The Canadian Premier League’s Island Games have hardly gone to script.
A lot of pundits predicted that Forge FC and Cavalry FC would be the class of the first round and distance themselves from the trailing pack. While last year’s CPL finalists do currently occupy the top two spots in the table, they are hardly running away with things.
Neither Forge nor Cavalry have clinched a second-round berth, and they have three clubs (York9 FC, Pacific FC, Atlético Ottawa and HFX Wanderers FC) hot on their tails in the standings going in to the last weekend of the first round.
In terms of shocking results, there’s been more than a few. Who honestly would have thought that Atlético would have been the first team to hand Cavalry its first loss?
Surprises have been the order of the day at The Island Games, but what’s been the biggest shocker or surprising development of the first round of the CPL season?
CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, Marty Thompson and John Molinaro weigh in with their thoughts.
I was one of those people whose expectations were low for the league’s newcomers. With a squad that came together late and filled with a lot of names who hadn’t yet played at the CPL level, really nobody picked them for a top four spot.
The way the club has come together, though, has been remarkable. They’ve played very entertaining football at all times; Francisco Acuña might genuinely be the best player in the league, and if nothing else, he’s a player that every opposing team has given significant attention in their planning.
Ottawa’s matches have all been exciting, for better or for worse; their opener against York9 saw them go up 2-0 in the club’s first-ever game, only to squander the two-goal lead. Then they did it again against FC Edmonton. They crumbled with 10 men against Valour FC as well, but in none of those games were they boring or particularly bad (with 11 men, at least).
Then, the breakthrough. They beat Cavalry FC, for the first win in club history, on an absolutely remarkable afternoon. Forge got the best of them, but then once again they shocked the league with a plucky late win against Pacific, keeping themselves in the conversation for a playoff spot.
Credit is due to Mista; he’s got his team well-organized for the most part, especially in first halves of games. They’re right in the mix with every other team, and they’re refusing to go quietly.
– By Charlie O’Connor-Clarke
FC Edmonton’s struggles
FC Edmonton came to Prince Edward Island with a lot of promise thanks to an above-average core from the 2019 season and a few off-season splashes filling the holes in midfield and on the wings.
Coach Jeff Paulus retained 15 players from last year – a total that rivalled Cavalry FC and Forge FC’s year-over-year numbers. But, unlike the 2019 CPL finalists, the Eddies lacked cohesion on the pitch in PEI despite the familiar faces. Midfielders and forwards were disjointed in the build-up play and combined for a league-low eight shots inside the 18-yard box. Upfront, attacking additions Hanson Boakai and Keven Alemán impressed at times, but failed to be the creative lynchpins Paulus had hoped for when he signed them.
All in all, FCE enters the final weekend of the first round with the worst attack (four goals for) and worst defence (12 goals conceded). Underwhelming losses to Cavalry, HFX Wanderers, and York9 will forever mark their run at The Island Games – a spirited comeback against Atlético Ottawa and a valiant effort against Forge FC are faint memories.
Were expectations too high for FC Edmonton? I don’t think so. Many CPL coaches will agree this Eddies group is a lot better than their results on the pitch. Perhaps we didn’t expect any side to fall to the bottom as quickly, especially FCE considering their qualities.
– by Marty Thompson
Joseph Di Chiara – MVP candidate
Joseph Di Chiara has been, by far, the best player at The Island Games, and if the player of the year award was handed out right now, the York9 midfielder would take home the honour.
Take a look at the goal scoring charts and you’ll find Di Chiara’s name at the top of the list with three goals, tied with a bunch of other players in the Golden Boot race. Honestly, who saw this coming?
That’s absolutely no disrespect to Di Chiara, who was an unsung hero for Y9 in 2019 as the club’s defensive linchpin in midfield. He appeared in 27 games in all competitions (logging just under 2,000 minutes in playing time), and while his focus was on stopping the other team from scoring, he also managed to contribute to Y9’s attack with a pair of goals and an assist.
But a league-leading three goals in four appearances at The Islands Games? I don’t think even Di Chiara could have envisioned that.
“I know I can help the team out defensively. Last season I did a strong job in that, so maybe this year I can improve on the offensive side of the game,” Di Chiara told CanPL.ca back in June.
Beyond his goals, Di Chiara has been a midfield general for Y9 in PEI, running himself ragged and putting in solid shifts at both ends of the field to help his side remain unbeaten after five games and in a strong position to claim a second-round berth this weekend.