MLS rules help young Canadian players develop

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

Tyler Hemming represents the future of Toronto FC, but what he'll be going through with the new Major League Soccer team will also be vital to the hopes of Canada's national soccer.

The London native will open the season with the MLS Toronto FC. His first game is Saturday in Los Angeles against Chivas.

MLS roster rules stipulate that a team can carry 11 senior players, seven reserve players and 10 development players. Hemming is one of those development players.

The 21-year-old defender has always been considered a great talent and will benefit from what are smart roster rules for the development of young players.

Without these rules, roster spots would likely be filled by more experienced players, relegating young players permanently to the bench or preventing them from getting a chance to play at a higher level.

A professional soccer team in Toronto is vital to the development of young players for this country.

"Normally, professional clubs have the big club, then you have stepping stones along the way," Hemming said.

"You'll have teams from under-13 to under-19 and then have a reserve team and the first team. You are always trying to make that team above you. There's always a plan or a goal for you to reach. That's what's good about the professional system in other countries. You are always trying to achieve something great at another level."

Hemming will now get a chance to do the same thing here without having to search all over the world for a place to play.

"Being a development player, doesn't make much difference," Hemming said. "You are still eligible to play in every game. You train with the full team. For this season, I would just like to keep improving as a player. You give 100 per cent at training, every day and see where it takes me. You just have to keep on improving and look to get into some games and try and impress when I get into games."

But what's also key for Hemming is MLS teams have reserve sides which play on a regular basis.

"If I don't get a chance to play in the first-team games, I'll get a chance to play in those games so it's a question of impressing during those games as well," he said.

Hemming was one of the youngest players to ever play in the Canadian Soccer League. He spent four years at Hartwick College in the Atlantic Soccer Conference and was conference player-of-the-year two years in succession. He had ten goals and one assist last year with his college team.

Hemming is six foot, 174 pounds and was drafted in the fourth round, 40th overall in the 2007 MLS supplemental draft. That too was an indication that he was highly thought of by Toronto. He attended team practices during the winter and was told he'd be signed. But Toronto was worried someone else would draft him first so they opted to draft him.

It's been a hectic winter for Hemming. He spent two weeks training at the Toronto soccer centre. Then travelled to Fort Lauderdale for two weeks. He returned to the University of Toronto for more training sessions and left in early March for two weeks in Bradenton, Fla., and South Carolina for training and a tournament.

It's part of the advantage of playing for a truly professional soccer club.

"It's a very, very professional atmosphere," Hemming said. "Everything they do is spot on, very professional. You come to training, get ready, train for two hours, that's your work for a day. Then you rest, get treatment and do whatever you need to do to get ready for your next training day."

It's a far cry from trying to play soccer on a part-time basis.

Hemming is getting a shot at playing professionally at a good time. Toronto FC has generated great interest in Toronto, having sold more than 14,000 season tickets. They'll begin play in a new 20,000-seat stadium, a stadium that needed to be built if soccer is ever going to blossom at the senior level.

"This gives young players aspirations, something to look up to," Hemming said. "People are excited about it. There's lots of commercials and billboards and people wearing our shirts already. In a town where there are the Raptors and Maple Leafs, it's nice to know that we've sold more tickets than expected."

But even at this early stage in his career, Hemming understands that in order to maintain the interest, winning is important.

"We're improving every day as a team," Hemming said. "All these guys haven't played together before. We have to jell but we're getting there. We have injuries right now and people on international duty. On paper we have a very good team. That's important because you have to compete to keep fans coming out."


Videos

Photos