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‘Discussions’ held about NWSL teams in Canada

Canada Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani says there have been discussions about Canadian cities acquiring NWSL teams. (Photo Courtesy Canada Soccer)

Canada Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani says there have been discussions about Canadian cities acquiring NWSL teams. (Photo Courtesy Canada Soccer)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Canada Soccer president Victor Montagliani was at BC Place on Thursday morning to discuss the economic growth from hosting the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

The figures, conducted using an assessment tool provided by the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance, claim that the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup and FIFA 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup combined to generate $493.6 million CAD in economic activity for Canada, generating $249 million CAD in net economic impact (GDP). The full figures can be found here.

While fancy statistics, and figures were waved around with gusto, there were also interesting revelations regarding the National Women’s Soccer League and Canada.

Currently, the buzz and excitement surrounding women’s soccer in Canada has dropped faster than the Canadian dollar. The stadiums that hosted the World Cup have returned to half-empty Canadian Football League crowds. In September, Canada Soccer announced that its women’s national team would not play a home match until spring 2016. That also depends on Canada’s results at the Rio 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament in Texas next February.

An NWSL team in Canada could do wonders to help grow women’s soccer in the country. Last month, the NWSL announced Orlando Pride as its 10th team, to begin play in 2016. NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush has previously mentioned that he has had conversations with about a dozen markets regarding expansion.

Montagliani would very much like to see an NWSL team in Canada and did admit that discussions have taken place. As for which cities have shown interest, he wasn’t willing to go that far with his answer.

“Yes, there has been discussions and there is interest,” Montagliani said. “Obviously I’m not at liberty to say who the interested parties are, but I think there’s an opportunity. As you saw, Orlando just announced a new franchise with our former assistant coach from our women’s national team, Tom Sermanni. I think Kaylyn (Kyle, Canada midfielder) is one of their first signings as well. I think that league has an opportunity to actually sustain, which a lot of the other women’s leagues found difficulty. The reason for that is I think you see professional clubs investing, like Orlando did. Federations like Canada, the U.S. and Mexico investing, that gives it a chance to be sustainable. I think the next evolution would be to look for a franchise or two out of Canada to be a part of that league in the next year or two.”

In a recent interview regarding Orlando’s entry into the NWSL, Plush acknowledged the potential of the Canadian market when asked specifically about expansion to the country, but did not offer specifics.

“I have no doubts that we will see continued momentum and excitement and interest. I believe that there’s an opportunity in Canada, though I wouldn’t put any timeline on that,” he said.

Plush added that the next round of expansion could involve two teams at once to create geographical structuring.

“We’re really confident,” he said. “I think we’re going to take a deep breath after this phone call is over and be excited about where we are and be appreciative of where we are and then kind of map out our next path for the next expansion round. Certainly I think everyone would agree that we probably enjoy expanding by two clubs next time if possible, only because what that does from a scheduling point of view and maybe the ability to do some conferences or do some real geographical scheduling to make wear and tear easier on the players, all those sorts of things. But with that comes the resultant challenges on the player pool, etc. So we’ll continue to spend time over the next couple of weeks and months on thinking through a long-term strategy for expansion, but we are really pleased with where we are today.”

The Canadian national team will be back in residency later this month as they prepare for the Torneio Internacional Brasilia from Dec. 9–21. While more and more Canadian players entertain the possibility of playing in Europe as opposed to the NWSL, Montagliani would like to see more players from Canada’s youth teams playing in the NWSL to ensure that Canada does not slip behind other nations when it comes to player development.

“You’re going to see more young players from our youth teams being involved at the NWSL level in the next year or two,” Montagliani said. “I think if we could get a professional team or two in Canada playing in that league, I think that bodes well for our future national team program.”

It is unclear which Canadian cities are in the mix. At the Vancouver Whitecaps FC mid-season roundtable forum in July, team co-owner Jeff Mallett said the Whitecaps are interested in NWSL, but nothing was immediately on the table.

“We’re looking at the league (NWSL),” Mallett said in the wake of the World Cup. “We know everybody down there. Portland has a team; we’re exposed to everything inside the walls. There’s nothing imminent that we’re working on at this particular time. It’s something strategically if you look at our pyramid, it’s something down the road that could be a possibility for us.”

Vancouver Whitecaps FC previously fielded a women’s team in the USL W-League from 2001-2012, winning the league in 2004 and 2006. Vancouver was one of the semi-professional league’s most high-profile franchises before folding at the end of 2012.

Part of the challenge of a Canadian team would be the logistics of rosters. Canada’s three MLS teams are required to have at least three Canadian domestic players each on their rosters, and U.S. and Canadians both count as domestic players for those clubs.

Currently, Major League Soccer defines domestic players as follows: “A domestic Player is either a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident (Green Card holder) or the holder of certain other special status (e.g., has been granted refugee or asylum status). There is no limit as to the number of domestic Players on a Team’s Roster within general Roster limits.”

The majority of Canadian players in the NWSL are considered “allocated players” from the Canadian national team. Their league salary is paid by Canada Soccer.

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