The Gatorade Team of the Week for the first weekend of Canadian Premier League action in 2021, brought to you by Kristian Jack and OneSoccer’s Oliver Platt:
Dylon Powley (Atlético Ottawa)
It was the opening game of a new season but for Dylon Powley it was a lot more than just a new beginning. For Powley, it was a match against his former team, where he had been given limited opportunities the past two seasons. The 24-year-old was keen to make an impression and delivered a crucial clean sheet for his new team, producing arguably the best stop of the opening weekend to deny FC Edmonton’s striker Easton Ongaro with a reflex save on his right foot to keep the game scoreless in the 64th minute. Powley’s work would be rewarded with a win when Viti Martinez struck eight minutes before time, and you could see what it meant to him after the match.
Kadin Chung (Pacific FC)
One of the league’s best fullbacks was in fine form on the opening weekend contributing to a terrific all-around team performance for Pa-Modou Kah’s men. Chung combined very well with Marco Bustos on the right of the attack, completing more passes (10) to the talisman than any other teammate, and that looks like one of the league’s best combinations in wide areas. Chung had a passing accuracy of over 94%, completing 51 of 54 attempts, and produced two crucial interceptions up against a lively Corey Bent out wide for Halifax.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste (Valour FC)
Stefan Cebara, who played out of position next to Jean-Baptiste, could easily have made this team following a terrific defensive performance from Rob Gale’s side, but the Haitian international gets the nod for organizing and leading a back four against a formidable Forge attack that welcomed back the 2019 Canadian Player of the Year, Tristan Borges. The 29-year-old led the team in clearances and was an enormous presence for a team that raced out to a 2-0 lead and comfortably kept the reigning champions at bay.
Drew Beckie (Atlético Ottawa)
As debuts go it could not have been better for Beckie who led his team in tackles, clearances and interceptions on the way to a 1-0 win over FC Edmonton. Beckie and his centre-back partner, Milovan Kapor, were challenged by the stature of striker Tobias Warschewski but came away on the winning side thanks to a commanding display at the centre-back positions. Atlético boss Mista praised Beckie and his leadership during pre-season and you could see those qualities translate on the pitch where he was equally comfortable in possession. As the opposition sat deep, he was able to connect regularly with passes into the left side channel to playmaker Rafael Núñez, a relationship that could evolve into being a danger for Atlético’s opponents.
Federico Peña (Valour FC)
Comfortably one of the stand-out individual performances of the weekend came from the Trinidad and Tobago international who started at right back and moved to left back, following the injury to Brett Levis during the first half against Forge. Peña, often deployed further forward, was needed at the back by Rob Gale and led the team with seven tackles, impressing from the start on the right flank up against the fluidity, intelligence and movement of the likes of Borges, Kyle Bekker and Kwame Awuah.
Ollie Bassett (Pacific FC)
The English-born midfielder would have made this team even if he hadn’t have scored one of the best goals of the opening weekend following a fantastic display at the base of the Pacific midfield in a commanding 2-0 win over Halifax. However, his strike in the first half is an early contender for the best goal of the games inside the Winnipeg bubble as he showed terrific technique to read the bounce and hit through the ball with the top of his foot. Was always looking for the ball and completed more passes in the opposition’s half than any player (38). A tremendous debut.
A key member of the ‘M&M&M’ boys alongside Chris Mannella and Ben McKendry in the midfield, the 24-year-old tall midfielder put together an elegant performance in the opening game of the season that was capped off by a terrific curling shot around traffic with his left-foot to ensure his team secured all three points. In a tight game that FC Edmonton played their part in, Martinez provided a moment of magic to recognize that goalkeeper Connor James wasn’t set after attempting to clear a ball and find the corner of the net for the opening goal of the 2021 season.
José Escalante (Cavalry FC)
Welcome back to Canada, José! The Honduran winger made an immediate impact on his return to Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s squad by producing a delightful assist for Sergio Camargo’s headed goal after 32 minutes and then scoring a goal himself after pressing Roger Thompson into a mistake that bounced off Escalante and went into the York United net. The 26-year-old missed the 2020 season due to the pandemic but returns to one of the most formidable looking attacks in the CPL, of which he will be a large part this season.
Marco Bustos (Pacific FC)
Some stars across the CPL may need a few games to show all of their qualities after a disjointed pre-season but Bustos started to build his case for the season’s best player early on Saturday with a terrific display against Halifax. Bustos was his usual self in possession, taking care of the ball well while penetrating the opposition with his abilities in one-on-one situations and intelligent movement. He will also be delighted to open his scoring account to, in typical Bustos fashion, gambling with a smart run into the box and finishing cleanly.
Alejandro Diaz (Pacific FC)
The Mexican has real competition in the squad when it comes to leading the line in a dynamic attacking team but at the moment his profile looks ideally suited to get the best out of the collective. The 25-year-old will continue to win admirers each week for his selfless displays, providing a real reference point to play off for the clever, interchanging attack. Diaz held the ball up well, combined really well with Bustos and Josh Heard and made it difficult for Halifax to mark.
Austin Ricci (Valour FC)
“I just want respect for my players and hopefully after this week that will start to change,” said Valour boss Rob Gale after the win over Forge. Ricci celebrated his first goal with fingers close to his ears so whatever motivated the striker and his team certainly worked on the opening weekend as the 25-year-old won a penalty kick inside five minutes and finished off a wonderful solo run with a tidy left foot finish later in the first half. One week in, more respect has come and three players from Valour are in the Gatorade Team of the Week.