Last Saturday we witnessed one of the greatest moments in Canadian club soccer history. By clinching the Supporters’ Shield, Toronto FC has become the only Canadian club to finish first overall in Major League Soccer history. Winning the league is a true test of endurance, and throughout most of the world, that team is also recognized as champion. The best team always wins the league, but we live in North America, therefore we have the small matter of the playoffs to worry about if TFC wants to be crowned champion. It is what it is. But this accomplishment needs to be celebrated nonetheless. Drink it in folks.
Winning the Supporters’ Shield is a prize in itself. But along with this honour come benefits. In this case, it secures automatic entry into the CONCACAF Champions League as one of the four entries from MLS. That alone should be enough to plan a rager.
Not so fast. We must read the fine print.
On the surface it would appear straightforward – Supporters’ Shield winner receives automatic entry. But one must dive a little deeper if they want the whole story. If a Canadian MLS team wins a conference or MLS Cup, their Champions League spot will be given to the next highest American club that fits that criteria. The only way a Canadian club can gain entry into the Champions League is through the Canadian Championship, by winning the Voyageurs’ Cup. This model ensures that there will always be 4 American teams in the Champions League. I’ll bet you this isn’t advertised in bold print at the new Canadian MLS office.
This is American protectionism at its finest.
Let’s be honest here. TFC, Montreal Impact, and Vancouver Whitecaps are merely guests in an American league. MLS and the USSF are the foundation of American soccer, and are working with its best interests in mind. Don’t expect them to be advocates of the Canadian game as well, especially if they have to surrender one of their coveted Champions League places to a club north of the border. The fact that we have MLS franchises doesn’t matter. Growing and exposing American soccer are paramount.
Thankfully, TFC had already secured their Champions League position earlier this season by winning their second straight Voyageurs’ Cup, or else this would be a greater talking point than it currently is. But let’s not kid ourselves. If TFC goes on a run and becomes the first non Mexican club to win the Champions’ League (this is not entirely out of the question), MLS will be all over it. They would be right there for the ride, soaking in all the attention – claiming how it is a monumental achievement for MLS, and how the league has arrived globally.
It kind of feels like a softball team that calls in a ringer to win them the tournament, and then boasts about how great they are.
This is just another reason why the Canadian Premier League is so important. Being involved in MLS is a privilege. But if we want to continue to grow our soccer culture and become a powerhouse in the confederation, we must do that ourselves. Our own league will create more opportunities that we currently lack in abundance. A greater soccer infrastructure will lead to stronger clubs down the road. CONCACAF will have no choice but to accommodate us. Better showings in the tournament will only force them to grant us more spots in the future for our clubs. Some say this should’ve happened already, but consistent deep runs will ensure it.
So in the meantime, let’s enjoy the Supporters’ Shield victory for what it is. Let’s REALLY enjoy it! But at the same time, don’t forget the ugly truth behind it.
The Canadian Premier League can’t come soon enough.
By William Jamieson