With MLS clubs starting to reach out to other continents for players, primarily Europe and South America, the league is quickly losing its image as a primarily domestic league. It is hard to imagine the league's rosters being filled with American/Canadian born players 5 years from now, as the league continues to loosen its restrictions on bringing in senior international players. People like Don Garber have realized that if the league is to grow, the "USA first" frame of mind must be abolished. Yes, there should still be a focus on producing top domestic players, but the league simply will not grow far past where it is now if the doors are not opened to the rest of the world.
Clubs like District of Columbia United have started to realize this, with United signing multiple South American players like Franco Niell and Gonzalo Peralta. South America will be a major contributor to this league in the near future, and 5 years down the road it is likely that you will see North American clubs snatching the leftovers from European raids of this talented continent. Toronto FC has yet to make a dent in South America, unless you consider Paulo Nagamura a dent; however Mo Johnston has made trips down south to scout out talent and check out the beaches. He has come back empty handed, and with a sun burn. Toronto may not be the most appealing option for South American players, to many in the southern hemisphere Canada is nothing more than a ice-hockey loving snow filled country. It's not impossible to picture multiple Brazilians or Argentineans playing for the Reds down the road, but it seems unlikely. The United States just seems like a better option to many South American players, so should Toronto FC get a head start on the next goldmine of talent?
Well, you would first have to pick which continent to raid. Taking Europe and South America out of the equation leaves you with Africa and Asia, two up and coming soccer powerhouse continents on the world stage, Antarctica, do we want a penguin as our DP? And Oceania, a poor option, as Australia reigns supreme in a shallow continental talent pool. So... Let's go with Africa and Asia.
Africa is again in the southern hemisphere; however no MLS clubs have attempted to make a dent in the continent, meaning that to many African players, to come to North America would mean to come to Toronto. Africa is a soccer rich continent, which can routinely hold the African Cup of Nations, a tournament full of talented nations and their players. It really was a treat to watch the 2008 version, and those who still doubted the continents ability to produce top drawer players should now be silenced. The talent pool in Africa may be one of the deepest in the world, and it remains relatively untapped when compared to other areas around the world. European clubs have taken notice of late, and some of the top players in the top leagues now come from the impoverished continent. However, one would think that there are still hundreds or thousands of talented players left in Africa.
2008 winners, and African powerhouse Egypt have a strong domestic league, and many of the national teams top players like winning goal scorer Mohamed Aboutreika, tournament MVP Hosny Abd Rabo and Amr Zaky, were playing in the Egyptian Premier League. Out of reach for MLS teams? Probably, but you never know. Money can be the deciding factor in many players’ lives, and Toronto FC has deep pockets. This is an area that is completely untapped by Major League Soccer, and if Toronto FC were to set up a partnership with some of the top leagues in Africa, signings could come. The Canadian club would obviously have to compete with European clubs for the continents top players, but the simple fact that there are so many countries with so many talented players screams success. Toronto FC would be smart to make some calls, and start to look at Africa seriously. The immigration issues that apparently have held back the club on other signings would have to be worked out, and that could be a major issue, but with one of the largest and richest ownership groups backing your team it is hard to not think that some sort of scouting system and or partnership could be set up in the near future.
Asia is your second option, the home of the J-League and K-League. A very talented continent that is full of skilled players, and again is basically uncharted land for MLS. Japan and Korea, the continents two most successful nations, seem to be the first two countries that jump to people's minds. Japan's J-League is a passionately followed league that has produced some very good players over the years, players like Naohiro Takahara, Shunsuke Nakamura and Koki Mizuno all played in the J-League before jumping to other leagues. North America is a very appealing option to many people in Asia, and that comes from speaking to people I have met overseas. The J-League may not be the most talented league in the world, but it produces very good players and Toronto would be smart to look to Asia to again snatch up young talent or bring in some of the more established players in the league today. My knowledge of the J-League is not amazing, but having watched many highlight shows and games on TV I can say that the top players in the league would do well in North America. There are probably more knowledgeable people who could point to the best options from Japan, who get to watch the J-League routinely.
Korea has the K-League, average at best according to most fans, yet looking at the amount of Korean players making significant impacts around the world makes you wonder if Toronto or other MLS teams will realize that former World Cup host's are a viable option. The J-League would obviously be the first option, but Korea does offer another untapped talent pool. Other countries like Iraq, winners of the 2007 Asian Cup, are also up and coming options. The entire continent is basically neglected by European teams, leaving clubs like Toronto FC to move in.
Toronto FC has the chance to set up themselves for the future by forming relationships overseas with some of the top African and Asian clubs. Many knowledgeable and respected minds believe that he MLS has the ability to become a top tier league, and soon it will not be as hard for teams to bring in top drawer players. At this point, teams will be forced to look elsewhere for talent and Toronto could easily get ahead of the game and ensure that they are players for years to come by becoming a major player in both Africa and Asia.