Having done some research in this topic allow me to explain.
In most soccer leagues (we’ll use the English system since they are the most well known). The various teams from the pro all the way to your beer league team are put into a series of tiers. Tier 1 being the well know Premier League, Tier 2 being the The Football League champion ship and so on. Now in those systems, if the last two teams are at the bottom of the league, they get relegated to the lower league, and the top two of the lower league get promoted. Basically think of it like if the Leafs finished in the basement, they’d get sent to play in the AHL and the Calder Cup champion got to move up to the NHL.
Anyways, depending on how well a countries clubs/support they have, FIFA determines a number of berths per country that get to move the regional continental championship. Almost always, the top team of the top league that year gets to represent their country in the regional club championship, as well as a couple others based upon their record or various other tournaments outside the normal league play. The most well known of these is the UEFA Champions league (or Union of Europe Football Associations). North America has it’s own regional championship, the CONCACAF Champions league. (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). Eventually the winner of those various continental championships moves onto the FIFA Club World Cup to see who (theoretically) is the best Soccer Club team in the world.
Now in North America, things are a bit different. Mainly because soccer isn’t as popular here and there simply aren’t investors in North America who are willing to contribute money to building soccer under the system of promotion and relegation. Thus the promotion and relegation of teams between the various tiers of soccer doesn’t happen. Much like you would never see the Leafs accept being relegated to the AHL. It tends to operate more like the NFL/CFL model (which perhaps is unfair but I think is apt). The NFL will occasionally poach players from the CFL, and vice versa, although the talent level is still pretty close, and typically the contracts prevent this kind of poaching from going overboard. However much like the two leagues MLS gets far more exposure then NASL. The only time teams have been promoted are basically because the owner of a tier 2 team, bought his way into MLS (and despite being a team already, are technically a brand new, expansion franchise. This is what happened with Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps). The MLS teams generally would never accept being relegated to the tier 2 league (which in this case is NASL…sorta).
This is where it gets even more confusing. You see, Canada only has three Tier 1 teams, and a single tier 2 team right now. The CSA has never made it’s own tier 1 league really, because there simply aren’t enough owners who have the facilities/teams who can play at a high level, and to be honest, doesn’t feel that a Canadian league could draw enough fan support in Canada alone to be financially sustainable. So instead, the CSA allows teams to piggyback on the US system (MLS/NASL) who don’t have a problem with it, because they are still large markets they can make money on and don’t take issue so long as at least 75% of the teams are US. The four Canadian teams basically play their for bragging rights in MLS/NASL. Sure they can win the MLS cup, but doing so they don’t qualify to move onto the continental regional championship we spoke of earlier if they manage the feat, since it’s the US’s league.
Canadian teams instead have a yearly tournament, the Voyaguers Cup, where (so far) the top Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams have competed to represent Canada at the CONCACAF Champions league. Since Canada only has one berth, and the tournament is between four teams, it’s painfully short so it doesn’t interfere too much with the MLS season, and still lets Canada field a team at the Champions league. It is technically Canada’s tier 1 league, even though it’s pretty much a six game knockout tournament and not a season. Now for the most part, Canada has always just allowed all of it’s MLS/NASL teams play in this tournament, because we’ve only ever had three to four teams. TFC, Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Edmonton. However, now with Ottawa entering the scene and talk of a new tier 2 league in Canada may change this.
Basically the Canadian Soccer Association (FIFA’s Canadian governing body) has been undergoing an overhaul lately, and soccer is getting more and more popular and the CSA wants to stop Canadian teams just piggybacking on the US leagues (understandably so, more higher quality Canadian teams playing, means more higher quality Canadian players who can help out the national team). However, it also gets that the three MLS teams hold a lot of sway and really drive a lot of soccer’s popularity. So what the CSA has been tinkering with is the idea of running it’s own tier 2 league. Basically this league would operate like the CHL, with three or four regions (to keep travel costs down). The West, Ontario and Quebec/East have their own seasons, and the winner of each league then moves on to play the others in the CSA championship. The theory being after that, that team then gets the #4 berth in the Voyaguers Cup (proving they are the best) vs the other three MLS teams, which is the incentive for Canadian teams to join the CSA’s league vs NASL which they can basically only win the Calder Cup.
This also means that if it does come around, the CSA might not sanction teams to play in the NASL anymore. However, the CSA hasn’t made this league, and really hasn’t got the idea off the ground, mainly due to an abject lack of ownership groups. So for the time being the NASL is looking to expand itself (as it’s a pretty small league, 12 teams including Ottawa and two more who just came on board) and throw in some Canadian markets who generally have done better then US markets, since for now the CSA seems to have no problem with letting them play in the Canadian championship (or at least the best one of them in the Canadian Championship). However they are limited by the USSF (FIFA’s US governing body) restriction of needing 75% US teams in their league (and apparently one team is in Puerto Rico which is a grey area if it’s considered US), so right now there might be room for one more Canadian team in that league, so not a lot of room to expand.
Thus that is where we stand, the core item here is how the CSA plans on dealing with tier 2 soccer. It’s pretty sure that it’s not going to touch the MLS teams as they have a lot of money, and won’t take kindly to the idea of playing for less money on a tier 2 contract compared to the MLS contract. However there are rumblings of MLS not doing so well financially so that is also a thing. There is also some division 3 and 4 soccer leagues in Canada, but they get next to no serious attention because they are semi-pro league and generally just don’t generate enough interest. Keep in mind, FC Edmonton is a tier 2 team and they are pulling around 2,000-3,000 or so (although when Montreal and Vancouver were in NASL they were pulling 12,000 or so) and fans and even the MLS teams aren’t pulling much more then 20,000 and TFC I’m to understand is suffering around 15,000 now after several seasons of not making the playoffs.