New Canadian teams on MLS horizon

STEVEN SANDOR -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

When it comes to fan support, there's no doubt that the MLS' most successful franchise is the one located in Canada.

And, two of the most successful teams in the USL -- the soccer circuit a level below the MLS -- are the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. So, the question is natural: When do those two Canadian cities get the chance to join Toronto in the MLS?

According to MLS commissioner Don Garber, who was in Toronto for all of this past weekend's Beckham Galaxy-mania, further expansion to Canada is indeed on the table. The MLS is returning to San Jose next season, which will bring the league to 14 teams. Garber said the goal is to get the league up to 18 teams by 2014. And, of those, Montreal and Vancouver are indeed top-flight candidates, Garber confirmed.

Obviously, the most natural fit would be to have the Whitecaps and Impact, both franchises that have already developed their fan bases in the USL. The Whitecaps are hosting the Galaxy for a friendly later this season, which will be a giant measuring stick when it comes to deciding the city's MLS future. It's fitting too -- after watching the Galaxy luck its way to a 0-0 draw against a second-string TFC lineup -- Los Angeles is clearly closer to the level of a USL team than it is to being an elite MLS side, with or without David Beckham.

But, if further Canadian expansion is to work, then the MLS must do something about its import rules. One of the conditions Toronto FC had to accept a unique rule that applies to Toronto FC alone that it could only carry a limited number of American and international players. Once the quotas were met, the team could only sign Canadians. The idea was that TFC would help feed Canada's soccer program, and vice versa.

It hasn't worked out that way. When TFC signed international Collin Samuel last month, it was at the quota. Now, the team can only sign Canadian, unless it drops international players. And, frankly, the Canadian talent pool isn't all that deep. For weeks, the club has struggled to find Canadians to fill holes as it struggles through an injury crisis.

If Vancouver and Montreal also come in with those same Can-con rules, that thin domestic talent pool will be stretched past the critical point.

So, Garber admitted that the import rules for Canadian clubs would have to be something the MLS revisits.

"We are going to take a look at that rule as we go along," he said. "We've got to learn the lessons other leagues have learned and not dilute the quality (of the rosters)."

So, the additions of Vancouver and Montreal by 2014 could be a blessing for Toronto FC. No doubt it would force a change in the domestic-player rule. And that would mean Toronto FC would have more freedom when it comes to bringing in players, and helping the club be more competitive down the road.

And a new Toronto-Montreal rivalry would just be great.

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24 hours sports editor Steven Sandor has written about the Beautiful Game for numerous publications around the globe. The Red Card will appear every Wednesday in 24 hours. 


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