It’s time to stick my neck out and make predictions relating to the fortunes of seven Canadian Premier League clubs few have seen play beyond inter-squad scrimmages and pre-season friendlies in the Dominican. What could go wrong?
But, let’s cut the preamble and dive straight into it — I’ve got one educated guess for the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural season per team. Come October, we’ll take a look back and figure out exactly how much humble pie I’ll be consuming. Or, how much I’ll gloat.
Prediction 1: Valour FC concedes the fewest goals in season one
I’m intrigued by the mix of domestic experience in defence and international flair in midfield that Rob Gale has brought together at Valour FC.
If the likes of Nicolas Galvis and Josip Golubar can spark some magic further up the pitch, good times should roll in Winnipeg because they look a good bet to keep it tight at the back. Centre-backs Jordan Murrell and Skylar Thomas bring a combined 177 games in North American pro leagues to the table despite not yet hitting their prime (both are 25).
It sounds as if Gale is leaning towards using a three-man defence and wing-backs, too, which should only further solidify the spine of his side. On paper, I don’t see a better defensive unit in the CPL.
Prediction 2: Mason Trafford will earn a Canada recall
Mason Trafford has done pretty well for himself since returning to North America from China.
He was the Ottawa Fury’s Supporters’ Player of the Year in both of his seasons with the club, winning the NASL’s fall championship in 2015. A coach called Alessandro Nesta, who knows a thing or two about defending, then paid his release clause — not a common occurrence in North American soccer — to bring him to Miami FC. In Florida, he made the NASL Best XI and won spring and fall championships.
At 32, Trafford is due some attention in his home country and John Herdman needs centre-backs. With Marcel de Jong out injured, the Cavalry FC veteran jumps to the top of my list when it comes to potential Canada call-ups in the CPL.
Prediction 3: Top scorer? Forge FC’s Emery Welshman
There’s a few good candidates for first CPL top scorer’s crown: Pacific FC’s Marcus Haber immediately stands out, while Simon Adjei is coming off a remarkable season in Sweden and his York9 teammate Michael Cox has a track record of putting the ball in the net south of the border.
But I’m going to pick Forge FC’s Emery Welshman for the Golden Boot.
Welshman wasn’t prolific in the USL last season, but I think some of that can be attributed to the role he played; FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch loved the 27-year-old for his work ethic, versatility and ability to make others around him better. Welshman put the team before himself.
In Hamilton, he might get the chance to be a little more selfish. You’d expect him to lead the line as a centre forward, not a winger and with a stellar cast of attacking talent around him, Welshman can spend less time running the channels and more hunting within the width of the 18-yard box.
“He’s set a few targets for himself to be a guy that leads the frontline not only from a Forge aspect, (but) from a league aspect,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said.
Prediction 4: Son Yongchan attains cult-hero status in Edmonton
FC Edmonton’s import from South Korea has played in the Philippines, Singapore and India and was described as the best player at the CPL’s Open Trials. He is the fittest playerthat FCE coach Jeff Paulus has ever seen.
In every step of his CPL journey so far, Son has made his presence felt one way or another. I have a feeling that might continue into the season itself.
Prediction 5: Halifax provides the best matchday atmosphere
I’m reluctant to skip over the on-field product HFX Wanderers will be delivering — they’ve become something of a sleeper team already out on the east coast, and have some interesting potential with the pieces coach Stephen Hart has put together thus far.
But it’s impossible not to gravitate towards the off-field excitement surrounding this club and the identity it has quickly established:
They’d sold 3,000 season tickets before January was out. And have sold many more since. With a capacity of 6,200, that almost guarantees a packed-out Wanderers Grounds every week.
Speak to anyone at the club and they rave about the enthusiasm with which the whole project has been greeted by locals. As one resident put it during a discussion about the team on the city’s Reddit page: “I loathe soccer, and I love this idea.”
How can you not be a fan of those colours and that logo?
I can’t wait to see what this all looks like in reality on May 4, and expect plenty of fans of the other six teams to be earmarking Halifax for a road trip.
Prediction 6: Noah Verhoeven goes to Tokyo
Noah Verhoeven, a left-footed attacking midfielder who likes to cut inside from the right flank, caught the eye at the Concacaf Under-20 Championship and should be in with a good chance of graduating to the Olympic qualifying tournament squad in October.
Those chances will certainly not be harmed by the fact he looks set to be in line for meaningful pro games week in, week out with Pacific FC and with his 21st birthday coming in the summer of 2020, he will be the perfect age to go to the Games in Tokyo should Canada qualify.
Prediction 7: York9 FC takes the Spring championship
Chances are I regret this.
The CPL’s seven teams look so evenly matched right now that if you offered me the choice of predicting the entire table one through seven or letting a computer scramble it at random, I’d probably take the computer’s picks.
Judging the quality of each roster, after all, is only part of the equation — coaching, team culture, schedule and all sorts of other elements are going to factor in.
But evaluating purely what’s on paper, I really like what Jimmy Brennan has at his disposal at York9 FC.
He has proven names in Ryan Telfer, Kyle Porter and Michael Cox. He has a pair of centre-backs with solid résumés in Luca Gasparotto and Roger Thompson. The only two internationals on the roster, Wataru Murofushi and Simon Adjei, are coming off outstanding seasons abroad. And when it comes to Canadians patiently waiting for a chance to shine, Manny Aparicio and Joseph Di Chiara are two of the names I’ve heard mentioned most frequently.
I also think they’ll benefit from going on the road early, when their opponents will still be figuring things out. After that, it’s four home games in a row leading into Canada Day.
Whether I’m proven right or spectacularly wrong, it’s going to be fun finding out.