How Victor Montagliani Put Canada and MLS On His Clean-Up List

My story for The Guardian about the inequality experienced by Canadian players in Major League Soccer almost went nowhere until I finally spoke to Concacaf and Canada Soccer president Victor Montagliani in Vancouver.

I had tried to speak with Montagliani for weeks – his attendance at the Olympics and associated travel plans had got in the way (no phones in Rio, apparently) but the wait was worth it.


Canada’s Doneil Henry gets sad after missing a shot against El Salvador in September, 2016. 

A story with wide reporting had yielded a lot of corporate speak and one great interview with a Canadian player whose first-hand experience that Canadians were not respected in MLS was at risk of being dismissed because, well, his season playing for Toronto AND Montreal Impact had been a disaster.

Issey Nakajima was so concerned about wrongly coming across as a bitter crackpot he called back from Malaysia to clarify his points (pro tip: this rarely happens).

Point made and point lost.

At least Nakajima-Farran had the courage to speak out – several other high profile players did not respond to requests for comment. It’s unlikely the media is stalking any of them 24-hours a day.

Montagliani did not disappoint. Preparing for another corporate smack down, my ears caught fire when the Canada Soccer president immediately turned up the heat:

“At the end of the day, one of the things MLS and everyone needs to recognize is that Canadian teams in MLS have to be sanctioned by the Canadian federation. We have been beyond fair in not putting any [player] quotas in place that would hurt people but at some point there has to be a tipping point.

“If it is not going to change on one end then it is going to change on the other end and that is probably coming sooner than later. We haven’t done that as a federation [yet] because we have tried to be diplomatic about it.”

For MLS to operate in Canada, Canada Soccer, Concacaf AND FIFA has to sign off approval. Montagliani is suggesting that unless MLS finds a solution that brings equality to Canadian teams he is considering not sanctioning the participation of Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto, and Montreal Impact in MLS.

Radical? Yes. But just as radical as the inequality.

There will be a compromise, of course. Most likely players developed in the team’s academies will be treated equally across both borders. That won’t help a player like Nakjima-Farran who learned his soccer outside Canada and it will add yet another layer to MLS’s complicated player status regulations.

Extraordinary FIFA Congress

Victor Montagliani speaks at FIFA’s extraordinary congress in 2016. 

Interesting, though, is Montagliani’s swagger. He will soon quit Canada Soccer to focus exclusively on cleaning up Concacaf’s trash heap.

FIFA recently visited Australia to meet with Football Federation Australia to discuss how that country’s national league (the A-League is controversially run by the local governing body) fits within its own and the Asian Football Confederation’s required structure and governance (answer: it doesn’t very much).

If Montagliani want MLS to fall in line with Concacaf and FIFA (on this and other league governance issues) he now has a precedent with a country and league not dissimilar to the United States and Canada.




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