By all accounts, last Saturday’s Toronto FC match in Philadelphia was cold. Real cold. It was the second week in a row where the elements had an effect on a match involving the Reds. We all know that MLS is difficult, and many of those reasons are not player related – long travel, variety of pitch surfaces, altitude etc. This time it was the weather’s turn.
During the mid summer, places like the US south have unforgiving heat and humidity. It can be absolutely draining. If you have ever sat in a stadium during a heat wave you would know what I’m talking about. Imagine playing in those conditions. If you don’t believe me, just ask Paul Mariner what he thinks about the the Texas heat. Us TFC supporters would rather forget him and his childish, vindictive behaviour. We would rather focus on the present and the recent – which was cold and windy. Perfect for a Canadian. Or so you would think.
TFC didn’t start any Canadians last Saturday. If it weren’t for second half appearances by Tosaint Ricketts and Jonathan Osorio, it would’ve been a full match without any. For some TFC supporters this isn’t an issue at all. Win at all costs no matter who puts on the kit. Play the best players available. We can all discuss and debate the merits of Osorio over Armando Cooper or Victor Vazquez, or whether TFC should deploy a front 3 with Ricketts on the right side of it. This isn’t the issue. The question goes much deeper. The question is this: How much of an obligation does TFC have to develop and play Canadians?
This has been something that our 3 MLS clubs have had to deal with since their inception. It is a unique problem. Our American counterparts in MLS have similar dilemmas but nowhere to the extent of the Canadian clubs. There are numerous American MLS clubs, and the list is continuing to grow with expansion. More opportunities are available to the American player. The NASL and the USL also help them with this issue. There is an increased scrutiny for the Canadian clubs to give as many opportunities as possible to the Canadian player. And rightfully so.
Our 3 Canadian MLS sides have been doing great work with their academies. This has been a work in progress since the start. It wasn’t easy at the beginning, but improved coaching and a more professional setup will do that. Many opportunities have been given to young Canadians through the academies. That hasn’t been the problem. The problem has been the lack of breakthroughs into the first team, most notably, the starting eleven.
I think Osorio is a starter. I also understand that not everybody thinks so. I also believe that Dalton Pompey should be the starting left fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. Some folks have other ideas. The gap in talent is not visible enough to warrant keeping them out of the starting lineup. TFC should have an obligation to start Osorio, unless he shows that he doesn’t belong. I’m not asking for an all out Cantera policy a la Athletic Bilbao here, but his reason for exclusion hasn’t been made obvious to me yet.
So long as TFC, The Impact, and The Whitecaps exist in MLS, this will always be an issue. I’m sure that these clubs would love to have Canadian youngsters make their decisions easy – to have them seamlessly slide into the starting eleven because they deserve it. But if there is a choice to be made in the name of winning, don’t expect any favours. They will do what they think is best.
This is the delicate balance of being a Canadian club in MLS, and there will always be detractors.
By William Jamieson