.

“Our task over the next number of years is to connect the dots between those three cities, and create a national fan base. I don’t believe we need additional teams to achieve that.”

That’s the way forward, at least for now. We’ll see what those subsidizing signings look like.