2019 was the greatest calendar year in Canadian soccer’s modern history.
That seems like a tall claim to make, at first glance; for those who have been following the beautiful game in this country, grand, sweeping statements of this sort seem to come at the start or the end of every year – whether bursting in unbridled optimism, or tinged with the heartache of a dozen months of missed expectations.
But, for the first time in a long time – maybe, ever – that was simply not the case in 2019. No, from top to bottom, front to back, 2019 proved to be nothing short of an unmitigated success, with the inevitable lows vastly overshadowed by the incredible highs of the year. There was a lot to take in over the course of the year – and, as such, this will not be a short read.
Still, in the spirit of actually publishing those history books we so love to mention, this month-by-month breakdown serves to act as a reference point and a reminder of how far Canadian soccer came this year. So, without further ado, here’s part two of four in our 2019 year in review:
Right afterward, all seven Canadian Premier League clubswent down to the Dominican Republic to take part in pre-season training, with all seven head coaches inviting plenty of unsigned talent – CPL-U SPORTS Draftees, #GotGame Open Trialists, and new faces locally and from abroad – in an effort to round out their inaugural season rosters and take a first-hand look at how they performed in game-day situations.
It was down in the Dominican Republic that Forge FC established themselves as favourites, with incoming striker Anthony Novakrounding out Bobby Smyrniotis’ attacking line. But, over the course of those two weeks, another interesting idea emerged; that of a true challenger to the on-paper picks. For, with impressive showings against York9 and FC Edmonton, it was Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s Cavalry FC thatstole the show, winning match after match andshowing off new talents such as Jose Escalante and Jordan Brown to great effect.
This month, the crew over at CanPL editorial (hey everyone!) also launched Centre Circle LIVE! – The official CPL podcast. We’ve kept it up all season; give it a listen, if you’d like!
Anyway, back to pre-season. York9 brought with them a third goalkeeper to compliment Matt Silva and an injured Colm Vance. His name? Nathan Ingham, formerly of FC Edmonton, who used his time in the Dominican to establish himself as the Nine Stripes’ starting option. Over at HFX Wanderers FC camp, Stephen Hart began tinkering with a new striker named Tomasz Skublak, while Pacific FC found a new left-back to deputize an injured Marcel de Jong in Blake Smith,on loan from FC Cincinnati.
Rob Gale’s Valour FC added Louis Beland-Goyette to the midfield, while FC Edmonton signed a massive addition to their backline through Amer Didic. The CPL rosters were all but finalized by now.
While all this is going on, the Canadian women’s national team continued to turn heads at the international level, defeating England 1-0 and earning Christine Sinclair her 180th goal for country. Back at the league front office, the CPL signed new partners in Moosehead and OPTA, while OneSoccersyndicated 20 CPL matches to CBC Sports. The league launched its official anthem “We Are One” by Once A Tree. Volkswagen announced the VW Premier Performer initiative – an analytics-based ranking of player performances, with a 2019 VW Jetta GLI going to the best player of 2019.
All this leads up to April 27 at Tim Hortons Field.
First kick. The very first match in Canadian Premier League history. Forge FC vs. York9 FC.
How many firsts can we rattle off? The first renditionof the Canadian national anthem immediately comes to mind.
The most obvious, of course, is the first goal, scored just three minutes into the match by Cyrus Rollocks Ryan Telfer of York9 FC, stunning the 17,500+ fans in Hamilton. The first equalizer would follow in the second half through Kadell Thomas. The first result, naturally, comes after, as the two teams split the first points on offer in a 1-1 draw after the first 90 minutes of football came, and the first blowing of the final whistle brought the day to a celebratory end.
Of the many, many, many firsts the CPL brought to Canadian soccer in 2019, this was the most memorable.
That, folks, was April of 2019 – a month to remember, for all.
May: The CPL heats up as CanChamp kicks off
You thought player signings were all wrapped up? So did we, come May, but alas, a few more important figures made their way over to the CPL this month, with Easton Ongaro joining FC Edmonton and Marco Bustos joining Valour as the Spring portion of the 2019 campaign got underway.
HFX Wanderers FCopened Wanderers Grounds with a massive 2-1 win over Forge FC, spurred on by a last-gasp goal to send the 5,000+ Haligonians rocking the Kitchen all afternoon. Valour kicked things off at IG Field with a 2-1 loss to FC Edmonton. The Eddies’ own home opener ended in a 0-0 draw with Pacific. But, it was Cavalry’s home debut at ATCO Field, Spruce Meadows that really captured our imaginations.
That included a late winner against Forge FC away from home, too, as Nico Pasquotti saved Sergio Camargo’s blushes after a bad miss on an open goal by scoring a late winner in the 95th minute. It would be the first of nine total meetings between the two in 2019 (!). And, this match saw the CPL continue making soccer history in Canada, and worldwide, as Carol Anne Chenard led the first all-female refereeing team in professional men’s soccer for this bout, to great success.
Speaking of outstanding women, the Canadian women’s national team put on a clinic against Mexico, defeating El Tri 3-0 in Toronto as they continued their preparations for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. And, of course, we can’t forget young phenom Jordyn Huitema’s massive move to Paris Saint-Germain, either. She was, of course, listed in Kenneth Heiner-Moller’s final 23-woman roster for the World Cup, which was announced shortly after. A 0-0 draw with Spain on May 24th would round out their month of action, as fans began taking in these matches on OneSoccer.
Cavalry’s run through the Spring portion also saw them kick off Al Classico – the rivalry meeting between Calgary and Edmonton – with a 1-0 win on May 18. It was their first of five meetings.
The newly-expanded Canadian Championship also kicked off in May on MEDIAPRO’s streaming platform, with York9 taking on and defeating A.S. Blainville of PLSQ over two legs, HFX Wanderers FC scraping by L1O champs Vaughan Azzurri, and Cavalry FCdefeating Pacific FC over two legs in the first all-CPL meeting in the competition.
June: CanChamp, Gold Cup, World Cup, oh my!
Round 2 of the Canadian Championship? An all-Canadian Premier League bout.
York9 vs. FC Edmonton. HFX Wanderers vs. Valour. Cavalry vs., you guessed it … Forge FC.
A thrilling triplet of home-and-away series awaited new fans from coast to coast (well, not the west coast, unfortunately, though a $5-million investment in a training facility on Vancouver Island was a bit of good news here), and the matchups did not fail to live up to their billings; York9 FC defeated the Eddies over two legs, including a 3-1 win at York Lions Stadium. Edmonton’s1-0 win in the second leg wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit, and Jimmy Brennan’s side advanced to meet the Montreal Impact in Round 3.
HFX Wanderers FC also continued flexing their Canadian Championship muscle, defeating Valour 2-1 in Leg 1 at Wanderers Grounds as the magic of Halifax rolled into the Voyageurs Cup chase; a 2-0 win at IG Field cemented their victory and would prove to be a rare feat for the club, who would go winless away from home through almost the entire 2019 CPL season. But, with a convincing two-legged win, the Wanderers advanced to face the Ottawa Fury of the USL Championship.
The biggest matchup, though? Cavalry vs. Forge – meetings two and three of nine total between these two teams. Little separated these two sides in Leg 1 at Tim Hortons Field, as the late heroics rolled on with a 96th-minute penalty scored by Dominique Malonga to level Emery Welshman’s 46th-minute go-ahead, giving the two teams a 1-1 lock heading into Leg 2. Tempers flared late in this tilt, and a testy second leg saw Kyle Bekker strike first, giving Forge a crucial away goal of their own, only for Malonga and Sergio Camargo to score on either end of half-time and hold a 2-1 lead all the way through to the final whistle.
Cavalry would advance to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps in Round 3. You’ll definitely want to check out Part III of our 4-part Year in Review for the outcome of that particular matchup.
Beyond the Canadian Championship, Cavalry made short work of FC Edmonton in a second Al Classico bout, winning 3-0 at Spruce Meadows. Valour picked up a 2-1 loss to Forge on June 15 that they would struggle to recover from, going winless in their following eight matches as a result. Forge struck back against a streaking Cavalry at last, handing the Cavs their first loss after a 1-0 result on June 22, away from home. But, with a 2-0 win over York9 FC on June 26, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side clinched the Spring title – and a spot in Finals 2019 – all the same.
The Canadian women’s national team kicked off their 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Cameroon on June 10, then followed it up with a 2-0 win over New Zealand five days later, setting up a clash for Group E with the Netherlands. A 2-1 loss to the Dutch saw Canada’s women drawn with Sweden in the Round of 16, an obstacle that Sinclair and co. couldn’t overcome, as they succumbed to a 1-0 loss on June 24, ending their World Cup dream for 2019.
The Canadian men were also in action as the 2019 Gold Cup kicked off, with Herdman’s team defeating Trinidad and Tobago in a training match before trouncing Martinique 4-0 in their Gold Cup Group A opener. A 3-1 loss to Mexico a few days later saw Herdman suffer his first loss with the men’s team, though a follow-up 7-0 win over Cuba steered the ship back on course right after. It set up a quarter-final round against Haiti, who Canada suffered a surprise defeat against, as the Haitians plucked a 3-2 win to eliminate the Canucks from the Gold Cup.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Part II. Stay tuned for Part III, where we look at July, August, and September in Canadian soccer’s history books.