By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Apr 3, 2023) US Soccer Players – Canada’s three Major League Soccer clubs have helped spur tremendous growth in the game north of the border. That’s both in terms of fan support and player development. That was evident when Canada qualified for the 2022 World Cup, its first finals appearance in 36 years featuring 11 MLS players, ten of whom play their club soccer in Canada.
Already in 2023, Canadian soccer is once again in the spotlight, advancing to this June’s Concacaf Nations League Finals. Canada takes on Panama, a more favorable side of the bracket than having to face either the USMNT or Mexico in the semifinals.
This is all to say that the fate of Canada’s National Team rests on several factors. It matters whether Canadian players can find a pathway to play in Europe’s top leagues. Also of importance is how vital MLS is and, in particular, how Toronto FC, Montreal, and Vancouver fare this season and beyond.
As a collective, the country’s three MLS clubs have all gotten off to a slow start in 2023. Of the three, TFC, again coached by ex-USMNT manager Bob Bradley, came into this weekend with the best record (1-1-3) among the trio and with a defense that had only given up five goals. Two of those matches had included clean sheets, a 2-0 win against Inter Miami and a scoreless draw at San Jose.
Toronto’s defense has shined the past few weeks. Against the Earthquakes, defender Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who is Canadian, got his first start of the season and was impressive for much of the game. A right back able to draw fouls and push the ball up, Marshall-Rutty is just 18 years old and coming into his own.
Offensively, Federico Bernardeschi leads the team with three goals, scoring directly off a corner kick this past Saturday in a 2-2 draw against Charlotte FC. However, Lorenzo Insigne’s absence after suffering a groin injury in a 3-2 defeat against DC United in the season opener has shown TFC’s limitations. This has been compounded by injuries to strikers Adama Diomande and Ayo Akinola.
Insigne is expected to return in the next two weeks. Given how good the defense has been in front of former NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Toronto could very well make up ground once their offensive options return.
“The beginnings of seasons are strange, between weather and fields,” Bradley told reporters following the team’s first win of the season against Inter Miami. “Look, it is what it is, but cold-weather teams have it a little bit harder.”
As for the other two teams, Montreal was 1-3-0 entering the weekend, the only Canadian team to make the playoffs last season. The Whitecaps were the worst of the Canadian trio entering matchday 6, winless in five games and amassing a 0-2-3 record heading into Saturday’s game against Montreal.
The unpredictable nature of MLS was on full display Saturday evening at BC Place when the Whitecaps blanked Montreal 5-0, an emphatic victory that could jump-start the team. US-born striker Simon Becher, chosen in the 2022 SuperDraft by the Whitecaps, scored two goals and added an assist. That brings Becher’s season total to four goals and one assist in two games, a great start for a rookie who is part of a youth movement at Vancouver.
“I think a big part of it is instinct, being a forward for so long, doing so many finishing drills, so many different finishing drills in the box. I basically live in the box,” he told reporters after the game. “So I think it’s something I pride myself in, my finishing. Every chance, I want to put away.”
The result at BC Place mirrored the result the Whitecaps had achieved in the Concacaf Champions League last month against Honduran club Real Espana in the opening leg of their round of 16 clash. They play LAFC on Wednesday in the first leg of the CCL quarterfinals as the only Canadian representative in this season’s version of the Champions League.
It’s a long season in MLS, and there will be ups and downs over the course of the next few months. The ultimate aim is to find the right kind of consistency. After that, anything can happen. The first six weeks of the season have certainly been proof of that.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of the new book “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.”
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Advancing, options, and offense for the USMNT in March
- MLS tactics early in the 2023 season
- Red Bulls defender John Tolkin on his club, the rest of the East, and debuting for the USMNT
- MLS in 2023: LAFC and Philadelphia, Apple TV, the Leagues Cup, and St Louis
Photo by Angel Marchini – SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire – ISIPhotos.com