Major League Soccer has been able to do something that several other major North American sports leagues have not been able to do with any success and that is break into the Canadian market. It doesn’t sound sexy and probably should be much simpler than it is however the MLS has been able to place franchises in three of the major Canadian markets (Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal). These clubs have been successful in just about all aspects of the business except for the most visibile one which is success on the pitch.
One of the reasons for the lack of success on the pitch is the amount of coaching changes these clubs have had. Toronto FC was the first Canadian club in MLS. Since coming into the league in 2007 they have had seven head coaches. Vancouver Whitecaps FC were the second club to break into the MLS. They came into the league last year and are already on their third coach and the Montreal Impact just finished their inaugural season and have already parted ways with the fairly successful rookie head coach Jesse Marsch.
That’s a total of eleven head coaches in six MLS seasons and a grand total of one playoff appearance between the three clubs.
Why can’t these clubs find a way to win? There have been several notable players to come through their ranks including Dwayne DeRosario, Maurice Edu, and Jay Demerit. All three are in great cities and all play in new facilites with great fan support.
This would lead to a look at ownership. Toronto FC is run by the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment group (MLSE) which also runs the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Neither of these franchises made the playoffs since the Raptors did it in 2008. Toronto FC has yet to make a playoff appearance in 6 seasons. While management has come out said anything short of a playoff appearance is a failure they have yet to show the leadership to get the club there.
Vancouver has an ownership consisting of NBA All Star Steve Nash. They have made the lone playoff appearance for the Canadian clubs. While they did change head coaches they did take a chance and bring their head coach, Teitur Thordarson from their USL and USSF days over to try is hand in the MLS. He failed. They have now brought in Martin Rennie who is considered to be one of the best young coaches in all of MLS.
Montreal has been run by Saputo family which brought the team over from the USL and USSF where they had a lot of success. They have parted ways with their head coach Jesse Marsch after just one season. Apparently Marsch and management could not agree on a plan forward for the club.
If any club wants to be successful in MLS they have to look at the clubs at the top. There is a certain level of stability. Three of the four remaining playoff teams have a head coach who has been there for four years or more. The one exclusion is DC United whose head man is Ben Olsen. He played his entire MLS career with DC and has been the man in charge for about a season and a half. All of the head coaches have either won MLS Cup as a coach or as a player.
There is also confidence with these clubs. They know what it takes to win and more importantly expect to win. The Canadian clubs don’t have that confidence. For as much support as they get and for how successful they are off the pitch, they have yet to understand what it takes to win in MLS. They need a vision, stability and faith. Once they get these three things lined up they will be able to have success on the pitch.