Major League Soccer's Canadian content rule is still intact, although it has undergone a major modification.
MLS announced Friday that Toronto FC and the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps will be required to have a minimum of three Canadian domestic players on their rosters for the upcoming season. Players with the legal right to work in Canada will be considered Canadian domestic players.
Last season, Toronto FC was required to have at least eight Canadian players.
Special task force
Major League Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association announced Friday that a joint task force committee has been formed to study the professional development side of the game in Canada.
In a press release, the CSA said the task force's mandate is to provide players in Canada, regardless of citizenship, the best possible environment and opportunities.
"We are committed to improving the professional standards of our sport in this country," said CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli. "We want to create the best possible environment for our players and teams to be successful in MLS and at the international level with our national teams."
Members of the task force include:
- Todd Durbin (MLS, executive vice-president).
- Victor Montagliani (CSA, vice-president) Peter Montopoli (CSA, general secretary).
- Stephen Hart (Canadian team head coach).
- Bob Lenarduzzi (Vancouver Whitecaps, president).
- Earl Cochrane (Toronto FC, director of team and player operations).
- Nick De Santis (Montreal Impact, technical director).
The task force said it will closely monitor the effects MLS roster rules and youth development initiatives for Canadian clubs and make recommendations for future changes, if necessary.
Both Toronto and Vancouver already have three Canadians on their current rosters. The three-player rule could also be applied to the Montreal Impact when they join MLS in 2012.
"The thought process was that we would start with three this year and then look at it at the end of [the 2011 season] and consider possible increases to that number," said MLS executive vice-president Todd Durbin.
Last year, officials from both TFC and the Whitecaps made public statements about the Canadian quota being eliminated. MLS commissioner Don Garber then revealed he was involved in talks with the Canadian Soccer Association, the sport's governing body in Canada, about making changes to the league's Canadian quota.
The reduction of the quota from eight to three players appears to be a compromise between MLS and the CSA.
Opponents of the quota have said the Canadian player pool isn't deep enough to sustain it, especially with two more teams from Canada on the way. MLS maintained it was trying to balance that with the concerns of the CSA, which wants to provide as many opportunities as it can for Canadian players.
CBC Sports soccer commentator Jason de Vos, a former captain of Canada's national team, doesn't think the Canadian quota helps Canadian players who would otherwise be overlooked.
"That argument may have some merit, and while there may be some exceptions, I do not believe that there is an abundance of professional-calibre players in Canada who have slipped through the cracks," de Vos wrote in a recent blog for CBCSports.ca.
Toronto FC defender Nana Attakora offers a differing view.
At 21 years old, Attakora has blossomed into one of Canadian soccer's brightest prospects since making his professional debut as a member of TFC in 2008, a year after he first signed with the club. The Toronto native believes the Canadian quota has opened doors for young Canadian players that would otherwise not be given an opportunity — himself included.
"100 per cent, I benefited from it. No doubt about it," Attakora recently told CBCSports.ca.
Attakora added: "Looking back, I wasn't a major player a few years ago. If I was being honest with myself, I probably was only there to make up the Canadian numbers. Because of that, I was able to train with the team and develop, and get to where I am today."
Also on Friday, the league announced the Houston Dynamo would play in the Eastern Conference this season, thus making room for the expansion Portland Timbers and Vancouver.
With the Timbers and Whitecaps joining the Western Conference, each conference will have nine teams. The 18-team league will have a balanced schedule in 2011, with each team playing each other twice.
The regular season kicks off on March 15 when the Los Angeles Galaxy visits the Seattle Sounders.