Saturday was supposed to be a very special day for soccer in this country.
After a lengthy off-season, April 11 was going to mark the return of the Canadian Premier League, the day the 2020 CPL campaign was supposed to officially kick off.
A rematch of Finals 2019 between Forge FC and Cavalry FC at Tim Hortons Field was slated to begin the season and rekindle what was the CPL’s best series from its inaugural year – the two sides met in nine matches across all competitions last year. What better way to start the new campaign?
The opening day double-header was to also feature a Pacific FC vs. FC Edmonton tilt at Westhills Stadium, with the Week 1 festivities concluding with a special Easter Monday showdown featuring York9 FC and HFX Wanderers FC at York Lions Stadium.
Three games involving teams from six cities taking place in two provinces, with CPL fans from coast-to-coast watching on in great anticipation. A celebration of the Canadian game.
Instead, the eight CPL stadiums will remain empty and eerily quiet this weekend, the start of the 2020 regular season delayed until further notice by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The future about so many things in Canada remains unclear at the moment, including how things will play out on the pitch once things get back to normal – a fact acknowledged by CPL Commissioner David Clanachan
“At the moment, we are working through different scenarios (regarding) when we might be able to start up again. The reality is, we’re dealing with this literally in real time. This is not something that is happening where it’s changing weekly. This is changing daily and hourly at times – we are preparing for all contingencies for when the time is right. The more we all do our part, the sooner we can get back to normal, and get to what we all want: CPL soccer in a safe and healthy environment,” Clanachan told CanPL.ca.
“For now, we are trying to stay connected and entertain our community of fans and supporters from coast-to-coast.”
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A year ago, the “Inaugural Game” between Forge and York drew a crowd of 17,611 fans to Tim Hortons Field on a sunny and crisp afternoon in Steeltown, as the 905 Derby rivals played to an entertaining and historic 1-1 draw that put CPL on the sporting map in Canada.
“It’s a great festival for the game (of soccer), it’s a great starting point of what we’re going to build for the future,” Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis said after the match.
His counterpart Jim Brennan concurred: “Once that whistle blew, we knew the game was on and the Canadian Premier League had arrived.”
Twelve months on, all sports in Canada have come to a compete standstill. As a result, CPL fans such as James Covey, a member of the HFX Wanderers supporters group Privateers 1882, have been denied the joy of watching their team play their season opener, and are instead left to wonder what might have been this weekend.
“After waiting for decades for professional soccer to come to my city, last season felt unbelievable and miraculous. Now that it’s been taken from us for now, something about that feels deeply unfair, even though the reason is something beyond our control and much bigger than sport. I would have been watching Monday’s game in a pub here in Halifax with these friends who have become so important to me, the Privateers. Or perhaps I would have travelled to Toronto for the match,” Covey told CanPL.ca
“The Wanderers pulled off the biggest off-season rebuild of any of the CPL clubs, and now we have to put all our anticipation and curiosity about what shape that would take on the pitch, for who knows how long. Right now we’re all feeling that famous Arrigo Sacchi quote: ‘Football is the most important of the least important things in life.'”
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Fans aren’t the only ones having a hard time coming to grips with the fact there’ll be no soccer on what was to be the CPL’s opening weekend of the 2020 campaign. Coaches and players are also making the mental adjustment, but FC Edmonton bench boss Jeff Paulus put things in its proper perspective when asked about what would have been his team’s season opener away to Pacific FC this weekend.
“This is one of those surreal moments where you have come off of a long off-season of preparations then had a little taste in pre-season of the potential of the team before all of Canada was impacted by COVID-19,” Paulus told CanPL.ca.
“You certainly can’t help but think about it but this is a fight that all Canadians are in together and the fight that so many Canadian families are in at the moment puts the fight we would have on Saturday into perspective.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Clanachan.
“It’s a bit of an odd situation on the one hand; we would have been getting ready for our first game of the season on Saturday, something we were really looking forward to with all the momentum we gained since the end of our 2019 season. There were so many new things to look forward to – a new schedule and format, new players and of course, our eighth club in Atlético Ottawa,” Clanachan offered.
“However the reality is things have changed and our focus has become the health and safety of Canadians. The start of our season is one thing, but we are dealing with a much bigger issue in this country now and that’s what is important right now.”