Battle brews for Canada's best youth - The Province

Player territory rights up for debate

By Marc Weber

Build, don't buy.

It's the Vancouver Whitecaps' fundamental philosophy. It's why owner Greg Kerfoot began pumping $1 million per season into the residency program in 2007.

But as the club moves towards Major League Soccer in 2011, and the Canadian content of that league grows from one -- Toronto FC -- to two, and likely three teams with Montreal in 2012, there's an intriguing battle brewing: a battle for the right to develop Canada's top youth players.

And contrary to rumblings that tacit agreements are already in place between Canada's professional clubs to stay off each other's lawn, Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett says Vancouver supports a free market system.

"There are no [Canadian] territories established on the player side of things," Mallett said. "Will that change? It's under discussion, but we're big believers in may the best programs win. We are proponents of an open market."

MLS has an evolving set of homegrown talent and roster rules designed to stimulate youth development in America.

Many U.S. clubs have youth scouting rights limited to a 75-mile (130-km) area around their training grounds. More rural clubs lay claim to much wider areas.

Toronto FC has certain MLS rights over the whole of Canada, which will obviously change in 2011. But to what extent is negotiable, and those negotiations will not be easy.

Two Toronto FC Academy players -- midfielders Russell Teibert, 16, and Kevin Cobby, 17, moved to the Whitecaps residency squad last year.

Teibert is an especially interesting case, not only because he was Canada's under-17 player of the year in 2008, but also because his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont., is about 130 kilometres from Toronto.

The Whitecaps pitch essentially boils down to this: What is best for the next Teibert? And what is best for Canada?

Of course, their answer happens to be the best thing for them, too, which doesn't make it wrong.

"We believe that good players will make good choices and that limiting that in any form could lesson the quality of all programs," said Mallett.

It's a complex issue.

Under MLS rules, Toronto is more limited than Vancouver when it comes to signing, playing and selling young talent. The field will be level in terms of regulation in 2011, but Vancouver has a massive head start.

Philosophically and financially, though, neither Toronto nor Montreal has shown the commitment Vancouver has.

"The core of any good club," Mallett said, "has to come from within."

But despite their desire to attract the top talent from Toronto and Montreal and anywhere else in Canada, Mallett said B.C. is the focus for the club.

"I grew up in the era of Frank Yallop and Colin Miller," he said. "We know great players come out of B.C., and if we do our job right, we should be their first choice."

mweber@theprovince.com
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