The awkward years
The next step for the CanPL is the hardest one yet
In the sports world it was not a move that was going to generate many headlines. Yet, in CanPL circles, it should be something that raises eyebrows.
The move? Mo Farsi’s decision to leave Cavalry and join Crew 2, the reserve team of the Columbus Crew in MLS.
Farsi was one of the poster boys of what the CanPL was designed to do. He was a futsal star in his native Quebec, but someone that had fallen through the cracks in the 11-a-side game. Without the CanPL, Farsi is likely a rumour in Canadian soccer circles — a guy that gets talked about by those in the know, but who never got his chance.
So, there’s little doubt that the league has been invaluable to him. He said so himself in speaking to the Calgary Sun.
“I think Alphonso Davies shows all the world that Canadians can play football — I think that’s great,” Farsi said. “He shows everybody his talent, and he’s from Edmonton and came through the MLS. I want to do the same thing but through the CPL — show everybody that the CPL has a lot of talent. I know the CPL is new, but it does have a lot of talent.”
So, he appreciates the league. Yet, he doesn’t appear to think the league can offer him what he needs to get to the next level.
On one level that’s OK. CanPL was never meant to be a league that a young player comes to and spends 10 seasons playing in.
No, realistically it is a league that a young player will play in for 2-3 years (or less) and then move up to a higher league. Additionally, there will be a select few players that come back into the league to end their career there. The “lifer” class is unlikely to become a thing until salaries are greatly increased. That’s not meant as an attack, it’s just a reflection of reality.
However, what made this troubling is the league Farsi left for. This wasn’t an established league that was an obvious step up for the player. Rather, it was a completely unknown league that many in the Canadian soccer community were dismissing as being below the CanPL in quality.
That attitude is dangerous. It relies on hope more than logic. Just because you say that the CanPL is a higher standard of another league doesn’t mean that it is. It doesn’t mean it isn’t either, but it’s foolish to think that we must have “overrated” Farsi because he was “moving down” (as one fan said to me on Twitter).
The league that Farsi is moving to — MLS NextPro — is an unknown now. However, there is some reporting out there now by Jeff Rueter of The Athletic that has shed some light on what it might look like. I’ll have more on that in the days ahead, but the important consideration here is that the league appears to be aspiring to something more than just an extension of MLS academies, as was initially thought.
Rueter reported that there would be no salary restrictions on NextPro rosters and that teams would be allowed to carry up to seven international roster spots. Both were likely factors in Farsi going Stateside to take a shot with the Crew.
That tells me a couple things. Since Cavalry were trying to keep him, it suggests that they either weren’t able to match the salary the Crew were offering, or that he felt that Columbus would provide him with a better opportunity to get a move to Europe. Possibly both.
There’s little doubt it will offer him a better chance to move to MLS, seeing that he will be training with or around the Crew first team on a daily basis. The Crew likely view it as an extended trial for Farsi, which is an indication of how MLS teams might look to use NextPro.
It’s unlikely that there will be a mass exodus of players from CanPL to NextPro because of this, but we already seeing evidence that it might be a threat with this move. The league just lost one of its best young talents and, importantly, without getting a transfer fee for him. I’m not sure how you can spin that in any way other than being disappointing.
The league needs to do a better job protecting its assets. By not having Farsi under contract, money was left on the table here. That’s not good.
Where this might become an even more significant issue is with York United, who will be sharing a catchment area with a MLS NextPro team in Toronto. Yes, they already shared that market with TFC2 in USL, but if there has been a shift in thinking in MLS circles about how the second teams are going to be approached (and there is some evidence that there has been) then it’s possible that TFC might be more aggressive in locking up local talent. That would be a challenge for the less well established York.
We don’t know, but it’s worth watching, at a minimum.
The CanPL has not had an easy launch. The pandemic made everything hard and the fact its still here is an accomplishment, no doubt. However, as we enter year four, we are no longer in the infant years. We are entering an awkward stage where the novelty has worn off with both players and fans. It’s going to require the league to evolve and find its place in the soccer ecosystem.
You can’t do that you if you bury your head in the sand. The league can’t ignore the challenges that NextPro might provide.
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