CPL takes unique approach to scouting international players

When you’re the new kid on the block in a crowded and ever-growing pro sports landscape, you have to think outside of the box in order to make your mark and grow.

Innovate or stagnate, as the saying goes.

With that in mind, the Canadian Premier League is partnering up with the 21st Club, a world class data and analytics group, to recruit young international players who are interested in plying their trade in Canada’s top domestic league.

The CPL’s soccer operations department and the 21st Club will work together to scout young internationals (age 23 and under) from around the world. The goal is to create a database of internationals, with the aim of placing players from it with CPL clubs.

The database of internationals will be fluid over the course of 2020, as new players will be added to the list and made available to all CPL clubs simultaneously. Teams will have to compete with one another over players, and sign them on a first come first serve basis.

It’s a new and innovative approach to international recruitment, according to James Easton, VP of Soccer Operations for the CPL. He believes this centralized scouting system will be an invaluable resource and tool for teams in the league, giving them access to a pool of internationals they might not have under normal circumstances.

“What the relationship with 21st Club does is it helps us cast our net wider and be more targeted in the types of players we want to chase after,” Easton told

“Working with 21st Club, we have come up with profiles of players we want to bring into the league that it will benefit from a sporting perspective.”

With offices in London, San Francisco and Singapore, the 21st Club is a well-respected sports intelligence agency whose staff of strategic consultants, football specialists and data scientists work with clubs and leagues from around the world in several areas pertaining to player and coaching recruitment. Its list of high-profile clients include the English Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur, and Dutch club Ajax.

AJ Swoboda, a managing director with the 21st Club, believes his organization can help give the CPL “a competitive edge in terms of a global pool of talent that it can recruit from” that will increase the league’s overall quality of play, and entertainment value for the fans, as well as help teams get more bang for the buck with from their internationals.

“We want to challenge convention. MLS, for example, has decades of history that they have to account for whenever they make changes. But the CPL only has one year, so they can be more nimble and more flexible in how it thinks,” Swoboda told

“The sport is so global that there is talent that is unrecognized in other parts of the world, and that presents an opportunity for the CPL to find talent that is cost effective for them and find players who will improve the quality of the league.”

This centralized scouting mechanism still allows CPL clubs to retain complete autonomy in scouting and signing international players.

“In many ways, this is a resource for clubs to get a second opinion on players they’re interested in. So, this isn’t about removing the club’s ability to scout; it’s about adding on to what they’re already doing,” offered Oliver Gage, Head of Recruitment and On-Field Analysis in the CPL’s soccer operations department.

Pacific FC CEO Rob Friend, a former Canadian international with 32 caps to his credit who spent the majority of his pro career with clubs across Europe, heralds this partnership between the CPL and the 21st Club as unique in the soccer world.

“Even the biggest and best teams in the world struggle with (international scouting). This system allows us to dig up the best talent out there. So far, I’ve really been impressed with the quality of players presented to us,” Friend told