Why Are There Canadian Teams In The MLS

Why Are There Canadian Teams In The MLS?

Last updated on March 12th, 2022

You may have noticed that the Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and CF Montréal are all playing in the MLS.

However, all of these teams come from Canada!

So how are they able to play in America’s Major League Soccer?

Why are there Canadian teams in the MLS?

The MLS offered expansion spots to 3 states in Canada (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal) as football is a popular sport in Canada. At that time, there was no professional Canadian football league too. This was why the Canadian teams took up the offer to play in the MLS.

American and Canadian sports leagues are franchise leagues

The way that American and Canadian sports leagues work is different from other countries. They work on a franchise basis, where each league has a fixed number of teams.

The MLS has a single league structure, with no promotion or relegation.

Moreover, the MLS was recently founded in 1996, with just 10 teams. It was founded after the USA hosted the 1994 World Cup.

As such, the MLS focused on expanding the number of teams in the league. It currently has 27 teams (in 2021), and intends to expand to 30 by 2023.

However, there are other leagues that exist in USA, which are separate from the MLS. This includes:

  1. USL Championship (2nd division)
  2. USL League One (3rd division)

The original Canadian Soccer League was closed in 1992

The Canadian Soccer League (CSL) was founded in 1987, after Canada participated in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

However due to financial issues, the CSL could no longer be sustainable. As such, they folded in 1992.

When this happened, 3 CSL clubs joined the American Pro Soccer League (APSL):

  1. Vancouver 86ers
  2. Montreal Impact
  3. Toronto Blizzard

All of these 3 teams were the older versions of the current Canadian MLS teams!

These Canadian teams initially played in the USL-1

When FIFA awarded the 1994 World Cup to the USA, they wanted USA to establish a Division 1 professional football league. This status was awarded to the MLS in 1993.

As such, the MLS was considered to be the highest level of football in the USA.

With so many different leagues, the US soccer pyramid can be rather confusing!

There were no professional Canadian football leagues. As such, these teams were playing in the American leagues instead.

However, both of them went through a rebranding when they were offered the expansion slots by the MLS.

Both teams still chose to keep their names: Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact, even after the rebrand!

Montreal Impact was only recently rebranded as CF Montreal in 2021.

MLS offered franchises to these 3 clubs

The MLS offered expansion spots to these 3 clubs:

ClubYear Joined
Toronto FC2007
Vancouver Whitecaps2011
CF Montreal2012

Football (or soccer) is one of the most popular sports in Canada. Since there was no professional Canadian football league at that time, it made sense for the MLS to expand into Canada.

With these expansion offers, the clubs from Vancouver and Montreal no longer played in the lower divisions in American football. Instead, they were given instant access to the US football’s first division.

The Canadian Premier League was only founded in 2017

In contrast, the Canadian Premier League was only founded in 2017, consisting of 8 teams. By that time, the 3 Canadian teams had already been well established in the MLS.

It was no wonder why the teams remained in the MLS and are not part of the Canadian Premier League!

MLS does not intend to further expand into Canada

The MLS’ Commissioner, Don Garber, has publicly stated that he does not intend to expand further into Canada.

Instead, his focus is more on making the MLS relevant in Canada. One way he intends to do this is by attracting top Canadian talents to play in the MLS.

As such, the 3 Canadian teams will continue to play in the MLS.

Canadian teams cannot use on of the MLS’ slots to play in the CONCACAF Champions League

The CONCACAF Champions League is the North American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.

There are 4 slots available for MLS teams to qualify for this continental tournament:

  1. Team with the highest points in the Eastern Conference
  2. Team with the highest points in the Western Conference
  3. MLS Cup Champions
  4. US Open Cup Champions

However, Canadian teams can’t qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League through any of these routes!

The Canadian teams may qualify for 1 of these 4 these slots. However, it will be given to the next highest US team in the MLS’ overall season table instead.

If the Canadian team wants to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League, they will have to do so as a Canadian team.

There is a Canadian Championship, which is is a competition that includes:

  1. 3 Canadian MLS teams
  2. 8 Canadian Premier League teams
  3. Champion of League1 Ontario
  4. Champion of Première Ligue de soccer du Québec

There is only 1 slot to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League. The winner of the Canadian Championship will be awarded this slot.

This is different from the Welsh teams that play in England. These teams are able to represent England in the UEFA (European) competitions!


Football is one of the more popular sports in Canada. Since there was no professional Canadian football league in the early 2010s, the MLS took this opportunity to expand into Canada.

By offering expansion spots to Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, the MLS could build on the fan base already present in Canada.

When the Canadian Super League was finally formed in 2017, the 3 teams have been playing in the MLS for a long time.

As such, it would not make sense for them to switch to a much younger football league!

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