Saturday, December 11, 2010

Where now for D3 level soccer in Canada?

A couple of key snippets of info from the Canadian Soccer League this week suggest that the landscape of Canadian pro soccer isn't going to be changing as much as some people have been anticipating in the short to medium term. Firstly, Dominic DiGironimo stepped down as league commissioner after he tendered his resignation and it was accepted by what was described in an official CSL press release with the explanation provided being "The league has been charting its future during the past year and differences eventually appeared which became irreconcilable, leading to the commissioner’s departure". The sticking point would appear to have been some aspect of DiGironimo's aggressive push for coast to coast expansion and the insertion of the phrase "long-term expansion" at the end of the press release suggests that plan may have been placed on the back burner by the "equity owners" (i.e. the older members of the league with full franchise rights). The second snippet on twitter from London City, mentioned that there are only four expansion teams for 2011 (i.e. the previously announced teams from Ottawa, Kitchener, Mississauga (Erin Mills) and Pickering). That means the fifth team from Quebec City that was expected to be announced later has fallen through.

The problems that the CSL always seems to face in adding additional franchises in Quebec are a bit of a mystery with Quebec City having been announced as a target for expansion as far back as 2007 with a team called FC Quebec later being mentioned as a new team that would start play in 2009. The two rumoured explanations have been that the Montreal Impact hold the CSL franchise rights for the entire province and are not letting anybody else in, or that the Quebec provincial association has plans of its own where league structures are concerned and is blocking the sanctioning of any additional CSL teams in that province for that reason. My guess would be the latter explanation is closer to the truth based on the fact that the CSL seemed reasonably confident that Quebec expansion would happen up until almost the end of the 2010 season, which is a better fit for something that was pending approval by a provincial board than a case of waiting on a member team (i.e. Montreal Impact Academy) to grant permission.

So if a transformation of the landscape at the D3 level no longer seems imminent perhaps the powers that be in the CSA should stop and consider exactly what they are trying to achieve at this level of the sport? There are two issues that really need to be looked at before progress can be made, in my opinion. Firstly, what exactly is the rationale behind having separate elite amateur and semi-pro tiers to the sport in southern Ontario and Montreal in the early 2010s? Historically the amateur level of the sport was kept fully separate from anything that involved open above the table cash payments because of the ideals of amateurism that used to be promoted by the Olympics movement. When that changed in the early 70s, any lingering distinction between being elite amateur or semi-pro were erased in many other parts of the world. For example in England top amateur divisions like the Isthmian League turned semi-pro and are now fully integrated with historically semi-pro divisions like the Southern League, which used to form a separate tier of the sport leading to rival divisions with similar playing standards covering the same geographical area. In Scandinavia, the top national divisions finally became openly professional at around this time for similar reasons leading over time to a marked increase in playing standards.

Up until recently the issue of NCAA eligibility provided a reason for continuing to keep the distinction in North America but now even that has fallen by the wayside with recent changes to NCAA regulations enabling several openly semi-pro teams like the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency and the Kitsap Pumas to compete in PDL against amateur teams comprised of NCAA scholarship players. Instead of having a small cartel of "equity owners" setting the agenda in the CSL and dictating the pace of change in creating a new separate semi-pro tier to the sport from coast to coast maybe maybe it is time to move in the opposite direction of having greater integration by creating a conventional promotion and relegation style league structure in each major city that is open to both amateur and semi-pro clubs with the existing National Championships for the ten provincial cup winners used to crown an overall national winner?

The second issue that needs to be examined is how do you create a single league format, which provides the highest possible level of competition for amateur and semi-pro players based in heavily populated area like Toronto, while at the same time also catering to the needs of those based in remoter cities like Thunder Bay? The answer is clearly that you can't in a sparsely populated country with a continental scale geography and that there should be no attempt to force everybody into a one size fits all league system but I'm not sure that concept is firmly grasped by the powers that be. In the most heavily populated areas nothing is gained through long distance travel and playing standards can be diminished if travel demands become too onerous as players are scared away by the time commitment that is required, while in smaller cities travel on an all star team sort of basis is a necessity for the best younger players to be exposed to a higher level of competition and get noticed by scouts elsewhere.

Leagues like the CSL, OSL and VMSL are the answer in the big cities, while leagues like the PCSL and PDL have an important role to play in remoter areas like the interior of BC and northwestern Ontario in other words. That means that there is a very real need for two parallel league systems at the D3/D4 sort of level on an ongoing basis not based on an amateur vs semi-pro split but on an open age division vs U-23 development format. An open age format with pro/rel similar to the state leagues in Australia is the key for the big cities, while a short season PDL type franchise format with a greater emphasis placed on U-23 pro player development is the only viable approach for providing a flagship franchise to make soccer a successful spectator sport in smaller communities from coast to coast in a similar manner to the niche in the entertainment market that is currently filled by junior hockey in the winter months.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Making sense of the CSA's recent actions

In Canadian soccer, a lot of what happens internally in leagues and associations never seeps out to see the light of day outside of executive level meetings and a lot of the decisions made are based primarily on petty personality clashes and empire building rather than any notion of what is good for the actual participants in the sport at an amateur level or for the players, coaches and fans at the pro level. Any inconvenience caused on their part by bizarre executive manoeuverings seems to be of no consequence to many amongst the powers that be. You only need to look at what is happening in Alberta right now for the prime example of that, but that's just the visible tip of the iceberg, unfortunately. When there is a fierce debate going on between the power brokers only small snippets of information tend to be released, which fit the agenda of an insider at one moment in time. The partial picture that emerges on that sort of basis can leave people on the outside wondering just what on earth is going on, when there is a complete lack of credible Bernstein and Woodward style investigative journalism (not a cheap shot aimed at anyone just the reality of the situation) to put the pieces together and provide the full context.

I have put together a chronology of the key snippets of info that have leaked out over the past few months so that they can be read sequentially. The motivation behind recent actions of the CSA that appeared a bit bewildering when viewed in isolation starts to become a lot more obvious when this info is placed together like this and with a bit of reading between the lines a much clearer picture of what has being going on behind the scenes emerges:

Sun 8th Aug, The regular It's Called Football podcast contains an interview with Scott Mitchell describing the Hamilton Tigercats' NASL expansion bid {35:35 to 49:40} and with Dominic Di Geronimo of the CSL describing his league's future expansion plans. {16:45 to 27:00} Sharply contrasting views about the future of the sport in Canada are expressed.

Sun 8th Aug, Victoria Times Colonist reports on a friendly between Victoria Highlanders and FC Edmonton to gauge interest in a move out of PDL and into pro soccer.

“There is no doubt the Victoria organization can play pro in the NASL. The stadium needs to be bigger and other things need to be done, so it’s not going to happen overnight. But they have a good owner [Alex Campbell Jr.] and good GM [Drew Finerty], and that’s a great sign as they move forward.”

Wed 11th Aug, USSF announces tough new D2 level sanctioning requirements casting doubt on the future viability of that tier of the sport in North America.

The much-anticipated USSF D2 meeting on Monday took place in New York without much fanfare or negotiations according to sources involved with teams that participated. The meeting was in general amicable and US Soccer did allow discourse.

Thurs 12th Aug, CSL announces desire to expand to BC and an exhibition game to be played on the 27th at Swangard Stadium between Toronto Croatia and a top local amateur side, Athletic Club BC.

The Canadian Soccer League, a 13-team loop based in Ontario, will check out B.C. expansion possibilities this month in a push to become a true national league — ultimately with anywhere from 36 to 48 teams.

Wed 8th Sept, USL announces formation of USL Pro and pulls out of competing with the USL for D2 level sanctioining for 2011.

Team owners and league officials are meeting in Tampa, Florida today to lay the groundwork for the 2011 debut of USL PRO, which will be governed by team owners and present the highest level of competition in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean outside of Major League Soccer (MLS).

Wed 15th Sept, London Free Press reveals that FC London of PDL are contemplating turning pro in the new USSF sanctioned D3 level USL Pro.

There may be a new professional soccer team in London's near future. And while there are a lot of things that have to happen before then, owners of FC London in the United Soccer League's PDL division recognize that at times you have to get bigger in order to survive. Ian Campbell, majority owner of the two-year-old PDL team, has been part of meetings that will lead to a restructuring of the USL.
Tues 28th Sept, BC based Tony Waiters becomes a consultant to the USL after being involved on CSA pro soccer committees.

“I’m delighted to be joining USL,” Waiters said. “With the infrastructure USL has in place our best young players, both male and female, have a proven ladder for development. The USL pyramid is something that, hand on heart, I can recommend to Canadian and other North American organizations. With USL, Canadian teams will be able to not only look East and West, but North and South as well. It’s truly a continental opportunity.

Wed 29th Sept, Inside Minnesota Soccer reports that the NASL have initiated its bid for D2 level sanctioning from the USSF with the Montreal Impact and FC Edmonton as part of six core franchises that meet stringent new requirements.

The six teams that were included in the bid all meet the financial requirements of the new USSF D-2 standards. The teams included were: Carolina RailHawks, FC Edmonton, Miami FC, Montreal Impact, FC Tampa Bay and the Puerto Rico Islanders.

Wed 29th Sept, CSA vice-president Victor Montagliani criticizes MLS over domestic content rule changes in the Vancouver Sun and calls for a domestic league.

He feels the CSA should seriously consider launching a new league — with a high Canadian-player content — to develop young players that will move up to a higher level. Montagliani said countries that have done well at the international level recently are those whose national governing bodies have been involved in player development.

Fri Oct 1st, The CSA's Victor Montagliani describes his vision for a new D2 level national league with a U-23 format. {35:11 to 54:48}

Fri Oct 15th, The CSL's Dominic Di Gironimo discusses the league's expansion plans for a second time on an It's Called Football podcast and mentions that major expansion into Quebec will be announced during the half-time of the league's championship game at the end of the month with "several teams" from Quebec and eastern Ontario said to be joining in 2011. {1:28 to 15:20}

Sun Oct 31st, CSL announces 2011 expansion plans with no BC or Quebec teams announced.

CSL commissioner Domenic Di Gironimo announced also that teams from Ottawa, Pickering (Pickering Power), the Kitchener area and Erin Mills in Miississauga have received conditional acceptance into the league for 2011.

Wed 3rd Nov, Ben Rycroft reveals that a CSL expansion team in Quebec City is pending approval due to a hold up at the provincial association level.

Two sources within the CSL say the group, headed by Jean Sebastian Roy – a partner and VP of marketing for the Quebec Kebs of the Professional Basketball League (PBL), is moving ahead with plans to bring a second semi-professional soccer team to the province of Quebec for the 2011 or 2012 season....The only hurdle now standing between Quebec City and a CSL team is approval by the local and provincial bodies – and that’s where it gets sticky. A second group, made up mostly of members of the Quebec Regional Soccer Association, recently applied to the Quebec Soccer Federation for approval to pursue Professional Development League (PDL) franchises in the region. They were looking to create a conference of fourth division soccer in the province....

Mon 15th Nov, A few days prior to the key USSF meeting in Toronto during the MLS Cup weekend, which was going to determine the fate of the NASL's D2 sanctioning bid the CSA announces a one year moratorium on sanctioning entry of additional Canadian teams into the NASL and PDL and forms ad hoc committee to explore the formation of a new D2 level national league.

The Canadian Soccer Association has announced that it has established an Ad hoc committee to examine the feasibility of a Canadian Professional League. While this committee completes its feasibility study the Canadian Soccer Association has passed a moratorium on the sanctioning of any further applications for Canadian franchises in USA based leagues until 30 September 2011.

Tues 16th Nov, Ben Rycroft reports that an Ottawa group is rumoured to be funding an NASL team in Minnesota that is required to bring the NASL's number of franchises up to the USSF's minimum requirement of eight and also to ensure that there are American teams in at least two timezones.

Two sources confirmed that Ottawa investors agreed to the funding under the provision that they would then receive an NASL franchise for 2012 - or would be able to move the NSC Minnesota Stars franchise to the Canadian capital for 2012 if additional financial support was not found for Minnesota by that time...Either decision has now been thrown into question with the news of the CSA’s moratorium on sanctioning any new Canadian D2 teams. While the moratorium is to end in September 30, 2011, it is believed additional sanctioning will not continue past that date as the CSA pursues its goals of creating a new national league.

Mon 22nd Nov, The USSF provisionally sanctions the NASL's D2 sanctioning bid so FC Edmonton and the Montreal Impact have a new USSF sanctioned league to play in next summer.

The North American Soccer League (“NASL”) was provisionally approved as the Division II men’s outdoor professional soccer league by the Board of Directors of the United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”) at its meeting in Toronto, Canada on November 21, 2010.  The provisional nature of the sanctioning is consistent with the USSF’s bylaws which require approval by the National Council of the USSF.  This approval is expected to be forthcoming at the USSF Annual General Meeting in February, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tues 23rd November, CSA's national league plans lambasted in the Vancouver Sun by Bob Lenarduzzi of the Whitecaps and Alex Campbell of the Victoria Highlanders.

Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said that in a perfect world, the concept of a Canadian soccer league is “wonderful.” “But unless they have a plan,” he said, “it seems ludicrous to stop teams from playing (in U.S. leagues). As long as players are playing at a good level, does it matter whether they’re playing in a Canadian league or a North American league?” 

Thurs 26th November, Aaron Davidson reveals in an It's Called Football podcast that both the Whitecaps and Impact will retain membership even after joining MLS and talks of possible reserve team links and states that the identity of a 2013 expansion team will be revealed by the end of the year. {0:00 to 25:49}

Sat 4th Dec, the Ottawa Citizen reports that the sanctioning moratorium will have no effect on that city's bid for an NASL team.

I spoke with CSA General Secretary Peter Montopoli and he assured me that, when the Ottawa franchise asks the association to sanction it to join the NASL, "we are not looking to stop anything. There will be no withholding." So we can rest easy. 

Mon 6th Dec, Ben Rycroft reveals that Dominic Di Gironimo had stepped down as CSL commissioner

Canadian Soccer News has learned that Dominic DiGironimo has stepped down as the Canadian Soccer League commissioner effective immediately.

Mon 7th Dec, Winnipeg Sun reports that there will be a press conference on Monday 10th to announce PDL expansion into Winnipeg.

A press conference has been called for Monday to reveal the details of the WSA Winnipeg under-23 team that will compete in the well-respected United Soccer League’s Premier Development League at the Winnipeg Waverley Complex. Winnipeg will play a 12-game regular season in a division that will include Thunder Bay, Kansas City, Des Moines, Iowa and others this summer.

So what have we learned? Clearly the chaos caused by the bitter USL - NASL split and D2 sanctioning battle has been viewed as a window of opportunity for a major push behind the scenes for everything below MLS to be brought back under the CSA umbrella in sanctioning terms with some of the statements by the CSL's commissioner on ICF podcasts appearing to point to his league very much wanting to control that process. That push appears to have been successfully headed off at the pass, at least for now, thanks not only to the USSF's sanctioning of the NASL but also to the influence and actions of persons unknown inside the loop, who made the case for the continued use of USSF sanctioned leagues. I suspect, based primarily on the snippet about soccer association politics getting in the way of the sanctioning of both PDL and CSL teams in Quebec City, that an individual with strong family connections to the cheese trade has been the main mover and shaker in the latter category despite having had almost nothing to say on the record about any of these issues in the mainstream media.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Players to look out for in the reentry draft

On Wednesday MLS will hold the first stage of the new reentry draft process based on the terms of the new CBA between the league and the Players' Union. The players who are eligible for the first stage on Dec 8th are (i) those at least 23 years old who have a minimum of three years' MLS experience whose options were not picked up at the agreed option salary rate (they are listed as "od" for option declined at the bottom of this entry), (ii) players who are at least 25 years old with four years' experience who are out of contract and have not been made a bona fide offer of a new contract at their 2010 salary level (they are listed as "ooc" for "out of contract" at the bottom of this entry), (iii) players who are at least 30 years old with eight years' experience who are out of contract and have not been made a bona fide offer at a minimum level of 105% of 2010 salary (they are also listed as "ooc" for "out of contract" at the bottom of this entry). If players are not happy with reduced terms offered by their existing teams or no new bona fide contract offer has been made they enter a draft process in which a new team can draft them at either their option salary rate if they are in category (i) or at 100% or 105% of their 2010 salary if categories (ii) and (iii) are applicable. The selection order will be the same as that used for waiver drafts based on the end of season finish in 2010 with TFC selecting 6th overall and the Whitecaps 17th based on being an expansion team.

Once the first stage is complete players can still negotiate to try to reach a new deal with their old team. Should that fail to happen there is a second stage on Dec 15th when players can be drafted by a new club and made an offer at a lower rate than their old salary, the new club will then hold the right of first refusal to the player's services if this offer is declined. An interesting quirk is that if all the other clubs decline to select a player then the player's existing club can select the player at this point and can then make a take it or leave it offer. After the second stage players who have not been selected by any club are free to negotiate with any MLS team in future since no club holds their rights at that point. One of the key gains claimed by the Players Union negotiators after the new CBA deal was reached was that the reentry draft should eliminate the kind of contract limbo faced by Dan van den Bergh last season due to the actions of FC Dallas. 

Guillermo Barros Schelotto

The list of players available in the first stage is provided below along with a description of how likely they are to be selected and key stats including age, 2010 base salary, games played, games started and the number of goals scored and assists. There probably isn't going to be all that much activity because the majority of the players available are either those with marginal ability who would normally have been placed on waivers at the end of the season but had too much time served for that to apply this season or are veteran players in their mid-30s, who have a salary number consistent with how they played at the peak of their careers rather than their current contribution to their team's performance level. Many in this latter group are likely to renegotiate to a lower number between the first and second stages once it becomes clear that nobody wants to pick up their existing contract option. The two players who look like the best bargains to me at this point are Schelotto of the Crew, who although 37 years old was productive enough last season to look like a bargain if his option number is still a basic salary of $140k, and Chris Seitz the Union's starting goalkeeper for most of the season if his option number is still $100k. It's difficult to look good playing behind an expansion team's defence so a change of scenery might do wonders in his case.

Juan Pablo Angel

Other high profile players to look out for are Jimmy Conrad who at 33 is still not that old for a defender and could attract interest despite the relatively high price tag of around 250k and Juan Pablo Angel who might be viewed as being worth a one year DP deal. Given TFC had money for Mista and Izaguirre in the last transfer window, for example, Angel might be viewed as a relatively low risk option in that context. Other players with low enough numbers and a reasonable level of performance over the past couple of seasons to be potential targets would be Frankie Hejduk, Richard Mulrooney, Carey Talley, Jovan Kirovski, Cory Gibbs, Adrian Serioux and Khano Smith. It will be interesting to see if Earl Cochrane decides to undo one of Preki's most controversial moves by selecting Adrian Serioux. In addition to Serioux, Cory Gibbs might interest TFC given he is an experienced left-sided defender, who could do a similar job to Nick Garcia's role last season and is available for the same sort of money that Raivis Hscanovics receieved. The recent Nathan Sturgis trade shows that Earl Cochrane has the green light to make significant player acquisitions despite his "interim" tag. While there will probably be scope for Toronto to acquire a worthwhile player with the sixth pick in the first round, Vancouver may find they are left with very slim pickings by the time the 17th selection is reached given the limited number of players that are likely to be selected at this stage of the process.  

Past or present DPs
High - although old the low base salary number should attract interest
Guillermo Schelotto (od) Columbus Crew M-F $140k 37 29GP 29GS 9G 8A (Argentina)

Moderate - although old now might still be seen as worth a one season deal as a DP
Juan Pablo Angel (od) New York Red Bulls F $1 ,620k 35 30GP 29GS 13G 4A (Colombia)

Low - overpaid veteran likely to eventually retire
Claudio Lopez (od) Colorado Rapids F $120k 36 11GP 0GS 0G 0A (Argentina)

Well paid Mr Beens who are 33 years old or over
Moderate - although old now might still be seen as worth a one year deal
Jimmy Conrad (ooc) Sporting Kansas City D $232.8k 33 26GP 26GS 1G 0A (USA) 
Frankie Hejduk (od) Columbus Crew M $120k 36 20GP 20GS 0G 2A (USA)
Richard Mulrooney (od) Houston Dynamo M $120k 34 23GP 19GS 0G 3A (USA)
Carey Talley (od) New York Red Bulls D $100k 34 15GP 13GS 1G 0A (USA) 
Jovan Kirovski (od) Los Angeles Galaxy F $84k 34 21GP 11GS 4G 2A (USA)

Low - overpaid veteran likely to renegotiate to a lower number prior to second stage
Jeff Cunningham (od) FC Dallas F $220k 34 27GP 13GS 11G 1A (USA/Jamaica)
Josh Wolff (od) Sporting Kansas City F $220k 33 25GP 16GS 2G 3A (USA)
Tyrone Marshall (od) Seattle Sounders D $165.4k 36 20GP 14GS 1G 1A (USA/Jamaica)
Gino Padula (od) Columbus Crew D $165 34 15GP 13GA 0G 0A (Argentina)
Pat Onstad (od) Houston Dynamo GK $164k 42 23GP 23GS (Canada/USA)
Jaime Moreno (od) D.C. United F $160 36 21GP 8GS 2G 0A (Bolivia/USA)
Dario Sala (od) FC Dallas GK $160k 36 11GP 10GS (Argentina)
Dema Kovalenko (od) Los Angeles Galaxy M $ 136.5 9GP 8GS 1G 0A (Ukraine)

Middle earners that teams may be trying to chisel down to a lower number
High - likely that another team will be interested
Chris Seitz (od) Philadelphia Union GK $100k 23 23GP 22GS (USA)

Moderate - low enough salary number that a team may still see as useful depth
Cory Gibbs (od) New England Revolution D $121 25GP 25GS 0G 0A (USA)
Adrian Serioux (od) Houston Dynamo D $96k 31 13GP 7GA 2G 1A (Canada)

Low - overpaid player who will have to renegotiate to a lower number prior to second stage
Fred (ooc) Philadelphia Union M-F $250k 31 25GP 24GS 4G 1A (Brazil)
Nick Garcia (od) Toronto FC D $190k 31 23GP 20GS 0G 1A (USA)
Khari Stephenson (od) San Jose Earthquakes M $151.5k 11GP 11GS 1G 1A (Jamaica)
Marcelo Saragosa (od) Chivas USA D-M $130k 28 14GP 9GS 0G 1A (Brazil)
Peter Vagenas (od) Colorado Rapids M $117k 32 7GP 7GS 0G 0A (USA)
Ryan Cochrane (od) Houston Dynamo D $100k 27 12GP 5GS 0G 0A (USA)

Marginal players who have enough time served to avoid the waiver draft
Moderate - low enough salary number that a team may see as useful depth
Khano Smith (od) New England Revolution M-F $50 28 16GP 6GS 0G 1A (Bermuda)

Low - would normally have been on waivers and gone unclaimed in that context
Nico Colaluca (od) New England Revolution M $100 24 1GP 0GS 0G 0A (USA)
Ciaran O'Brien (od) Colorado Rapids M $75k 23 0GP 0GS 0G 0A (USA)
Joseph Ngwenya (od) Houston Dynamo M/F 29 $72k 12GP 6GS 1G 0A (Zimbabwe)
Preston Burpo (od) New England Revolution GK $70 38 11GP 11GS (USA)
Alex Zotinca (od) Chivas USA D $60k 33 1GP 1GS 0G 0A (Romania/USA)
Duncan Oughton (od) Columbus Crew D $40k 33 3GP 0GS 0G 0A (New Zealand)
Aaron Hohlbein (ooc) Sporting Kansas City D $40k 25 2GP 1GS 0G 0A (USA)
Luke Sassano (od) New York Red Bulls M-D $40 25 3GP 2GS 0G 0A (USA)
Chris Sharpe (od) League Goalkeeper GK $40k (USA)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why not Canada as host of the 2026 World Cup?

About a decade back when the CSA were talking about a 2014 World Cup bid using CFL stadia I saw it as being very much a "Pipe dream" that had zero chance of happening. Looking into the medium term future, however, 2026 could be the prime window of opportunity for Canada to actually have a legitimate shot of entering a winning bid. Europe will have had 2002 and 2018 in Germany and Russia so 2026 would probably be too soon for it to go back there, Africa will have had 2010 in the relative recent past and Asia will have had 2022 (also effectively eliminating Australia from consideration). Given South America will have hosted in 2014, it will probably be seen as being very much CONCACAF's turn to get it. Mexico has hosted twice in the past so a third World Cup final in Mexico City may be seen as one too many for any country in a span of under 60 years, while many people around the world have a less than favourable view of the United States at the moment based not just on global politics but also its stringent approach to visas and airport security. A strong case could probably be made then that 2026 is not only CONCACAF's but also very much Canada's turn given the United States hosted the finals in 1994 and the rest of the countries in CONCACAF would probably be seen as being too small to be credible candidates given they lack Qatar's oil wealth.

Having been in Port Elizabeth, one of the smaller cities in South Africa that hosted the 2010 World Cup, earlier this year I was surprised to basically walk from the edge of the runway after getting off a domestic flight into a very basic terminal building that appeared to have little in the way of public transportation links into the city itself given the airport would soon be expected to cope with the arrival of thousands of visiting supporters from around the world. From what I understand everything went reasonably smoothly during the World Cup with the provision of extra long distance bus travel more than compensating for a limited long distance passenger rail service very much comparable to Via Rail and the use of some relatively small and primarily short haul domestic flight oriented airports. Canada easily has the transportation links in place to cope with a World Cup bid in other words despite the large number of foreign visitors. The South African experience suggests that the extra infrastructure that is often built to support international sports event bids is often complete overkill in logistical terms.

Beyond the transport infrastructure angle South Africa also provides a precedent for using a relatively small number of cities. South Africa used 10 stadia with two in Johannesburg and one each in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Nelspruit, Polokwane and Rustenburg. Of these, six had capacities of around 40,000 similar to what the CFL always seem to be able to conjure up for Grey Cup games even in the smaller cities like Regina, while three were in the 60,000 range and the other had a capacity of 85,000. With BC Place, Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, the Rogers Centre, and the Olympic stadium in Montreal already in place there would be no difficulty handling the latter stages, while BMO Field, Stade Saputo and hopefully Greg Kerfoot's waterfront SSS in Vancouver could be used during the group stages and round of sixteen along with CFL stadia in Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ottawa (two of which will probably have D2 level NASL soccer clubs as tenants by the middle of this decade). New stadia for Quebec City and the Maritimes could always be added as well for political reasons with CFL expansion being the legacy used to entice interest from federal level politicians in that regard but that sort of thing wouldn't actually be in any way necessary to put together a viable bid.

Something that is also worth bearing in mind is that the similar field dimensions used by soccer and the CFL gives Canada a key advantage over the United States, because the large NFL and college football stadia that would tend to have to be used south of the border are often too narrow and short to comfortably accommodate an international sized soccer field. Given the precedent that has just been set by South Africa there is absolutely no doubt that the existing transportation and hotel accommodation infrastructure could cope so why not go for it? The stars are almost perfectly aligned in 2026 in terms of it being seen not just as CONCACAF's but also Canada's turn to host. The multicultural nature of Canadian society can be used to full advantage to portray our country as a natural venue for the world's greatest sporting event given visitors from all over the world will be able to interact with ex-patriots from their own country and feel fully welcome and accepted by the cultural mainstream. Now all we need is a competent and credible national association to steer a professionally organized hosting bid of that magnitude to a successful conclusion. Unfortunately that may be the one missing ingredient.