Canadian soccer teams, MLS, join
Canadian soccer clubs have been playing in the American MLS league, but the country now has its own pro league.
In the world of soccer, it's not common for a club to play in a league outside of their home country. However, it does happen, especially for clubs from smaller nations that don't have a strong league of their own. But why do Canadian teams, from a large and developed country, play in Major League Soccer (MLS)?
The relationship between Canada and MLS dates back to the mid-2000s. At the turn of the millennium, MLS was struggling, having disbanded two clubs and shrunk down to just ten teams. It was almost like they were starting over.
The first expansion after this downturn was with a second Los Angeles team, Chivas USA, and Real Salt Lake, both joining in 2005. Two years later, MLS expanded north of the border for the first time, with Toronto FC becoming the league's 13th team in 2007.
Having Canadian teams in American major sports leagues is nothing new. Toronto FC joined the NBA's Toronto Raptors, MLB's Toronto Blue Jays, and the NHL's seven clubs as Canadian representatives in American leagues. Even the NFL's Buffalo Bills have played home games in Toronto.
Interestingly, while Toronto FC was the first MLS team in Canada, they are not the oldest Canadian team currently in MLS. In 2011, the Vancouver Whitecaps joined MLS on Canada's west coast. However, the Whitecaps had already been playing in the USL as a second-division team since 1986. The Montréal Impact (now CF Montréal) joined from the 2011 version of the NASL one year later. This team was originally founded in 1993, predating the league itself.
At the time when all three teams joined, Canada did not have a substantial professional soccer league system. Similar to other sports, the only place for a high-level pro team to go was the American setup.
While MLS continues to expand, it is unlikely that another Canadian team will join the league. Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver are the three biggest markets in Canada, and many American cities are on the league's wishlist for future teams before any additional Canadian markets would be considered.
In 2019, Canada finally got a league of its own with the launch of the Canadian Premier League, now officially recognized as the nation's division one league. The league has teams in Toronto, Greater Vancouver, Greater Victoria, Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax, Winnipeg, and Hamilton. The existence of a Canadian league has caused a shakeup in American soccer as well, with the Ottawa Fury folding and being replaced by a new team, Atlético Ottawa.
Despite the existence of the Canadian Premier League, the three Canadian MLS teams continue to play in the American top tier. They come together for the Canadian Championship, a tournament that features all MLS and CPL teams, as well as semi-pro sides from provincial leagues, with the winner earning a place in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
It seems that MLS will continue to field three Canadian sides, as they are unlikely to join the CPL due to the league's influence within CONCACAF and the financial implications. Meanwhile, Canada's own soccer pyramid will continue to grow and improve independently, with domestic-based clubs having the opportunity to compete against their MLS counterparts in Cup play.