6 key CPL fixtures to watch at The Kickoff in Winnipeg

The Canadian Premier League announced on Wednesday the full schedule of matches for The Kickoff — the month-long single-site event in Winnipeg, Manitoba that will open the 2021 CPL season.

There are 32 games on the calendar now, all of which should provide plenty of excitement, similarly to the Island Games in 2020. The eight CPL teams will be scrambling to bank as many points as possible from the Winnipeg bubble before they hopefully return home to play out the rest of their seasons.

RELATED READING: 2021 CPL ‘Kickoff’ schedule presented by WestJet: View all 32 matches

That said, a few of these matchups stand out as particularly fascinating — with the makeup of several teams dramatically changed over this off-season, it’ll be fun seeing how each new-look side performs once they hit the pitch.

Here are six matches from The Kickoff to circle on your calendar.

FC Edmonton vs. Atlético Ottawa — June 26 (2 pm ET/1 pm CT)

We start at the beginning. This fixture between the two teams who finished at the bottom of the table in 2020 will be all about new beginnings and clean slates, so it’s fitting that this matchup opens the 2021 season. Edmonton will take the field for the first time under new coach Alan Koch, and a heavily-rebuilt Ottawa squad will look to improve on its inaugural showing at the Island Games.

When these sides faced off at the Island Games, Atlético jumped out to a stunning early two-goal lead before the Eddies found new life on the brink of fulltime, with goals from Keven Alemán and Easton Ongaro in the 88th and 91st minutes pulling them back for a draw (and Edmonton’s only point of the season). Expect another fiery contest here.

Pacific FC vs. HFX Wanderers FC — June 26 (5 pm ET/4 pm CT)

HFX Wanderers midfielder Abou Sissoko tackles Pacific FC attacker Victor Blasco. (Photo: CPL / Chant Photography)
HFX Wanderers midfielder Abou Sissoko tackles Pacific FC attacker Victor Blasco. (Photo: CPL / Chant Photography)

Who doesn’t love a coastal clash?

Just like in both of the last two years, the CPL clubs on opposite ends of the country will play the second game of the season. Matches between HFX and Pacific have always been entertaining, with both sides offering some of the most dynamic attacking football in the league in 2020.

The Wanderers, last year’s CPL runners-up, are hoping to take another step forward this season. Pacific, meanwhile, want to put themselves in that conversation as well. Last time these two sides played, with HFX having already clinched their spot in the 2020 CPL Final, the Vancouver Island side came out 5-0 victors, thanks to an incredible performance from Marco Bustos.

Cavalry FC vs. Forge FC — July 8 (8 pm ET/7 pm CT)

Always a classic. These two sides have always put on a show, ever since their hostile clashes in 2019 and meeting in the first-ever CPL Finals. The reigning champions have had the Cavs’ number in recent contests, winning four of seven regular-season meetings all-time (plus both legs of Finals 2019).

Although Cavalry looks a lot different this year, with some significant contributors moving on and a cast of new faces coming into the squad, this is sure to be an entertaining matchup. We’ll see how this rivalry may evolve with different players involved.

The added wrinkle this year: Anthony Novak, formerly a key part of the Forge attack, will now be lining up for Cavalry. He’s been a major spark in the heated contests between these sides before, and now he’s the first player to cross the divide.

Valour FC vs. Atlético Ottawa — July 3 (2 pm ET/1 pm CT)

A rematch of one of the most surprisingly exciting fixtures of the Island Games. Fresh off a tough 2-0 loss to Cavalry, Valour walked into a game against Atlético Ottawa and put up arguably the best performance in club history — a 4-0 win, with all four goals coming after the 65th minute.

Ottawa defender Milovan Kapor saw a red card just before the deluge began, and from there it was all downhill for the expansion side playing its second-ever game.

Now, can Ottawa return the favour with their rebuilt squad? Will Valour have extra motivation to stay in front, defending their own home stadium at IG Field? This should be a fun game between two sides that are very hard to gauge right now.

Cavalry FC vs. York United FC — June 27 (4 pm ET/3 pm CT)

York9 FC vs. Cavalry FC at the Island Games. (Photo: CPL/Chant Photography)
York9 FC vs. Cavalry FC at the Island Games. (Photo: CPL/Chant Photography)

This fixture has always been underrated in terms of entertainment value. In 2019, York and Cavalry played out a few thrilling contests, including one near the end of the Fall season that saw Cavalry take two red cards in the second half, before scoring with nine men — only for the Nine Stripes to equalize right at the end at York Lions Stadium.

In PEI, they played one of the most emotional games of the competition, with the Cavs coming together for the win after Oliver Minatel’s horrific injury early on.

Both these squads have been changed significantly in the off-season, and they’ve swapped some major pieces: York’s former sparkplug midfielder Joe Di Chiara signed in Calgary, and the Cavs’ marquee defender Dominick Zator joined York United. Plus, might we see a goalkeeping battle between former teammates in Marco Carducci and Niko Giantsopoulos?

York United FC vs. Pacific FC — July 1 (5 pm ET/4 pm CT)

This will make for a perfect way to spend Canada Day afternoon. York and Pacific will play the first of two matches on the bank holiday, in what may well be a serious battle for position in the standings. Noah Verhoeven will see his former Pacific teammates from the opposite side for the first time, and former York captain Manny Aparicio will do battle against the Nine Stripes. That’s a heck of a narrative, isn’t it?

These clubs were right in the thick of the race for the top four at the Island Games, with York missing out on the final day. When they played each other, the Tridents salvaged a point with almost the last kick of the match, thanks to a Lukas MacNaughton goal. Could we be in for more drama on Canada Day?