‘Another giant step in creating a pathway’: CPL announces new Exceptional Young Talent category

Since its inception, the Canadian Premier League has been committed to creating opportunities for young Canadian players. On Thursday, the league announced a new roster category designed to provide further experience for developing Canadian players, the Exceptional Young Talent roster category.

This allows teams to sign two additional U-18 domestic players outside of their 23-man roster, occupying spots 24 and 25. The rule came into effect on Friday, July 14.

Vancouver FC put the new rule to immediate use, signing 18-year-old defender James Cameron to an Exceptional Young Talent contract, a multi-year deal with a club option through 2026. Cameron’s teammate, 16-year-old TJ Tahid’s contract has also been moved under the new category, as has Forge FC midfielder Khadim Kane.

“The Exceptional Young Talent initiative is another giant step in creating a pathway to develop the next generation of Canadian footballers,” said Vancouver FC head coach Afshin Ghotbi. “TJ Tahid and James Cameron are both local and talented players who will benefit from this initiative by realizing their dreams and taking a giant step towards their professional goals. Both players have shown already their potential for VFC with great performances and will champion the next great generation of Canadian footballers. I congratulate the CPL board and owners for their vision for such an initiative & thank them for their investment in the development of football in Canada.”

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Cameron, of North Vancouver, made his professional debut on June 11, before making six consecutive starts. Tahid, meanwhile, became both the league’s youngest-ever signing and goalscorer this season. The Maple Ridge native has scored two goals overall in 10 appearances in 2023. Kane, who came to Forge after time with the CF Montréal academy, has played seven matches for the Hamilton side.

“The Exceptional Young Talent initiative is a great mechanism to expand team rosters by emphasizing young Canadian players,” said Forge FC Head Coach & Sporting Director Bobby Smyrniotis, “This will undoubtedly heighten the prospects of gifted young players, giving them exposure to professional football, and provide countless opportunities for their future growth and potential.”

Players signed under the Exceptional Young Talent category can retain that status up to and including the year of their 21st birthday. They must be signed to a Standard Player Contract, however, their base salary and portions of bonuses and housing will not count towards a team’s cap.

This will allow CPL sides further opportunity to give the country’s best young players a fully professional platform from which to launch their careers.

“We want to be the league of choice for the best young talent in our country,” said Canadian Premier League Vice President, Soccer, Costa Smyrniotis. “The introduction of this new roster category further exemplifies the League’s and our clubs’ commitment to investing in and developing the next generation of talent in our country.”

With over 100,000 minutes of playing time being given to under-21 Canadian players since the league’s launch in 2019, and multiple players who have since moved on to opportunities in Europe or MLS, this is just the latest step in increasing the CPL’s essential role in the Canadian player pathway.