Let The Kids Play: Is Toronto FC Really Doing All It Can To Develop Canadian Players?
*This is the first column from Duane Rollins, who will be contributing various thoughts on Toronto FC to The Vocal Minority throughout the season*
Won’t someone please think of the children?
It’s a little known fact that Helen Lovejoy was talking about the way TFC managed its young talent when she uttered that line on The Simpson’s back in 1996. Seriously. She’s a time traveller. Everyone knows that.
She’s also got a point when it comes to Toronto FC here in 2017. While most fans are understandably focused on the Mighty Reds march towards a sure-fire treble this season, there are concerns by some that maybe they’ve lost the plot a little bit on the development side. That is particularly the case as it relates to their treatment of young Canadians.
At this point I’ve probably lost a few of you. “WHO CARES WHERE THE PLAYER IS FROM?!?” you might shout. After nine years of mostly misery supporting this team it’s understandable that you just want to see them win. I was standing in 113 when Cheyrou scored too. I do get it.
But…here’s where I have to get all preachy about social contracts and the need for a club playing in a foreign league to go above and beyond what would be expected of them in normal circumstances. It’s important to stress that last part again: TFC (and the Whitecaps and Impact as well, but this is a TFC site so, you know, whatever) is not in a normal circumstance. It is not remotely normal to play in a league that operates in a different country. Yes, I see you weird guy who is somehow Swansea fan – they ain’t normal either.
Compounding this is MLS’ (or, more likely the USSF, but it hardly matters. The result is the same), utter failure to show much more than lip service to prioritizing the development of Canadian players. There are nine – NINE! – dedicated roster spots for Canadians in the whole league. That works out to 1.3 percent of available roster spots. One. Point. Three.
Without a need to play Canadians it’s not surprising that Canadians don’t play. Sure, you might argue, the ones that are good enough to break through have earned it and it’s never ideal to just hand a player something. There’s validity to that, but there’s also validity to the simple truth that TFC is allowed to exist because the CSA chooses to sanction them. Obviously it would get real ugly real fast if the feds decided to pull that sanctioning, (and the scenario seems pretty far-fetched), but that doesn’t mean Toronto FC should feel it has no obligation to promoting and even prioritizing young Canadian talent.
The club has become massively profitable because of the CSA granting them the go ahead a decade ago. The understanding at the time was that they would give back some of that. Remember, that when MLS came into Canada that put the idea of an actual Canadian league on hold for, well, 11 years it looks like.
The crux of this is why Bill Manning’s comments about how the Canadian Premier League should stay out of Toronto made so many people in the soccer community so mad. TFC does not own Toronto – they were allowed to borrow it. You don’t let the renters tell you that you can’t fix the plumbing in the house you own.
Those comments also caused many to examine what exactly they are doing at the sub-MLS level right now. In fairness, there is some good work being done, but there are questions too. Some questions will bore the MLS fan (are they poaching players from other youth clubs? Do they listen to the local soccer community enough etc.?) and some might have a mild interest (why is TFC2 so bad, was Alex Bono really better than Q?)
But, they are legit questions.
We’ve seen the success of youth clubs like the academy Sigma FC demonstrate that you don’t need the MLS logo on your front to produce talent. The best Canadian player in the league is a Sigma product. From a TFC centric position fans should ask themselves how they missed out on Cyle Larin. The answer might speak to the first two questions.
The truth is the USL team has been bad. Part of that might be because they do play young Canadians there (by necessity. The CSA mandates it and the Young Reds roster is currently juuuuuust in line with the requirements). But, playing young kids isn’t necessarily a detriment to success in USL. The Red Bulls 2 are the defending USL champs and they were exceptionally young last year.
So maybe there’s something more going on.
Finally, at the MLS level it’s frustrating to watch players like Jay Chapman and Jordan Hamilton glued to the bench. These aren’t long-shot prospects, but rather talents that are recognized as being among the best young players on either side of the border.
Don’t get me wrong: I love watching Jozy, Michael and Seba as much as anybody — and there isn’t an easy answer to this. However, if you truly do care about the game beyond the MLS level you simply have to ask the question.
Won’t someone please think of the children?