(Tuesday, November 14, 2006) -- In case you've forgotten, another team is joining Major League Soccer next season -- Toronto FC. The fact that the new team is in a foreign country presented MLS and its sponsor -- the United States Soccer Federation -- with a number of problems which they have found interesting ways to resolve.
To start with, world governing body FIFA has a rule against top level professional leagues having teams based in more than one country without special permission. That's why, for instance, neither of Scotland's two super-clubs -- Celtic or Rangers -- play in England's Premier League, something all concerned would be delighted with.
For FC Toronto to enter MLS, the USSF and Canadian Soccer Association had to jointly petition the regional confederation -- CONCACAF -- for permission. Once CONCACAF voted to approve a waiver, it had to petition FIFA. It did, and FIFA approved.
Back in the days of the North American Soccer League, the same kind of permission was necessary. The NASL had a number of Canadian teams at one time or another.
However, once a league gets permission to have a multinational professional league, a more vexing question arises: How should the nationalities of the players from the two countries be treated?
MLS has complex rules limiting the number of non-U.S. citizens or resident aliens who can play for its teams. So, it has designated categories of senior internationals, junior internationals and developmental players, and put limits on each. But given this new team north of the border, how should Canadians be counted as opposed to Americans?
In the NASL, the problem was essentially reversed -- the league was trying to limit the number of foreign players on each team by requiring at least a minimum number of domestic players on the field at any time. So it designated "North Americans" as domestic, so that included players from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The least complicated way for MLS to have dealt with this question would have been simply to designated Canadian citizens and permanent residents (equivalent to U.S. green card holders) as domestic players, allowing them to join any MLS team and not count against foreign player limits while allowing Americans to join Toronto FC on the same basis.
Canada has long believed if more of its players could play in MLS, its national-team program would be greatly helped. As one USSF official put it, "The Canadian Federation would have loved it (allowing Canadians as domestic players league-wide), but no way in the world we were going to allow it."
So a convoluted scheme has been brought forward. Toronto FC will have a unique set of player classifications. There will be no limit on its "domestic players," who will be comprised of Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents. It will be allowed up to four "senior international" players, who will be classified as non-Canadians who turn 25 years or older during the year, the same as with the other MLS clubs.
Then, as an olive branch, Toronto FC can initially have up to three additional senior internationals, who would qualify as domestic players on U.S.-based MLS teams. The, the club will be allowed five youth internationals (up to 24 years-old) with two of these slots expiring at the end of the team's 2008 season.
Canadians will still be designated as internationals on other MLS club rosters.
Using these designations and limitations. MLS will hold an expansion draft Friday to start the stocking of the new team. Each current team may protect 11 players on its senior roster and Toronto will be allowed to pick no more than one player from any club. Existing teams can make available no more than one senior international and players in the Generation adidas youth procurement program are exempt.
The nationality question is a thorny one, absent some kind of region-wide recognition of nationality and free passage, such as exists in the European Community where each country much treat each other citizens the same as their own in employment. So the MLS-USSF solution is reasonable and should allow Toronto to come into the league with something close to a competitive team.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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