Canadian soccer, at the international level, is very very important to me. It has been tough to see our national side struggle over the past 5 years. When MLSE announced Toronto FC would be MLS's newest franchise, I was overjoyed. First of all, I was ecstatic that I would finally have a hometown, good quality soccer team to cheer for in Toronto. No longer would I be seperated by an ocean from the team that I had supported, Liverpool.
However, the second thing that came to mind was the fact that this new team would drastically help Canada at the international level. Canadian players would have a club team based in the top North American league to play for. This thought was re enforced by MLSE and MLS, when they promised a focus on producing local, Canadian players with Toronto FC. There was optimism throughout the Canadian soccer community that we would see an impact much like the MLS' impact on American soccer. It was a win win situation for me, and every other Canadian soccer supporter. The team would do this by setting restrictions on the roster, forcing the team to field a squad that was primarily Canadian. The only doubt that I, along with many other supporters had about this system of producing Canadian players through roster restrictions, was that the Canadian talent pool was very shallow at the moment of the announcement, and it continues to be. It seemed that Mo Johnston, along with MLS and MLSE were over estimating the level of talent that was currently available in Canada. Toronto was not going to be a successful team if they were forced to fill out their roster with Canadians, unless they could attract the best Canadian players from overseas. Many people believed that this would indeed happen happen, they dreamed that Atiba Hutchinson and Julian De Guzman would be playing midfield for their local club. But it was clear to many people that this would not be the case, Toronto was going to have to fill out its roster with mediocre players like Adam Braz, Marco Reda, and Miguel Canizalez. It became clear that these roster restrictions were going to hinder Toronto's chances.
The reason why so many players did not want to come over and play in the MLS, was because of the fact that the level of play is not very high when compared to the top leagues throughout Europe. The MLS has only recently become a known, talked about league around the world, because of the arrival of Mr. David Beckham. The top drawer Canadian players just did not want to play for Toronto FC.
The only way to stop this frame of mind in the future, is to attract the best players from around the world, and raise the interest in the local community about soccer, with a successful Canadian club team. With the current roster restrictions, this was just not possible. Toronto was not going to be able to field a strong squad, if they were forced to play mediocre Canadian players. They need to be able to bring children to the soccer fields instead of the hockey rink, and build up a strong grassroots base for the next wave of Canadian talent. This grassroots level is where Toronto FC should focus right now. They should pour money into their academy, and help produce a strong base of Canadian players. This will help in the long run, in my opinion.
Look at it this way. Why would Toronto FC bring mediocre Canadian players, who have no shot at the national team (or have no impact), over to play for them? This is not helping out Canada at the international level whatsoever. What they need to do, along with the rest of MLS, is build the league up in whichever way builds the level of play and attracts the best talent from around the world, and not care whether the player is Canadian or not. Then, 5-10 years down the road, you will no longer have Canadian players not wanting to come over and play for Toronto FC. If done correctly, the level of play will increase and players like Atiba Hutchinson will not see the MLS as a step down. You will also have the next wave of Canadian talent heavily invested in, through the youth academy. These players (youth academy) will then think twice about leaving home, when they could instead stay and play in a very good league, in front of one of the greatest crowds int he world at BMO Field. The next wave after this youth academy will then have Canadian soccer stars playing for a CANADIAN team. Which will do nothing but help.
So Toronto does, in my mind, have to make a huge contribution to the Canadian game. But bringing in mediocre Canadian players from mediocre leagues around the world is not going to get this done. The youth academy, and the level of play in MLS, are the two best places to start from. And the new quota system does not hinder Toronto in any way, as it will only bring the level of attention up in Canada, through higher levels of skill on display throughout the league. But for the other half to be successful, the youth academy has to be the primary focus in terms of Canadian soccer for Toronto FC in the near future.