The Throw-In: Is Canada MLS' biggest challenge?
League now supporting aspirations of not one, but two countries
Those words challenge Vancouverites from billboards and bus-stop ads all over the city as Canada is just days away from welcoming its second Major League Soccer team into the fold. The message is a simple one: History is about to be made.
But there’s far more at stake here than just Vancouver going major in a sport it has supported so well since the NASL days. When the Whitecaps host Toronto FC at Empire Field on Saturday, it will mark the first matchup of two Canadian teams in MLS history – and the first time two Canadian teams will enjoy top-flight status of any kind since, again, the NASL days.
This is just the beginning, of course. In 12 months’ time, MLS will welcome the Montreal Impact as the league’s 19th team, a giant shift north of the border for the US-based league, and the biggest such commitment of any North American sporting league other than the NHL.
MLS’ Great Northern Experiment has begun. And it’s a development that is a fascinating strategy. Sure, Canada’s three biggest cities offer three markets that are ripe for MLS to set down roots and grow the league. But this new shift north also represents one of the biggest challenges the league has ever undertaken: becoming the caretaker for the growth of the game in not one, but two countries.