Countdown to First Kick: 3 Canada's contribution to MLS

As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign.

3 – MLS clubs in Canada starting in 2012

For more than a decade, Major League Soccer didn’t know what it was missing.

South of the International Boundary – a decidedly average name for the border that separates the United States and Canada, one that also happens to be the longest in the world – professional soccer was struggling to find a niche.

Back in 2006, MLS was 12 teams strong, a league still firmly in flux and just five years removed from shuttering two clubs in soccer fluent Florida markets. Then, in 2007, Toronto FC became club No. 13 and opened the American soccer collective’s eyes to the untapped potential – in MLS terms at least – and passion for the game north of the border.

2012 First Kick: Vancouver vs. Montreal

Six years later, it would be impossible to imagine the league without its Canadian entrants in Toronto, Vancouver and, beginning on Saturday, Montreal.

On Wednesday night, more than 40,000 fans will cram into the Rogers Centre to support TFC in their quest advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals at the expense of David Beckham and the defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy. A few days later, Vancouver and Montreal will start First Kick on the right foot with a much-hyped game that promises to exhibit the best soccer fans in British Columbia have on offer.

Then, just a week after their first game, another massive crowd will officially welcome the MLS version of the Impact to Montreal, as Jesse Marsch and his expansion side take on the Chicago Fire at Olympic Stadium.

All told, the trio will meet five times in regular season play and battle it out in the 2012 Amway Canadian Championship for the Voyageurs Cup and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2012. They’ll fight for the first Canadian berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs. They’ll bring an international flavor to MLS that wasn’t there before. They'll continue to find their niche in their respective markets.

Most importantly, all three clubs will be integral parts of a league – and a sport – on the rise in North America.

And to think, none of this was even remotely possible in 2006. What a difference six years makes.

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GET TICKETS to Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Montreal Impact, Saturday, March 10, 2012, 6 pm ET at BC Place

WATCH: Marsch ready to start expansion season in Montreal