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The View from the North: Pro WoSo in Canada?

Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns FC
Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns FC

Christine Sinclair (right) of Portland Thorns FC and Kaylyn Kyle (left) of Seattle Reign FC both play for the Canadian women's national team. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

Recently, debate has started within Canadian soccer circles about the benefits of Canadian players being involved in the NWSL.

On the surface, it seems absurd. Prior to the league’s launch many of the 16 women under contract with the NWSL were playing amateur soccer. For those 16 players, getting paid regularly is clearly more beneficial.

However, there is a subset of fans – particularly fans that associate with the Canadian supporter’s group, The Voyageurs – that are reluctant to go full-in on the league. That’s especially the case now, without a Canadian team in the mix.

Ben Massey is a well-known blogger and member of The Voyageurs. He has been one of the more vocal critics of Canada’s reliance on the American league.

“In the absence of any alternative, Canada is obviously better off with the NWSL than nothing, “ Massey said. “The trouble is nobody’s tried to create that alternative.”

Massey points out that the Canadian Soccer Association has gone out of its way to stress the need for a Canadian men’s league to operate just below the three MLS clubs in Canada. He questions why the CSA is keeping that debate on the forefront, while “gladly attach(ing) ourselves to a structure which all-but-guarantees we will always be well behind the Americans.”

Indeed, the CSA did recently conduct a wide-reaching study on the feasibility of a men’s D-2 league in Canada. Called the “The Easton Report,” it was released earlier this year.

It did not deal with women’s soccer at all. However, it did conclude that a men’s D-2 league was likely too much of an ask and that a D-3 level league that operated on a regional level was more realistic.

Editor of theScore’s (Canadian television network) Counter Attack blog, Richard Whittall was part of the group that prepared the report. He says that although the study didn’t look at women’s soccer specifically, it could still apply.

“…Nothing in the recommendations is exclusive to the men’s game,” Whittall said. “There is no reason why a women’s league could not or should follow a similar grassroots model under a national umbrella.”

That doesn’t mean it would be a slam-dunk, Whittall says.

“However, (the) recommendations on the lack of financial viability of a D-2 might apply to the women’s game, so even with the better success of the national team, backers should be wary of rosy assessments.”

Massey counters that Canadians should at least try and find out if the assessments are rosy or not.

“(There is) high fan support for women’s soccer around the country and plenty of marquee talent to draw crowds and create quality soccer,” he says. “The problem is not that the NWSL is a bad league but that, for Canada, relying on it shows a lack of ambition for our bronze medal national team.”

Here, Whittall and Massey aren’t that far apart.

“Certainly (a women’s league) could be successful,” Whittall said, stressing that he was speaking on his own behalf and not reflecting any findings from the study. “The differences in the popularity of the men’s and women’s game might mean a small, national league option in modest stadiums with major cost-control measures might work.”

It would seem that attaching a women’s team to a potential D-3 men’s league in Canada is a realistic goal for fans of the female game.

In the meantime, most Canadians will focus on the possibility of Canadian expansion in NWSL, which would remain the top of the Canadian women’s pyramid. That seems likely to happen, with strong rumours that groups in Vancouver and Toronto are preparing bids to join as soon as 2014.

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