Trouble in the North: Canada’s Disappointing Year of Soccer

It has been a tough year for Canadian soccer.  After the 2014 season, two of the three Canadian teams in Major League Soccer (MLS) missed the playoffs.  For Toronto FC, the 2014 campaign has been sorely disappointing after opening up the checkbook to bring on English striker Jermaine Defoe and U.S. National Team stalwart Michael Bradley prior to the start of the season.  The club has yet to make an MLS postseason in their eight year history.  Montreal Impact finished with the fewest points in the league, winning only six games all year.  Vancouver Whitecaps FC clinched the fifth and final spot of the MLS Playoffs before bowing out to FC Dallas in their one and only playoff game.  For the Canadian National Team, they played to a 1-3-1 record in five friendly matches in 2014.

So what’s going on in Canada and how can they turn their fortunes around in the future?  One angle to examine is the breakdown of their rosters.  Below is a chart which highlights the number of players on each of the Canadian MLS teams and the nationalities.

To accompany this chart, below is the total compensation for these three groups of players on each team.

It is interesting to note that the two teams that did not make the playoffs have more Canadian-born players on their team.  Toronto’s payroll is the highest in the league while Montreal and Vancouver rank sixth and eight respectively.

READ: Latest MLS Salary Data Includes Continued Slow and Steady Progress

These charts provide only limited insight into what these clubs are doing to find success.  There are other successful MLS clubs who might have similar levels of compensation for their players.  Each appears to be taking different strategies to bring success to their franchise.  Toronto has chosen to spend big on playmakers while Vancouver has opted for more players outside of the U.S. and Canada.  Montreal was criticized for a lack of activity in acquiring more players in the offseason, choosing consistency over marquee signings.

To build for the future, each club already has an academy in place to focus on youth development.  Montreal and Vancouver are also looking to field teams in the USL PRO, the third division league in North America.  Montreal recently named Philippe Eullaffroy as the head coach of their USL PRO team to begin play in 2015.  Toronto FC announced yesterday that they will field their own team in USL PRO much like the LA Galaxy have this past season.  Vancouver continues to search for a city to field a USL PRO team after the city of New Westminster denied the Whitecaps’ attempt to take residence in New Westminster’s Queens Park Stadium.  At the very least, both clubs are investing in their future with the creation of a USL PRO team, giving local young players more meaningful games and stiffer competitive experience.

For the Canadian National Team, their success seems to rest in the hands of MLS, along with two Canadian teams in the North American Soccer League (NASL).  Canada has not been a hotbed for soccer talent historically, but it should be noted that they did win the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000 and finished third in 2007.  Below are the current salaries of all Canadian-born players playing on MLS first team payrolls.

Canadian National Team Players 2014

Since the data looks merely at where each player is born, not all of these players are Canadian National Team players.  Teal Bunbury for example has been capped by the United States.  The chart also does not take into account the emerging talent in the youth ranks of the Canadian National Team pool or in MLS academies.  However, this does show that Canadian players have a limited range in salary in MLS. Seven players make over $100,000 while ten players make less than $50,000.  With the launch of USL PRO teams for Canadian MLS teams, perhaps more players will emerge either for the Canadian National Team or MLS.

2014 is coming to a close.  It is likely that Canada is looking forward to 2015 with opportunities to grow the sport in a variety of ways.  Investing in USL PRO for these Canadian clubs is a step in the right direction.  Some experts believe that Canada has turned the corner competitively, and perhaps 2015 will be a brighter year for soccer in Canada.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.