The Canadian Premier League is built on the mantra of “For Canadians, By Canadians” but the beautiful game is a shared passion all around the world, providing unique connections with like-minded fans, players and staff members in each corner of the globe.
As such, CPL teams can each bring on a maximum of seven international players, with HFX Wanderers FC head coach Stephen Hart, for instance, signing four players from Trinidad and Tobago, opening the door for talent from the Caribbean to join the CPL.
CPL Editorial recently had the opportunity to speak with Horace Reid, CONCACAF Director of Caribbean Football, and asked him how a new professional league in Canada can help grow the game across CONCACAF.
Kurt Larson, Managing Editor: How was news of the birth of the Canadian Premier League received in the Caribbean, particularly following HFX Wanderers FC head coach Stephen Hart’s signing of four players from Trinidad and Tobago?
Reid: I think it’s an excellent opportunity, from the vantage point of the Caribbean community. We’re always looking to put players in a professional set-up. The Caribbean environment is 31 countries and most of the leagues in the region are not professional. It was viewed, when it was announced, as being very positive, because there’s aspiration from a lot of the Caribbean players to get into MLS and even in the top leagues in Central America, like Costa Rica for instance. So, from that standpoint, it was an announcement that was very well-received.
Larson: Do you see the CPL providing more opportunities for players from around CONCACAF, even with potentially a more formalized process?
Reid: Absolutely. In fact, from the point of view of my role with CONCACAF, we’re having discussions with the CPL about the kind of synergies and collaborations we can have between the Caribbean community and a professional league here – one being opening new opportunities for Caribbean players to aspire to this market. Hopefully, we can do something, even this year. But I see a huge opportunity for matriculation of talent from the Caribbean to the Canadian pro league. It’s another window for Caribbean players, but also because there’s a favourable impression of the country itself, Canada, on the Caribbean community. So, even from that standpoint, it’s very positive.
Larson: There are many cities across Canada, such as Toronto, that have thriving Caribbean communities – could the CPL provide an even greater opportunity with those cultural incentives in mind?
Reid: That would be a major draw, yes, in particular for countries like Jamaica and Trinidad. Over the years, when you look at when those countries visit Canada, in particular the Reggae Boyz when they come to Toronto, the draw they have, the pull, the passion, is amazing. I was fortunate to have been a part of a team that came here many years ago and the support was fantastic. It’s a massive plus, not only for the Jamaicans or other Caribbean players coming into the market, but also Toronto proper, and how just having Caribbean players can boost the popularity of the clubs.
Larson: The creation of a new league isn’t a common sight in soccer, and there have been talks of a league springing up across the Caribbean in the past – does the birth of the CPL further along those sorts of talks, as evidence of feasibility?
Reid: There has been conversations going on for a while in terms of a Pan-Caribbean league. I don’t think we’re there yet. I think there’s still key missing pieces that need to be in place for that to be a reality. That doesn’t mean the aspiration should die. Absolutely not. I think we need to get all the pieces right and then decide whether it’s something that’s feasible or not.
Larson: The pipeline of talent from the Caribbean to MLS has certainly proved beneficial to teams and players in the past, and the CPL could potentially open even more windows of opportunity. With that in mind, what has been the biggest obstacle to developing players from the region?
Reid: I think the biggest hindrance to consistency in high-level performances across the different Caribbean teams is not having as much access to a professional environment week-in, week-out. It’s improving, though; we have seen a steady growth in terms of more players from the Caribbean playing in different markets, but there’s not sufficient professional markets within the region itself. At this point, we have four markets that are designated either pro or semi-pro: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.
For some obvious reasons, it should not be a surprise why those four are leading the way; the demographics, population and economics do favour, to a great extent, those bigger markets. We do recognize that a lot of the smaller ones may not necessarily get into a professional league, again for obvious reasons, but also to the extent that you can’t bring them up to their full potential in terms of their top-tier league, which is what our club licensing program is striving to do – how can we get every single Caribbean country playing at their full potential, meaning their leagues are well-run, well-managed and well-funded, and the players have organized activity at a good, professional level.
Larson: What have your impressions been of the CPL following your meetings with some of the league’s executive staff?
Reid: Well, in talking with the different hierarchy of the CPL, my takeaway is the need to think, dream big and then pursue that dream, because this is a big aspiration for Canada, but with such huge potential. Like most businesses, it’s taking risks, and I’m seeing where there are calculated risks being taken, and I’m pretty excited to see where this goes. I’m looking forward to seeing the growth of this competition. It’s a long time coming. Canada is … also a sleeping giant. This is the right shot in the arm for football in Canada. It’s exciting times.