Canadian soccer league system
The Canadian soccer pyramid is a term used in soccer to describe the structure of the league system in Canada. The governing body of soccer in the country is the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), which oversees the system and domestic cups (including the Canadian Championship or Voyageurs Cup) but does not operate any of its component leagues. For practical purposes top tier professional Canadian teams are often members of leagues that are based primarily in the United States.
The professional league structure in Canada coincides with the league competitions of the neighbouring United States. Promotion and relegation does not occur between any league levels. Formally, Canada does not have a fully professional national league. The division one and two professional clubs in Canada compete in the Canadian Championship for the Voyageurs Cup, which is the country's national championship trophy for professional teams and which earns the winner the right to play in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The CSA previously sanctioned the second version of the Canadian Soccer League (CSL) as Division 3; it is set up as a semi-professional league in Canada. The CSL has wanted to become the largest national domestic league. It has, however, always been a league based in southern Ontario, often with one team in Quebec and occasional teams in Ottawa. It was the highest level domestic league below the Canadian teams competing in American leagues from 2010-2013. The CSL removed itself from CSA sanctioning for the 2014 season.
Professional leagues background
Prior to 1968 amateur and semi-professional clubs played in the southern Ontario and Quebec based National Soccer League. At times missed work payments and per diems for travel and other expenses in other parts of Canada were also very generous for the National Challenge Trophy.
Canadian based professional/semi-professional leagues could not compete with North American Soccer League teams when the USA and NPSL awarded franchises in Canada. These leagues such as the NSL and PCSL were eclipsed by the marketing and stature of the U.S. based leagues and attendance issues either forced league mergers or re-formations and consolidation.
After the collapse of the original North American Soccer League, and Canada's participation in the 1986 FIFA World Cup the original Canadian Soccer League started operations as a nationally based CSA sanctioned Division 1 league. When the original CSL folded in 1993, three Canadian teams moved to the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) where several had played preseason games and competed in post season tournaments. When Major League Soccer (MLS) won the USSF's competition for USA Division 1 status in 1993, the APSL lost stature and teams in several markets as well as in MLS markets in Denver, Los Angeles, and New York when MLS started three years later. Canadian teams continued to participate in the APSL and subsequently with the United Soccer Leagues merger in the A League / USL-1. FIFA did not allow the USA Division 1 sanctioned league to include foreign teams which was why the APSL was never officially recognized as Division 1 before MLS.
US Soccer made sustainable gains after their 2002 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal appearance. By the mid 2000s, the US (and by extension Canadian) soccer landscape was changing with competitors to the United Soccer Leagues arising such as the U.S. Soccer Development Academy starting in 2007 or strengthening such as the resurgence of Major League Soccer. Stronger USL-1 sides became frustrated by what they perceived as lack of ambition and a restrictive structure of the United Soccer Leagues. With the introduction of designated players, Soccer United Marketing, expansion of MLS in 2005, and larger attendances in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games versus MLS sides, the stronger USL-1 sides became less competitive with MLS sides on and off the field. For example, MLS looked to move into USL-1 markets with the higher marketing power and based on US Open Cup results, better play. With the decision to introduce a Canadian club to MLS, with Toronto FC joining in 2006 for the 2007 season, the Toronto Lynx self relegated from the USL-1 and began playing in the amateur-only USL Premier Development League (PDL). Frustration eventually resulted in the USSF Division 2 Professional League in 2010 and a new league, the North American Soccer League. As part of the changing soccer landscape, two long time USL-1 Canadian clubs purchased franchises in MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC joined in 2011 and the Montreal Impact joined in 2012.
One of the other original CSL teams did not join the APSL, they joined the National Soccer League based in southern Ontario. The National Soccer League renamed itself the Canadian National Soccer League (CNSL) with the addition of an out of province team. The CNSL had four teams found the second league named the Canadian Professional Soccer League (1998-2006) or CPSL with four other new teams. In 2006, the CPSL teams restarted in a new league, the second Canadian Soccer League (CSL). This second version of the CSL moved its sanctioning from the Ontario Soccer Association to the Canadian Soccer Association in 2009 but then removed itself in 2014 and is now a member of the Soccer Federation of Canada (SFC).
Below division two, the soccer competitions in Canada are mostly regionally-based due to its large geography and dispersed pockets of population. There are two Division 3 Canadian-based semi-professional leagues, League1 Ontario (L1O) and the Première Ligue de soccer du Québec (PLSQ), centered in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec respectively.
Also in Ontario; Toronto FC Academy, K-W United FC, and Forest City London compete in the Great Lakes Division of the U23 Premier Development League, a U.S. based league. In northwest Ontario, the Thunder Bay Chill competes alongside WSA Winnipeg of Manitoba in the PDL's Heartland Division, while Calgary Foothills FC competes in the PDL's Northwest Division. On November 18, 2015, the four Ontario teams were given notice by the Ontario Soccer Association that they would no longer be permitted to participate in the PDL starting in 2017, potentially leaving only two Canadian teams in that league.
There are 12 provincial soccer associations in Canada with a number of leagues organized as amateur competitions at adult and/or youth levels. Typically there is promotion and relegation plus league and cup competitions in each provincial region culminating in the National Challenge Trophy.
- The Challenge Trophy (Men): Level 4/5 (includes PCSL at level 4)
- The Jubilee Shield (Women): Level 4
The USL PDL and W-League at Level 4 and 2 are not eligible for any national cup competition. Reserve or second teams from these clubs often play in local amateur leagues and are eligible for the Challenge Trophy and Jubilee Shield.
Men's league system
For the top two levels on its pyramid structure, Canadian-based teams play in USSF sanctioned leagues. Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Montreal Impact play in Division 1 Major League Soccer (MLS) while FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury FC play in Division 2 North American Soccer League (NASL). There is no promotion or relegation between the leagues.
In February 2010, the Canadian Soccer League was granted full membership by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and sanctioned as a semi-professional league. Sitting behind MLS and the NASL, the CSL operated as one of the Division 3 leagues within the Canadian pyramid. However, following the release of a development study and subsequent change in CSA policy for the future growth and development of regional leagues, also coinciding with match fixing allegations in 2012, the CSL was de-sanctioned by the CSA in 2013 and would not be considered a CSA sanctioned semi-pro league for the 2014 season.
The Première Ligue de soccer du Québec (PLSQ) was founded as a semi-pro league in 2012, also as Division 3, with five teams and plays May to September. In 2013 the league expanded by two teams and will stream all games over the internet.
The Canadian Championship competition, established in 2008 to determines the Canadian representative at the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL), awards the national trophy, the fan-created Voyageurs Cup. The CCL is the region's largest club tournament qualifying a club to the FIFA Club World Cup. Currently, the Canadian Soccer Association has limited the Canadian Championship to the country's five professional clubs at the D1 & D2 levels for the 2014 edition.
The United Soccer Leagues (USL) manages several leagues, including the amateur USL Premier Development League (PDL). The PDL is sanctioned and administered under the USASA, along with the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). Both leagues are considered Division 4 in the American league system, although currently only the PDL features Canadian clubs in competition. Both leagues are effectively a short 2.5 month season for post-secondary players following their collegiate commitments.
The Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL) similarly operates with both Canadian and American clubs, although on a much smaller scale, featuring only one American team and being primarily located in the Pacific Northwest.
At Level 5 there are various amateur provincial leagues that are sanctioned under their individual provincial or territorial associations. This includes such leagues as the Vancouver Island Soccer League, Vancouver Metro Soccer League, Fraser Valley Soccer League, Alberta Major Soccer League, Saskatchewan Premier Soccer League, Manitoba Major Soccer League, Ontario League West, Ontario League East, Ligue de Soccer Elite Quebec, Nova Scotia Soccer League, and New Brunswick Premier Senior Soccer League. This collection of leagues across the country collectively compete for the national Challenge Trophy.
In order to limit the Americanization of all of Canada's professional soccer clubs, the CSA issued a moratorium on the sanctioning of any new Division 2, 3, or 4 teams on November 15, 2010, with the ban set to last until September 30, 2011. Despite the moratorium, the NASL announced that Ottawa had been awarded a franchise on June 20, 2011.
In 2013, following the release of "The Easton Report," the CSA set out to create a regionalized Division 3 semi-pro structure, similar to the major junior hockey leagues in Canada, with regional champions competing in a national tournament. In November 2013, the Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) announced plans to sanction League1 Ontario as part of this new structure.
Major League Soccer (MLS)
North American Soccer League (NASL)
United Soccer League (USL)
League1 Ontario (L1O)
Première Ligue de soccer du Québec (PLSQ)
Premier Development League (PDL)
Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL)
The Challenge Trophy
The women's game in Canada also has promotion and relegation only in amateur leagues that culminate in the Jubilee Shield. It functions like a pyramid at the amateur levels. Other U.S. based leagues with Canadian players and Canadian teams could be considered part of the women's league system.
Sixteen Canadian Women's National Team (CWNT) players are paid by the CSA and other federal government athlete funding programs to play in the U.S. league, the National Women's Soccer League, when they are not in national team camps. (Similarly, 24 USWNT members and 12 Mexico national team members are paid by their respective federations to play in the league.) Unsubsidized Canadian players can also play in the league as part of the international quota while others play in Europe. Canadian players play in the NWSL although all franchises are located in the U.S.; there are no Canadian franchises in this U.S. league. Financial remuneration varies in the NWSL; the four-month-long league is new as of 2013 and salaries for unsubsidized players are not high enough to support them without other outside income.
The USL manages the W-League. The W-League is a U.S. based amateur league administered under the USASA. The W-League could be considered unofficially as Division 2 due to visibility and inter-provincial (and U.S. in the playoffs) travel requirements; refer to the United States soccer league system. The W-League has a 2.5 month long season with mainly post-secondary players playing in the CIS women's soccer off season. The W-League franchises compete in a parallel to Canada, Canada - U.S. competition; U.S. Division 2 competitors have entered the American USASA National Women's Open for which a Canadian team, being based in a separate country are not eligible. The W-League teams have not competed in competitions outside of their league and league playoffs. In the past when there have not been professional U.S. leagues (WUSA, WPS), the CWNT pool players not playing in European leagues played in the W-League for Canadian-based teams.
Other than CWNT pool players and CIS players (in their two-month CIS season or in their 2.5 month off season), there are provincial competitions run by each of the provincial soccer associations to qualify an amateur team for the national championship, the Jubilee Shield. Some of these are leagues and others cup competitions. The PCSL is similar to the W-League (season length, orientation to post-secondary players), but they have an entry into the B.C. championship competition. Many other primarily adult amateur leagues, some with eight month seasons, also culminate in the Jubilee Shield. There are indoor (March) and outdoor (September) national championships given Canada's climate.
|Level||Leagues or Divisions|
National Women's Soccer League (NWSL)
United Women's Soccer (UWS)
League1 Ontario (L1O)
Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL)
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