This season, all three Canadian MLS teams qualified for the playoffs while players brought over for the purpose of growing the game in Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, David Villa, and Kaka all missed out. If you’re Don Garber, this is an unmitigated disaster. But if you’re a Canadian soccer fan, this was a historic success. The Whitecaps, Impact, and Toronto FC all had their best seasons in franchise history and played eye-catching football along the way.
TFC changed the way teams should be playing the transfer market following their prized acquisitions of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. After David Beckham came and went, teams were caught up over trying to acquire star players who are past their prime for the purpose of getting fans in seats. However, as we saw with NYCFC and Orlando City, the end product didn’t go so well. TFC tried this too, and ever since then, the name Jermain Defoe has become something of a curse word to fans.
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By instead shifting the focus to buying a player who is currently in their prime and can make a difference, Toronto FC was able to land the best player in MLS history. The result: Toronto FC’s first ever postseason appearance. The formula isn’t hard to figure out: successful results equals sellouts.
It’s easy to call Drogba an exception to this rule, and it is true that once he arrived, he transformed the Impact. It was apparent that the “Drogba Legend” banner would be travelling to North America when he hit a hat-trick on his debut.
But before he arrived, the Impact made it all the way to the CONCACAF Champions League Final and came tantalizingly close to winning it all. Their campaign caught the attention of all MLS supporters, with the MLS Twitter account starting a whole MLS for Montreal movement. Even the most die-hard TFC fans wanted to see the Impact lift that trophy. Now having won their first playoff game and making it to the conference semi-finals, the Impact have nowhere to go but up.
The Whitecaps finished the highest of the three teams in the standings, finishing third overall and getting to second place in a loaded Western conference. They may have underwhelmed in the playoffs, getting shut out over two legs against the Timbers, but their strong play throughout the season was encouraging nonetheless.
Out of all three teams, the Whitecaps are the ones with the most homegrown talent – they have three players on Canada’s qualifying roster – and to see them play at such a high level is encouraging to their development. As long as the Whitecaps keep winning, Canadian soccer will continue to grow in prominence.
The success of Canadians in the MLS has translated over to head coach of CMNT Benito Florio, who named a total of 9 MLS players in his squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and El Salvador. There are some notable omissions, the most glaring being Jonathan Osorio who surely deserves a place over Julian de Guzman. While in the past Canada has chosen a ton of aging veterans, this squad has plenty of young talent.
It’s an indication that this is just the beginning and the talent that Canada has to offer is just about to reach its peak. Couple that with the rise of Canada’s MLS teams, and this group of young players might have what it takes to reach the Hexagonal for the first time since 1998.