Eight Canadian Premier League clubs have been given just a handful of matches to show their quality on Prince Edward Island and, y’know, maybe win the 2020 championship.
It’s going to a much different spectacle than what the CPL produced in 2019, when Canadian soccer players were given a chance to earn a professional living at home for the first time – many of whom went on to show quality much greater than first-year professionals.
With a shortened season on the horizon, CPL players will have much less time to build upon last year’s breakout campaigns. Time will be of the essence in Charlottetown.
Featuring a mixture of rising stars and proven commodities, this is a list of seven CPL players to watch for at The Island Games.
All eyes will be on this off-season’s biggest free agent in the CPL: Marco Bustos. The former Vancouver Whitecaps winger swapped Winnipeg and Valour FC for Vancouver Island, helping Pacific FC become a CPL contender in the process.
It’s a scary move for the other seven CPL clubs, who saw Bustos tear defences apart in 2019 on one of the worst teams. If slotted on the right, with support from Noah Verhoeven, Alejandro Diaz, and Terran Campbell, the 24-year-old attacker could be even more lethal than last year when he scored a team-leading seven goals.
An early CPL MVP candidate.
Easton Ongaro – What’s next for FCE’s star attacker?
Can Easton Ongaro make the jump?
Well, we know he can jump – the majority of the six-foot-six striker’s 10 goals in 2019 were headers – think bigger: Can Ongaro move on to MLS? Or the Canadian men’s national team?
A solid second CPL season could help that become a reality for the 22-year-old, who is a returnee on a much-improved FC Edmonton. This season also serves as a litmus test for Ongaro – is this lanky striker for real? Or was that massive stretch (no pun intended) of matches last summer a fluke?
Whether he scores loads of goals or struggles on PEI, Ongaro will be worth watching.
Kwame Awuah – Anointing Forge’s next king
How do you pick just one Forge FC player?
The CPL’s prototypical “sum greater than its parts” side won the 2019 CPL championship with its fluid possession-based system. Many players stood out, including Kyle Bekker and now-departed Tristan Borges, but a few have gotten their moment in the sun as a CPL darling.
Kwame Awuah is deserving of that spotlight, starting with Forge’s Finals 2019 rematch with Cavalry FC on Thursday. The 24-year-old engine of a fullback-midfielder was fantastic across 25 appearances for Forge in Year 1, though the plaudits never came – even in a standout Finals performance.
If Maxim Tissot occupies the left fullback spot, as CanPL.ca predicts, Awuah will slot in as a starting central midfielder. This will allow Awuah to affect more of Forge’s buildup play, while providing solid defensive cover. All of this could hand centre stage to Awuah who, as we know, has MLS experience. Perhaps a move abroad will come next.
But, of all York9’s current players, midfielder or otherwise, 19-year-old Ferrari is primed for a big breakthrough.
Ferrari, a traditional box-to-box midfielder, has been honing his craft in League1 Ontario for a number of years, emerging as a promising young talent. Targeted as a potential “hometown hero” by CanPL.ca, Ferrari’s professional debut could lead him to success in the CPL and beyond.
“Talking to the football developmental folks at the CPL, they are very high on him,” CanPL.ca’s John Molinaro said about Ferrari in a recent CanPL.ca Virtual Newsroom episode. “Very good in possession, quick on the dribble, fearless in taking on defenders. He could offer some dynamic attacking elements.”
Francisco Acuña – An ace up Ottawa’s sleeve
Francisco Acuña arrives in Ottawa with one of the best resumes in CPL history, yet no one is talking about him. Perhaps that’s due to Atlético Ottawa’s otherwise unassuming roster? Hey, over 100 appearances in Mexico’s Liga MX level is nothing to shake a stick at.
The 32-year-old Mexican attacker could absolutely blow P.E.I. wide open. Excellent in tight spaces with great vision and with a high soccer IQ, Acuña will be a joy to watch, even on an expansion side many are ready to discount.
Ibra Sanoh – PEI’s hometown boy
Yes, that’s right: The CPL has only one Islander among its ranks.
This connection to the smallest Canadian province shouldn’t be discounted: Sanoh scored a whopping 101 goals in 70 games with the Holland College Hurricanes.
With squad rotation expected to take place, Sanoh will get loads of playing time. Can he turn his hometown connection, and that wicked goalscoring past, into results for the Wanderers?
Dominick Zator – Sophomore success?
Cavalry FC’s Dominick Zator had never been part of any national team setup before being added by John Herdman for a set of key Concacaf Nations League matches in late 2019. It was a fitting end to Zator’s meteoric rise, going from Vancouver Whitecaps reject to CPL star.
It’s easy to see why. A monster of a centre back, Zator, 25, can cover ground quickly and is commanding in the air. He’s one of the best defenders in the league and a reason why Cavalry are favourites to take the North Star Shield on Prince Edward Island and to avenge their Finals 2019 defeat.
With success comes expectations. Zator is now a crucial veteran on one of the favourites going into the season – how will he cope with expectations?