GANGUE-RUZIC: These are the TOP 10 CANADIAN BARGAINS in MLS this year
Quietly, the Canadian contingent in MLS seems to be growing year over year.
Of course, that shift has been apparent north of the border, in particular.
For the past three seasons, it’s not been uncommon to see CF Montréal play upwards of 4-5 Canadians a match, while Toronto FC has also leaned on their fair share of Canadians in games. The Vancouver Whitecaps have lagged a bit behind in that regard, but they’ve also given a few Canadians a look, too, and are starting to really push them through their MLS Next Pro team.
Yet, while that shift is positive, it’s expected. Given the wealth of talent those teams are able to pull from their academies, it feels like it’s been less of a revelation and more of an “about time” when it’s come to them finally giving those players minutes.
Where there’s been a huge shift, however, is with American MLS teams. There, quietly, a contingent of Canadians are growing, and it’s becoming more and more noticeable.
Take this week, as an example. A rare midweek slate of MLS games, Canadians thrived with opportunities for teams south of the border over the past seven days.
Former Whitecaps homegrown, Brandon Cambridge, scored a brace for Charlotte FC in a 2-1 win, his first goals in MLS, while former Toronto FC and Pacific FC centre back, Lukas MacNaughton, opened his MLS account with a goal in a 2-1 Nashville SC win.
Also, Canadians Moïse Bombito (Colorado Rapids), Stephen Afrifa (Sporting KC) and O’Vonte Mullings (New York Red Bulls) all made their debuts over the last seven days, becoming the latest Canadians to play in MLS.
It was a good week for 🇨🇦 MLS debuts, as a few flew under the radar:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) May 18, 2023
-Moïse Bombito (CB) made his #Rapids96 debut on the weekend, and also featured yesterday
-O’Vonte Mullings (RB) made his #RBNY debut yesterday
-Stephen Afrifa (ST) made his #SportingKC debut yesterday#CanMNT
You then add in the performances of other up-and-coming Canadians across the 2023 season, such as Mo Farsi (Columbus Crew), Jacen Russell-Rowe (Columbus Crew), Luca Petrasso (Orlando City), Jacob Shaffelburg (Nashville SC), Kyle Hiebert (St.Louis City), Michael Baldisimo (San Jose Earthquakes) and Ralph Priso (Colorado Rapids), and that’s impressive.
That’s without mentioning the presence of Canadian National Team regulars and veterans, such as Dayne St.Clair (Minnesota United), Maxime Crépeau (LAFC), Kamal Miller (Inter Miami) and Raheem Edwards (LA Galaxy), adding to those names.
Safe to say, the Canadian invasion of American teams is on, and is only growing as more players such as Bombito, Mullings and Afrifa make debuts.
Yet, that’s a credit to a few factors.
A heavy presence of Canadians in US universities helps. So does the loosening of the rules that designated Canadians as internationals on American teams (homegrown players no longer have that designation), as well as the creation of MLS Next Pro as a gateway for Canadians toward first teams are also key.
Most importantly, however, is a factor that became quite clear this week once again with the release of the MLSPA’s salary numbers - the reality that the Canadian player pool remains very undervalued, meaning that there are a lot of market inefficiencies to tap into when buying Canadians.
Take Mo Farsi, for example. In his second season with Columbus, after arriving from Cavalry in the Canadian Premier League, he’s been excellent for a solid Crew side under Wilfried Nancy, after earning a first-team contract for 2023 following a strong MLS Next Pro season in 2022.
For the Crew, he’s been a big piece at wing back, and is in the mix for the CanMNT (he would probably have a call already if he was at another position), yet as it was revealed this week, he’s on $74 735, one of the lowest salaries in the league.
And he’s not the only Canadian providing value to their clubs, either. The Nashville pair of Shaffelburg ($195 000) and MacNaughton ($87 544) are key pieces on a team that’s top five in all of MLS, while Kyle Hiebert ($85 444) has been among the best centre backs in MLS this season on a surprising St.Louis side.
With the 2023 MLS salaries released today, @PaulTenorio and I dove through all the numbers to come up with an All-Value XI and an Underperforming XI.— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) May 16, 2023
Graphics from @jeffrueter pic.twitter.com/3n1zCPo8pJ
Heck, if you even look at the more established players, Dayne St.Clair ($431 875) is a bargain given that he’s one of the top goalkeepers in MLS, while Maxime Crépeau ($377 500) is an even bigger steal, and Kamal Miller ($420 000) is on a pretty good deal himself.
In a salary cap league, where every dollar counts, those deals have helped those respective sides massively, given that they’ve been getting top production at cheaper prices from those players.
That’s important to note for Canadian MLS teams, as an example, as they’re benefitting from that, too. Two of the best performers on the Whitecaps have been Ryan Raposo ($137 000) and Ali Ahmed ($94 819), while Montréal’s best player has been Mathieu Chonière ($276 667), with Joel Waterman ($288 202), Sean Rea ($92 340) and Jonathan Sirois ($89 780) all also playing big roles.
Even over at Toronto FC, the highest-spending team in the league, they’ve gotten the same goal production out of Deandre Kerr ($90 763) as they have out of their striking trio of Adama Diomande, Ayo Akinola and CJ Sapong ($1 973 542), showing the value that can be extracted.
That extends to the top end of the scale, too, as Montréal’s Samuel Piette ($469 563) and Toronto’s Mark Anthony Kaye ($750 000) and Jonathan Osorio ($1 400 000) are a bit pricier, those deals are all good value given how productive they’ve been over the years, with Osorio’s 58 goals and 35 assists for TFC in all competitions across the years serving as a great example of that.
Given that the average MLS salary is now $530 262, a lot of those numbers look even better, as it’s fair to say a lot of these players are above average, especially those in the CanMNT fold or on the cusp of it.
Yet, that shows how Canadians remain undervalued. Despite being the nationality with the second-most players in MLS, and fifth in minutes (per FBRef), Canadians are continuing to bring production to MLS teams at a bargain price relative to those from other top nations, such as Argentina and Brazil.
Therefore, with the roster rules relaxed surrounding a lot of Canadians, look for a lot more shrewd teams to capitalize on that reality. Seeing how Nashville was able to pluck Shaffelburg out of Toronto FC, as an example, or seeing what Mo Farsi has been able to do since leaving the CPL, it shows that there are players to be extracted from Canadian MLS teams and the CPL.
And, more importantly, it should show Canadian teams that there is value to be extracted from their own backyards, if they look carefully. Especially given that all Canadians do not count as an international spot (Farsi takes up an international spot for Columbus, but wouldn’t do that in Canada), there’s no reason why they can’t look at more of those players as potential contributors.
Those who do that, should profit off it, as we’ve seen become more and more common, something that will only grow with more Canadians making debuts for teams.
In a league that’s always looking at the next market inefficiency (remember the shift from older DPs to South American ones?), it looks like Canadian players could be one of them, especially as the talent pool continues to grow. Especially given that if you are able to get them at the right age, like the New England Revolution with Tajon Buchanan, and Montréal with Ismaël Koné and Alistair Johnston, those players can help you in the present before netting you multi-million dollar transfer fees, too.
Because of that, it’s a good time for teams to get in on the ground floor on that investment, especially for those north of the border, before that trickle turns into a flood, as it slowly has started to this season.