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Wherefore the Canadian Soccer Pyramid?

As you can see in today's linklove post via Dizzo, Ben Massey at Eight Six Forever has a post up looking at MLS' new Canadian player quota for Canadian teams and comparing it to the lack of opportunities for Canadian coaches.

This is a topic I'm not particularly qualified to write about, but sitting as we do just down the road from Vancouver — Canada's finest metropolis — and having friends and family strewn through the northern Douglas Fir, Canadian soccer is of some interest to me. And one thing that's always struck me is the almost total dependence in Canada on the US Soccer structure.

A quick look at the Wikipedia page for the Canadian Soccer pyramid should be enough to make any fan of the beautiful game north of the border weep into their Kokanee. The top of the 'Canadian' pyramid is MLS, a US league where the three top Canadian teams will be playing once the Impact enter the league next season. Below that is NASL, the breakaway league that's struggling to get sanction from US Soccer, much less the Canadian Soccer Association, and will have only a single Canadian team (maybe) in FC Edmonton.

At the third tier we finally reach the Canadian Soccer League, a league legitimately run entirely under the auspices of the CSA and the true heart of the Canadian domestic system. Unfortunately, it's based entirely in Ontario save for a single Quebecois team, which happens to be the Academy team for the Impact (and who knows where that will go once they're in MLS). Unless you believe that Canadian soccer is played entirely within the borders of Ontario, we've really only found a regional league.

Below that you find the PDL — another US league — and the PCSL, which looks like it should be a domestic Canadian league. After all, all 7 teams are in BC. But in fact the PCSL is organized via USASA — the US Amateur soccer body — and the official domestic cup that its teams qualify for is the — wait for it — US Open Cup. This made a sort of sense back when Washington State teams competed in the PCSL back in the day (including the legendary Seattle Hibernian Saints), but now it's just sad.

In fact, the CSA has decided that only three teams are even worthy of competing for the Canadian domestic cup (officially the Nutrilite Voyageurs something-or-other) which leads on to CONCACAF competition, and next year all three will be in MLS.

On the one hand, Canada has a larger population than Australia, Belgium, and Chile, all of which have thriving domestic leagues. Its national team is ranked 84th by FIFA, which isn't stellar, but it was ranked 55th — around where Scotland is now — just a few years ago. Its women's team is ranked 9th in the world. It can produce players like Julian de Guzman, Craig Forrest, and Owen Hargreaves (heh).

On the other hand, much like in the US, soccer is not the national sport as it is in most countries in the world. Whereas in the States, soccer has to compete with the NBA, MLB, and the NFL, in Canada it has to compete with something called ice hockey — a sport in which big, slow people hit small, fast people with sticks until they aren't fast anymore.

And more importantly it shares the longest land border in the world peacefully with the largest economy in the world — a fact that dominates much of economic life and which must make it easier to just attach to whatever the idiots down south are up to. But that's a trap, and it's a trap that Canada needs to pull itself out of. Because as Ben points out, you can't grow the game in your country if you're playing it as a guest in some other country. Canadian player development will suffer and just as importantly, Canadian coaching development will suffer. That's bad for fans of the game on both sides of the 49th parallel.

(Crossposted on SeattleSoccerScene)

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