A Good Start

The Canadian Premier League kicked off its inaugural season in April 2019, with a plethora of questions surrounding the start-up League. What would the quality of the product on the pitch be like? Would fans actually be interested? Would young Canadians view it as a viable option to play professionally in? After the debut season, we have our answers – for the most part.

The talent level across the League has been much higher than most would have anticipated, with the CPL already doing what it was set out to do – provide a larger pool of players for the Canadian Men’s National Team to select from.

Cavalry FC goalkeeper Marco Carducci became the first Canadian in history to be called up to the national team from the Canadian top flight when he was selected in John Herdman’s squad that took on Cuba in the CONCACAF Nations League. “A big thank-you goes out to the coaching staff and my teammates at Cavalry FC,” said the goalkeeper. “It goes without saying, but without them, this wouldn’t be possible.”

He certainly got that right. Had it not been for the creation of the CPL, Carducci wouldn’t have even been on Herdman’s radar. After all, he was playing in USL League Two in 2018 – unofficially considered to be fourth tier competition in North America behind MLS, USL and USL League One.

Above everything else, that is why the CPL was so desperately needed and Carducci’s story is exactly the one the League was hoping to tell when the idea of a Canadian top flight became reality — a 22-year-old who had been toiling through the ranks finally getting a fair opportunity to prove his worth and showcase his abilities on a national level.

The League doesn’t just appeal to youngsters though, as it proved in the summer when Hamilton’s Forge FC signed 32-year-old Canadian international David Edgar. The defender is a national team veteran and one who seized the chance to come home and play professionally.

He was forced to leave the country at 14 in order to pursue his dream of playing professional football. He joined the Newcastle United academy, where he would eventually make his Premier League debut in the 2006-07 season. However, most recently he had been playing with Hartlepool United in England’s fifth tier and knew it was time to come back to Canada.

“It was time to make life decisions,” he said following his first match with Forge in August. “There were options, but I’ve been paying attention to this League, and I’m very passionate about Canadian soccer. When this became available it was something I looked at and I’m glad I did.”

Much like Carducci, Edgar was given a chance to demonstrate his worth on home soil in a League that is doing everything it can to ensure Canadians thrive. The CPL isn’t just helping out the country though, but the entire CONCACAF region. The likes of Emery Welshman and Quillan Roberts were called up to Guyana, while Kareem Moses, Ryan Telfer and Jan-Michael Williams were all called up to play for Trinidad and Tobago. Having the League represented across the region in international games and tournaments is a great way to establish a presence globally.

The CPL hasn’t sacrificed the quality of the game in order to develop talent either, and the Canadian Championship proved that. Not only were Cavalry able to eliminate the Vancouver Whitecaps in the quarter-finals, they nearly knocked out the Montreal Impact in the semi-finals. For a team in their first season of play, it is a pretty incredible feat and one that speaks volumes of the potential that the League has.

The Canadian Premier League was looking to make a statement in the Canadian Championship and it did just that. Along with Calvary knocking off the Whitecaps, York 9 nearly took out eventual champions — the Montreal Impact — in the quarter-finals. They only lost 3-2 on aggregate and would have pulled off an historic home win in the first leg had they not conceded a clumsy last-minute penalty.

The Canadian Championship was not the only way for the League to test itself either, with Forge FC participating in the CONCACAF League against some of the region’s elite. They knocked out Antigua GFC in the preliminary round but were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Honduran side C.D. Olimpia. It was a decent run though for a Forge FC side playing in an international competition for the first time.

Domestically, the League has been able to draw an average of 4,400 fans per game, which isn’t terrible for a brand new competition. However, the fact that the League’s very first game between Forge FC and York 9 drew the highest attendance all season is a bit concerning. 17, 611 showed up at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton to watch the 1-1 draw, but no team has come anywhere close to reaching that mark again during the spring or fall season. In fact, York 9 averages fewer than 3,000 people a game, with some matches bringing under 2,000 spectators through the turnstiles.

If the League is going to continue to grow and expand, it will need to improve their attendance and do a better job marketing its product. Credit should be given to the fact that the League has employees travelling across the country reaching out to children and youth soccer clubs across the country, but it would be wise for them to have more promotions and giveaways that may help generate interest.

All in all though, the League should be pleased with its first season and the way it has been able to help showcase local talent. There were a lot of doubters coming into the campaign suggesting that the League would not survive for more than one season. Clearly that will not be the case as the CPL has already begun preparing for its second season, which they are hoping will attract even more young talent for the national team.

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