MENU’s Best XIs: What do the 4 western CPL teams look like right now?

This segment first appeared on the Newsroom, a weekly podcast dedicated to the Canadian Premier League and Canadian soccer. Click here to watch, listen, and subscribe.

The past week has brought welcome news for some Canadian Premier League fans, with several clubs announcing recently that they’ve finally returned to the training pitch — although one of those training pitches is pretty far from home.

Whether they’re training or not, though, most clubs are getting closer to finalizing their squads for 2021. A few sides have room left for a few more additions, with some key contributors likely to come in the next few weeks.

Still, we’ve got a rough idea of what most CPL sides will look like when the new season finally kicks off. Some are almost identical to 2020, and some have overhauled their rosters completely.

So, the time has come: We at have put together our too-early projected starting XIs for each CPL side. A lot is sure to change in the next while, but for now, here’s how the clubs could line up heading into 2021.

We’ll start with the four western CPL teams. Click here for the eastern clubs.

Pacific FC's predicted starting XI for Pacific FC.’s predicted starting XI for Pacific FC.

This one is, perhaps, the easiest of the four western sides to predict, simply because of how similar it’ll be to 2020. The centre-back pairing is unchanged, and the right-sided lethal weapon of Kadin Chung and Marco Bustos remains one of the most dangerous attacking setups in the league.

In midfield, expect Jamar Dixon and Matthew Baldisimo to take the brunt of the defensive and transitional work, leaving newcomer Manny Aparicio to be the main playmaker. He’ll likely sit in a an advanced role, taking some of the burden off of Bustos’ shoulders. Aparicio is really the exact kind of attacking midfielder Pacific needed, to give their already-strong spine a better creative flair.

One of the only spots where there could be some debate is at left fullback. It might be Jordan Haynes’ job to lose after a strong Island Games showing, but a few new faces could compete for the job after Marcel de Jong’s retirement. Duran Lee, in particular, and Kunle Dada-Luke are real options for Pa-Modou Kah’s side.

Up front, there will be a question of whether to start Alejandro Díaz or Terran Campbell in the central role (or, somehow, both of them). They’re very different strikers, and so Kah is sure to deploy them against different opponents based on the tactical situation — Campbell, for instance, offers more of a commanding presence in the box, while Díaz is more technically sound.

This is an exciting lineup, undoubtedly; if the attack is as exciting as it was in PEI, Pacific is sure to be a fun team to watch in 2021.

FC Edmonton's predicted starting XI for FC Edmonton.’s predicted starting XI for FC Edmonton.

Alan Koch’s Eddies look quite different from Jeff Paulus’ 2020 squad, although a few key players have returned. The defensive pairing of Amer Didic and Mélé Temguia, in front of Connor James, should be sturdy as ever, and star forward Easton Ongaro will continue to lead the line.

Edmonton has brought in a lot of new wide players, with Shamit Shome, Kyle Porter, and Fraser Aird all likely to start. Expect this to be a squad that plays on the flanks a lot, with wingers and fullbacks trying to find Ongaro in the middle.

Right-back Jeannot Esua, one of the most dependable two-way fullbacks in the league, could be joined by newcomer Sharly Mabussi at left-back.

Midfield is where there’s a lot of different ways Koch could go; Allan Zebie could be the key box-to-box player, although that could well be Ramon Soria just as well. There’s also room for some young players to come in here, such as Chance Carter and Anthony Caceres, or even a newcomer like Thomas Giraldo. Even CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick Thomas Gardner should get some key minutes in the middle.

Cavalry FC's predicted starting XI for Cavalry FC.’s predicted starting XI for Cavalry FC.

The new-look Cavalry is coming together quite nicely for Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and company.

The backline is almost entirely new, and much younger than it was in 2019 or 2020. The newly-converted centre-back David Norman Jr. lines up alongside Dutch defender Daan Klomp. Mo Farsi, of course, will be the dynamic attacking fullback he was in 2020, and this time he’ll be joined by Irish left-back Tom Field. Norman and Klomp (or, for that matter, Mason Trafford or Karifa Yao) will need to be defensively sound to allow for the fullbacks to press forward.

Nik Ledgerwood anchors the midfield as usual, but this year he’ll be helped by Joe Di Chiara, newly signed from York United. With those two together trying to win balls, it’ll be very tough for any opposing team to play through the middle channels. The final spot of this midfield will, now, likely go to Elliot Simmons, with Elijah Adekugbe’s unfortunate training injury. Simmons was an excellent ball-mover through the middle in 2020, though, so Wheeldon will be very comfortable with his passing ability.

Sergio Camargo is one of the best creative players in the league, but it’s unclear how exactly Cavalry will want to get the best out of him. He could start on the wing, or he could slot into a more traditional number 10 role behind the forwards. Either way, expect much of the attack to come through him.

Having Escalante back on the other wing will be a huge boost as well, with his ability to beat defenders (not to mention his set-piece talent).

Without Matias Roskopf, that centre-forward position will be an interesting one to watch, with one of Wheeldon’s teased new signings possibly getting the job. We can pencil in José Hernández for now, though; he’s a very capable striker who didn’t quite get off the ground in 2020 due to injury.

Valour FC's predicted starting XI for Valour FC.’s predicted starting XI for Valour FC.

Valour is a tricky club to get a read on, with a number of players that could really be put anywhere in a lineup. The backline is fairly set in stone for the most part, with the veteran left side of Arnold Bouka Moutou and Andrew Jean-Baptiste likely to be as steady as any defensive unit in the CPL. Stefan Cebara is more of an attacking fullback, but we’ll pencil him into the defence.

The goalkeeping job will have some competition in training camp, with CF Montréal loanee Jonathan Sirois possibly having the upper hand. CPL veteran Matt Silva is a capable option as well, though, as might be CPL-U SPORTS pick Yuba-Rayane Yesli.

The midfield really could be any combination of players, but Raphael Ohin seems like the logical option for the holding role. Brett Levis and Masta Kacher should help out wide as the versatile options, and the immensely experienced Néstor Monge can play as the main attacking catalyst in the middle. Look for much of Valour’s possession to flow through him in the opposing half.

A handful of different attackers could end up starting in the front, with quite a wide variety of options at Rob Gale’s disposal. This example has Daryl Fordyce up top as the target man and finisher, plus the talented Moses Dyer in the mix to cover more ground and drift wide. This team has a lot of forwards, though; Keven Alemán, for instance, performed well for FC Edmonton last year, and Austin Ricci has decent goalscoring ability.

Youngsters like Jared Ulloa and Sean Rea could be key to the Valour attack as well. With so many newcomers to the attacking setup, it’s impossible to predict how exactly Gale will deploy them.