2016 featured 37 Canadian teams spread throughout the MLS, NASL, USL, PDL, L1O & PLSQ. Some teams were pretty stellar, with at least one team in each league qualifying for playoffs. With the year wrapping up, now’s a great time to review the teams, results, and some notable news or rumours.
First, Major League Soccer. Canada had 3 teams in the MLS this season, and Garber is on record stating that there will never be more than these three. At the top of the US-pyramid, we can quickly become accustomed to hearing about Toronto FC, Montreal Impact FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Of the three, Toronto reigned superior throughout the season & playoffs. With a 14-9-11 regular season record, TFC finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference, while Montreal’s 11-11-12 would give them 5th. Sadly, Vancouver ended the season 10-15-9, sitting in 8th place in the Western Conference. Montreal & Toronto would face off in a very heated Eastern Conference Finals, with the Reds becoming the first Canadian-located team to advance to the MLS Cup Final. Sadly, Seattle defeated Toronto during penalties, but it was still a fantastic run. TFC also qualified for the Champions League as a result of winning the Voyageurs Cup in the Canadian Championship, and Vancouver did have the redeeming quality of having moved beyond the Champions League’s initial round. The Whitecaps continue Champions League play in January, while TFC awaits official announcement of a possible format change.
In the North American Soccer League, there were 2 Canadian Teams: FC Edmonton & Ottawa Fury FC. Unlike their MLS counterparts, both teams fielded a significant quantity of Canadian Players, with the Fury giving Canadians more time on field than any other pro-league team. Sadly, although they managed to average roughly 6k attendance, playing Canadians did not earn the Fury a berth in the NASL playoffs as the team finished with a dismal 7-15-10, sitting in 10th place on the combined standings. FC Edmonton, on the other hand, had absolutely dismal attendance, but finished with a 15-9-8 record in 3rd place on the combined table. They were eliminated by Indy Eleven in the NASL Soccer Bowl semi-finals, but their run has definitely been a boon for the club who have reported selling a club-record number of season tickets in advance of 2017. The Fury are relocating to the USL for 2017, and the Eddies are poised to continue in the NASL, if the league exists. Rumours tell us the USSF will make their ruling either the 28/29 of December, or early in the New Year.
The United Soccer League hosted 3 Canadian MLS-reserve teams. These teams were true-reserves, not affiliates like the Fury will be in 2017. Being reserve teams, little was expected of FC Montreal, Toronto FC II, or Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. The teams were expected to get a few key players some playing time to help hone their skills for eventual transfer to the MLS-side, or to provide additional depth to the MLS-team when their players were injured. Although the Canadian-based MLS-sides view the USL as a development league, it is actually a pro-league meant to be competitive. In this regard, FC Montreal performed horribly, ending dead-last in their conference with a 7-21-2 record. TFCII wasn’t far ahead of them with 7-18-5. Deservedly, neither team qualified for the USL playoffs. VWC2 on the other hand, performed superbly. The coastal team finished 6th in the Western Conference with a 12-9-9 record over the season, qualifying for the playoffs. They would defeat Colorado Springs Switchbacks in the Conference Quarterfinals, and then push through OKC Energy FC in the semifinal. Sadly they were blown away in the Western Conference Final by Swope Park Rangers. In 2017, FC Montreal has folded up shop, but Ottawa Fury FC will move in as Canada’s 1st independent USL team. No word yet on whether USL will be considered 2nd or 3rd division by USSF.
Next on the pyramid: the Professional Development League. The PDL hosted 6 Canadian sides in 2016: TFC Academy, K-W United, Thunder Bay Chill, WSA Winnipeg, Calgary Foothills FC, and Victoria Highlanders FC. The PDL is a huge league focused on regional play to help players develop and grow. Even with that in mind, it’s still a great competition. At the bottom on the Canadian barrel, we have WSA Winnipeg with a 1-11-2 record to put them dead-last in the Heartland Division. In comparison, their division-mates Thunder Bay Chill had a 7-2-5 record, finishing the season 2nd in the division and making it into the USL-playoffs. Much like the Great Lakes Division’s K-W United, who finished with a 11-2-1 record, they would be eliminated in the 1st round of playoffs. TFC Academy (2-8-4) of the Great Lakes Division, and Victoria Highlanders FC (3-5-6) of the Northwest Division would both fail to make the playoffs. The top Canadian team of the PDL would fall to Calgary Foothills FC of the Northwest Division, who ended the season 8-3-3 at the top of their division. The Foothills would advance all the way to the PDL-final before dropping 3-2 to the Michigan Bucks. With TFC Academy departing the PDL, we’re looking at 5 teams in 2017, with rumours of a 6th-team joining the fray in Vancouver.
League1 Ontario, one of Canada’s 2 recognized 3rd division leagues, completed their 3rd year of play with a record 16 teams across Southern Ontario. As of the end of 2016, the Kingston Clippers mark the league’s most Northern team, but it will creep slightly further North to add Ottawa South United as the league’s 17th team in 2017. During the regular season, FC London took the Western Conference with a 15-5-2 record. Vaughan Azzurri, who would defeat FC London in the playoff, ended the season 17-1-4 atop the East. In addition to the season & playoff, L1O also features a cup competition. The L1O Cup ended up as a battle of the East, with Vaughan Azzurri toppling Woodbridge Strikers by a single goal. Sadly, Vaughan were unable to complete the treble, losing out to PLSQ’s CS Mont-Royal Outremont in the Interprovincial Cup.
The Premier Ligue de Soccer du Quebec is Canada’s other 3rd division league. The PLSQ predates L1O, having officially been founded in 2012. Unlike most North American leagues, the PLSQ operates entirely without playoffs: he who has the most points, wins. As a result, the winner can be known exceedingly early, as it was this year. CS Mont-Royal Outremont dominated the competition right from the start, ending the season with a 14-2-2 record. CSMRO would continue on to take the Interprovincial Cup from L1O’s Vaughan Azzurri, the 1st time a PLSQ side would win in the history of the competition. Much like L1O, the PLSQ also has a cup competition. CSMRO was knocked out in the semi-finals by AS Blainville (11-3-4), who would go on to win the cup in the final against FC Gatineau (6-8-4). AS Blainville was 2nd overall during the season, and was the only side to defeat CSMRO, twice during the season, and both cup matches. Sadly, PLSQ is poised to contract this year. Two teams are departing, while Dynamo de Quebec will be joining the league. Celtix de Haut-Richelieu had expressed interest way back in February 2016, but were not a part of the official league team announcements this year. There is a possibility that FC Montreal may make a last-minute addition to the league, but so far it looks like there will be only 6 teams in 2017.
2016 featured 37 teams across 6 professional or semi-pro leagues. So far, 2017 looks to feature 35 teams. There are rumours of a new PDL team in Vancouver, and a possibility of FC Montreal existing in the PLSQ. If both of these come to fruition, Canada will maintain 37 teams in 2017. We’re still crossing our fingers for a few more announcements, but we won’t know anything for sure until some time after the ball drops on New Years.