I posed the following question on Twitter the other day, aimed at fans of Canada's three Major League Soccer teams: What is more important to you – winning or Canadian content?
The vast majority of responses indicated that fans just want their team to win, regardless of whether the players are Canadian or not. Most fans don't care who the players are; they just want to be entertained by a winning team. That mentality is understandable. After all, the goal of professional sports is to win, not produce national team players.
Some respondents said they would prefer it if the team could win with Canadian players, while fewer still said they wanted to see their team field Canadian-born players at all costs. This latter group, I suspect, is made up of passionate supporters of Canada's national team.
The numbers don't make for good reading when you consider just how few Canadian players are being given the opportunity to play for Canadian-based MLS teams.
Toronto FC, who have been in the league for six seasons, lead the way with seven Canadian players seeing the field in 2012, although three of them – Keith Makabuya, Matt Stinson and Adrian Cann – combined for just nine starts and have all since been released by the club.
The Vancouver Whitecaps, who joined the league in 2011, gave Russell Teibert (four games, one start) and Caleb Clarke (two games, zero starts) limited action, while the Montreal Impact, who made their MLS debut in 2012, had Patrice Bernier as the lone Canadian to see the field.
When you look at Canadian players under the age of 25, the numbers get even worse.
Aside from Toronto FC's Ashtone Morgan (30 games, 27 starts) and Doneil Henry (18 games, 11 starts), no Canadian player under the age of 25 appeared in more than four MLS games or started more than one.
Which begs the question – if young Canadian players can't get a game in MLS, where is the next generation of Canadian players going to come from?
The three MLS teams say that their academies will eventually bear fruit in the form of first-team players. They caution, however, that the academies are long-term projects that will take time to get up to speed.
Given the amount of money that is being invested in those academies – TFC academy director Thomas Rongen said recently that the club spends $1.2 million annually on their program – I hope that proves to be the case.
Because unless Canadian kids start breaking into the first-team pictures in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, it won't be long before the owners of those clubs start questioning the wisdom of spending so much money for such little return. How long will their financial losses continue if they don't get value – in the form of first-team players – out of their academies?
Canadian MLS teams are currently required to have three Canadian players on their rosters, but should there also be a mandate in place for the development of young players as well? There is certainly evidence to suggest that such a move would pay dividends.
In the German Bundesliga, the UEFA local player regulations have made a dramatic impact on German player development. Introduced in 2006, these regulations required each club to have at least four players under contract for the start of the 2006-2007 season, who had come up through the youth system of a German club. That figure rose to six for the 2007-2008 season and eight for the start of the 2008-2009 campaign. At least half of those players must have been eligible to play for the club concerned between the ages of 15 and 21.
In the Mexican First Division, "Regla 20/11" was introduced in 2005. It mandated that a minimum of 1,000 minutes over the course of the Mexican season must be given to players under the age of 20 years, 11 months. Teams who failed to reach this mark were docked three points in the league standings.
The results of this rule – along with the introduction of national U17 and U20 leagues - have been significant for Mexican soccer. Mexican clubs focused so much attention on developing young players for their first teams, that Mexico's national teams reaped the benefits – their U17s won the 2011 World Cup, their U20s finished third in the World Cup in the same year, while their U23 team won the 2012 Olympic gold medal. Regla 20/11 was repealed in 2011, but the legacy is now in place – Mexican clubs have a system to develop their own talent and promote them to their first teams.
I believe that Canada's three MLS teams want to produce their own players, but I'm concerned that it might take too long – and cost too much money – to do so. How long is long-term for the owners? And how much money are they willing to spend before they get there?