Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen blasted the Canadian Soccer Association on Friday, saying cooperation between the two parties is all "one-way traffic."
After putting the finishing touches to his team's preparations for Saturday's Major League Soccer match against Real Salt Lake, Nelsen voiced his frustrations at a perceived injustice as he loses four of his players to Canada's Gold Cup squad following the game.
Doneil Henry, Jonathan Osorio, Kyle Bekker and Ashtone Morgan are all named in Canada's squad for the Gold Cup and will report to the team's training camp in California after the weekend. Toronto had asked if they could keep two of the four players until after Wednesday's all Canadian match-up at home to Montreal Impact. So far the Canadian Soccer Association hasn't agreed to that, and Nelsen's comments on Friday will have done nothing positive for relations between club and country.
"They've taken four of our players and a coach (Pat Onstad) without even a thank you," said the former New Zealand international. "Unfortunately that's the problem we are in. We develop them, and we give them the opportunity more than any other clubs and then they take them away. It's a bit frustrating but I suppose that's life."
"We let Canada Soccer use our facilities, we give them a coach, we try and develop as many good young players as we can and all we are asking for is one day where we can just keep a couple of them. Unfortunately it is one-way traffic so we will have to live with that. They will come in and use our facilities and our coaching staff. We will open our arms to them again when they keep asking."
"One of our coaches is out there working hard for Canadian soccer right now - hopefully we get a thank you letter. It's nice that we can help them out but hopefully one day we can get a favour in return. I want Canadian soccer to win more than anybody. All I am asking is for a couple of them just to stay one more day. The players are more frustrated than anyone so that might come back to hurt them in the long-run."
Nelsen says the international absentees will leave his club so short that for the Montreal match he "won't be able to put a squad together," and "can't fill the bench."
Ryan Nelsen isn't the only MLS coach to complain about the current situation. Over the last few years, Major League Soccer has tried to improve scheduling to avoid playing league matches on international dates. The situation is better than it was, but still needs improving. Clubs should not have to play matches without three or four of their best players who are away on international duty. It devalues the product, and can often lead to an unfair advantage for the opposition. If MLS is to meet its goal of being one of the top leagues in the world by 2022, it's a massive issue that needs to be resolved.
The scheduling is far from ideal, however the Gold Cup is also not a surprise. It is something clubs needed to plan for well in advance.
Saturday's opponents Real Salt Lake have been hit as badly as any other MLS team. They have already lost joint leading scorer Alvaro Saborio who has linked up with the Costa Rica squad early. Following Saturday's match, they will then be without starting goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defender Tony Beltran, and Captain Kyle Beckerman. They are four players who would be in the starting lineup on a regular basis, but who the club has to cover for during the next month.
Of the four players missing for TFC, only two – Henry and Osorio – have started matches regularly in recent weeks. Morgan has only made one substitute appearance in the last seven matches and Bekker hasn't appeared in MLS since March, however both may have been called upon to fill the void had they not been selected for Canada.
Aside from those absentees, Nelsen's squad size is currently reduced by the fact that the club decided to waive defender Logan Emory on Thursday, and they remain unable to call upon defender Danny Califf who has been away in California attending to personal matters.
In a perfect world, clubs and governing bodies would foster positive relationships where they try and accommodate the needs of all parties. Toronto FC obviously feels the CSA isn't doing its part right now, but speaking out so publicly is a dangerous tactic and more likely to lead to bad blood between the two groups than a resolution.
While I believe the scheduling of MLS matches during the Gold Cup is a major but somewhat unavoidable issue, I do think all clubs releasing players to a country should follow the same rules no matter how many players they have called up.
The CSA cannot give one club preferential treatment. If Toronto FC is allowed to keep one or two players until after Wednesday's match, why should Vancouver Whitecaps be forced to release Russell Teibert? The 'Caps also have Simon Thomas called up for Canada and Carlyle Mitchell joining Trinidad and Tobago. Fortunately for Vancouver, they managed to work an agreement with Honduras which means Johnny Leveron has not been included in the Gold Cup squad.
Toronto FC president Kevin Payne is asking the CSA to change its mind and let two of the four players stay behind, but as of Friday afternoon the club was still waiting for a response. While Toronto FC is left feeling aggrieved at the situation, there really is very little the CSA can - or should - do at this stage. Hopefully moving forward, both parties can work together to develop a more positive relationship.
Toronto FC against Real Salt Lake is live on TSN2 on Saturday, June 29 at 1pm et/10am pt.