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Doubts plague signing

Friday marked a special day for Canadian fans of the beautiful game.

Friday marked a special day for Canadian fans of the beautiful game.

Our country’s best player — arguably the most talented in North America at present — decided to return home in the prime of his career to play club soccer.

In any other country, such a move would have been heralded as a resounding success. So, why has there been so much grumbling about Toronto FC’s signing of defensive-midfielder Julian de Guzman?

The consensus among those who don’t wear the TFC strip religiously is that the quality of the Canadian national team will diminish if our top-flight players begin to regularly seek out MLS with its larger paycheques and lower level of play.

Top-level talent needs to play top-level competition to maintain its edge and, in the absence of it, quality players will rest on their laurels, content to ride out their careers and collect their dollars.

It’s an argument without much cause. American fans made a similar case in the late 1990’s as MLS came on the scene. If American players, the argument went, were given a domestic option, they would never strive for more and the quality of play would drop off. Ultimately MLS has had the opposite effect. American players still seek to play overseas, but those who play domestically make up a third of the U.S. national squad. The U.S. hasn’t missed a World Cup since 1990.

There is another issue that has some concerned: The belief that TFC doesn’t have the best interests of Canadian soccer at heart. At this year’s Gold Cup, Canadian players Dwayne DeRosario, Adrian Serioux and Jim Brennan all opted to stay home with the club.

In a year in which the Gold Cup didn’t really matter (qualification for the Confederations Cup was not at stake) it’s certainly acceptable for players to make that choice.

But what are troubling are the suggestions, made to me by more than one agent, that two of those players received a bonus from TFC for having stayed with the team.

If true, it sets a dangerous precedent. With Vancouver joining MLS in 2011 and Montreal likely not far behind, the success of our national team will be linked more than ever to domestic clubs. If teams put their own petty interests ahead of the national game, it will undermine all that is being done to grow soccer here — and that includes bringing players like Julian de Guzman home.

– Watch Ben Rycroft on the It’s Called Football show every Monday at metronews.ca; ben.rycroft@metronews.ca

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