MLS citizenship rules 'ridiculous'

DEAN MCNULTY

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

Toronto FC manager Mo Johnston is fighting mad that, week in and week out, he has to battle against the other 12 teams in Major League Soccer with one hand tied behind his back.

For the bench boss of Canada's lone MLS team, it all came to a head this week when he was informed that a concussion suffered by starting goalkeeper Greg Sutton during the Gold Cup had not healed, leaving Johnston without a first-string stopper.

If Johnston were manager of the Chicago Fire -- today's TFC opponent at BMO Field (3 p.m., CBC) -- or any other MLS team, he simply could get on the phone to find a 'keeper, preferably American, and his problem would be solved.

But he isn't and he can't.

When the MLS was formed in 1996 it was meant to be an all-American series with no thought of expansion north of the 49th parallel. To keep its teams from loading up on expensive English, European or South American players, the league's deep thinkers instituted a rule that would help in the development of home-grown talent.

It ordered that each team could carry only four international players over the age of 25. The rest had to be American citizens, holders of a green card or a development player under 25.

What Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. got when it forked out $10 million US for its expansion franchise was a team that could have as many Canadians as it wanted, but any Americans it could sign would be counted as internationals.

"It's ridiculous that we have to give up one of our senior internationals in order to sign an American 'keeper," Johnston said yesterday. "It's a handicap that we have had to deal with right from the start of the year."

The only option is to claim "extreme hardship" to get a replacement 'keeper.

"But that's only a temporary solution," Johnston said. "And with all due respect, the players available under that rule are not on the level that you would want."

Under the "extreme hardship" rule, TFC was able to use David Monsalves against Aston Villa in a friendly on Wednesday and he was victimized for four goals.

"If I were in America, I could trade a No. 1 draft pick for a top 'keeper," Johnston said. "But I can't do it. The rules say if I sign an American, he can only be a development player (under 25) or I lose one of my internationals."

Imagine the furor among TFC fans if Johnston were forced to release say, Danny Dichio, in order to get a top goalkeeper.

The MLS argument, of course, is that Johnston has a vast array of Canadian talent available to him that American teams do not.

Excuse us for having a pool of less than 100 world-class soccer players, compared to the thousands that American teams can cull from.

And to add insult to injury, there is really only one 'keeper with a Canadian passport with the talent of Sutton playing, right now.

The irony is that Pat Onstad starts every MLS game between the pipes for the Houston Dynamo. And Johnston said yesterday it is laughable to think Houston would let the perennial all-star go.

It's time for MLS commissioner Don Garber to let TFC play under the same rules as everybody else or risk hurting the must successful start-up franchise his league has seen.

Johnston also slammed the Canadian national team for not treating Sutton's injury properly when it happened.

"They didn't even have a doctor travelling with the team," Johnston said. "Am I angry? Yes, I am angry. I'll tell you right now, it's going to make a difference the next time they come looking for a player from our side."

Johnston and TFC deserve better from both the MLS and the Canadian Soccer Association.


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