Canadian MLS fans love to have a go at each other. Fans of the Whitecaps and Impact like nothing more than to remind Toronto FC faithful of their team’s inability to qualify for the playoffs. TFC and Impact supporters love to call out the Whitecaps for the lack of senior minutes given to Canadians. Lastly, TFC and ‘Caps fans love to make fun of Joey Saputo and his love of signing aging Italians.
What all of this reveals is that all three of Canada’s MLS teams have a very loyal and passionate fan base that continues to grow every year. Both Montreal and Vancouver supporters like to think their team has vastly out performed Toronto since joining North America’s first division but have they really? Has one of the teams out performed the others and established itself as Canada’s best soccer team? Or are they actually all rather similar?
As someone who has invested a substantial amount of time in following many divisions of Canadian footy I feel I am far more qualified than most to comment on the state and success of each of Canada’s MLS teams. Playoff appearances are widely considered to be the bench mark of success. In this category, looking at just the first three MLS years for each team, Vancouver was marginally the front runner. In just their second MLS season the ‘Caps made their first playoff appearance against a deadly LA Galaxy team that would eventually capture the MLS Cup. The ‘Caps put up a brave fight and nearly upset the Galaxy. Montreal made the playoffs in their second season but thanks to a bad run of form leading up to the playoffs the team lost all belief in themselves and never really looked likely to advance past the first round. Toronto FC gets a blue ribbon for nearly making the playoffs in 2009. In the final game of the season all TFC needed was a win against last place New York but instead fell 5-0 in a devastating defeat.
Playoffs are not the only one way to compare the teams so I decided to examine some basic regular season statistics and the results proved to be quite surprising as they showed that Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto had eerily similar records. The 34 game regular season structure did not come into effect until 2011 so to even the playing field I had to incorporate the first 12 games from Toronto’s 2010 season (their 4the season) to properly compare each team’s first 102 MLS regular season games.
|Montreal||2012 – 2014||32||46||24||120|
|Toronto||2007 – 2010*||30||45||27||117|
|Vancouver||2011 – 2013||30||43||29||119|
*including first 12 games from 2010 season
As you can see, the results speak for themselves. All three teams have almost perfectly mirrored each other. Another interesting tidbit is the fact that during their first 102 games each team has had a fairly high turnover of coaching staff. During this time Toronto FC had 3 coaches (Johnston, Carver, Preki) and 1 interim (Cummins). The Impact had 3 coaches (Marsch, Schallibaum, Klopas) and 1 interim (Biello) and lastly Vancouver had 2 coaches (Thordarson, Rennie) and 1 interim (Soehn).
Looking at these basic statistics it clearly shows how similar a path the three Canadian MLS teams had since joining MLS. Another similarity between the teams is how dysfunctional each team’s front office seems to be. The many misdemeanors committed by Toronto front office staff of years past has been well documented and the graveyard of ex-TFC staff has continued to grow. However, Toronto isn’t the only team whose leadership team has failed. Saputo has been on the receiving end of much criticism for employing friends and acquaintances that simply didn’t have the qualifications to run a professional soccer team. The Whitecaps have had their fair share of problems as well. In particular, the big reveal of the infamous committee after the firing of Rennie and the ensuing Camilo debacle.
All the factors I have discussed lead to one inescapable conclusion. The reality is that all three Canadian MLS team have been more alike than different and none of them has established itself as the dominant team. TFC’s history of bad management has been a cyclical problem for the past 8 years and it took a knight in shining armour, Tim Bezbatchenko, and a convoy of dump trucks full of MLSE cash to slowly bring the damaged ship under control. Toronto FC has been the perfect example of what not to do and both Vancouver and Montreal have sailed dangerously close to TFC. The real test for Montreal and Vancouver will come over the next few seasons as they try desperately to steer away from the rapids and not get sucked into the same whirlpool that got Toronto.