The Canadian Premier League (CPL) is almost here.
It’s about time.
Though the official start date for matches is still uncertain, that appears to be a mere wrinkle to iron out. It is no secret that this league will be crucial for the future success of our national team. But there are many secrets that remain.
Who are the ownership groups? What cities will participate outside of Hamilton and Winnipeg? How will player quotas be determined? Much of this is hush hush, as opposed to being unknown amongst those behind the scenes.
Toronto FC’s President Bill Manning has made his thoughts loud and clear on the CPL. MLSE is interested, but only on their terms. General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko was a little more diplomatic and open minded at the inaugural Footy Talks this week. But the fact remains that TFC regards this venture as a rival. An inferior rival at that. One that will be encroaching on the city’s soccer landscape and taking a piece of the pie. TFC has a monopoly on fans, and potential local talent. The CPL will surely tap into that. How much is still up for debate. Some fans will remain behind TFC. Some fans will support both. Some hardcores will switch loyalties and get behind the CPL. The rest will either be casual observers or ignore the product altogether.
TFC wants a potential Toronto CPL team to fill the role of what TFC II is -a second tier farm team, in a different league, that they can use to develop younger players within their system. This model has TFC as the owner and overlord. They are also in control of which players they bring into the fold.
The CPL wants to operate as a separate entity, with a goal of being the highest representation of professional soccer in Canada. A club needs to be in Canada’s biggest market, but they don’t want to be considered an inferior product. They want to be in control of decisions, and form the backbone for developing players that will eventually play for our national team.
Both parties have their own self interests in mind. Both believe that their vision is the better way to move forward. Both are correct. Can a compromise be reached? One where both TFC and the CPL benefit without having to settle? Here is an idea.
The Dutch Eredivisie.
This is the highest division in the Dutch soccer pyramid. Legendary clubs like Ajax Amsterdam, Feyenoord, and PSV Eindhoven have all tasted massive success over the decades. They are the Big Three. Clubs like FC Groningen, FC Utrecht, Sparta Rotterdam are smaller clubs that seek out young talent and give those players an opportunity to develop in a professional environment. Eventually they succumb to the financial temptations of the Big Three and sell them their best talent – talent that has gone unnoticed or ignored by the renowned academies of the Big Three. This usually happens before a player moves abroad. Unofficially, the rest of The Eredivisie is just a farm system for the Big Three.
TFC could do the same as the Big Three, even if they don’t participate in the same league. Let the CPL have their right and operate as a separate entity. Those clubs will seek out young players – players that have slipped through the MLS Academy cracks – and give them an opportunity, one that is so needed in Canada. They can continue to grow and improve down the developmental pathway. More kids will see it as a realistic professional goal and continue their education. If they show promise and turn heads, TFC could be on the ground floor and swoop in with their financial muscle, essentially buying early in the game.
The CPL will just be doing their business as usual – growing and improving as a league. Simultaneously, they will also be doing grunt work for TFC – discovering and developing new talent. The long-term goal of the CPL will be to hold on to those players, once the league establishes itself. In the meantime, TFC can cherry pick their best. For that matter, so could Montreal and Vancouver – in essence, creating our own Big Three. In the end, more players will be in the Canadian system, and for longer.
This method keeps the integrity of the CPL. Players that develop exponentially within it will seek to move on for bigger challenges regardless. TFC could be at the front of the line keeping tabs, and snapping up a player before they decide to travel abroad. This could not happen with the TFC II model, which has its own unique role – a place for its own academy prospects, NCAA draft picks, and trialists to play and develop.
The CPL could be a whole new pipeline of players for TFC. It will also be the missing link in Canadian Soccer.
Remaining mutually exclusive from the CPL is actually in TFC’s best interest. They just don’t know it yet.