Every Canadian Premier League team has now passed the halfway mark in the Spring season, and each side is still experimenting to some degree with how exactly they want to line up. We’ve seen clubs rotate their backlines and alternate between attacking formations to try and get the best of their opponents.
One constant in soccer all over the world, though, is that good teams are strong through the middle. That’s been true of the CPL, too. These five central midfielders have become indispensable to their clubs as the connection between their attack and defence.
Louis Béland-Goyette – Valour FC
Not a name you hear too often, Béland-Goyette has nonetheless been ever-present for Valour this season. The Québecois midfielder hasn’t missed a moment for Rob Gale’s side this season, which is a blessing for a team that’s otherwise dealt with a slew of frustrating injuries. Béland-Goyette is one of the most intelligent midfielders in the league, which he displays regularly by picking outsmart passes despite not having a very consistent lineup around him.
Whenever Valour are able to break down an opponent with possession, it’s often due to some shifty work by Béland-Goyette to free up space for attackers. He has a knack for winning the ball and drawing in opponents before turning quickly to lay it off to an open player with pace.
With the news that Valour will be without Josip Golubar for the rest of the season, Béland-Goyette became even more important to the team’s link-up play. They’ll surely rely on him to continue being their source of possession in midfield.
Manny Aparicio – York9 FC
It hasn’t been the smoothest of starts to the season for York9, who haven’t yet won in league play. It’s been an even bumpier road for their captain, whose CPL career started with a last-minute red card in the inaugural match at Tim Hortons Field. After serving his one-game suspension, Aparicio has started to grow into his role as the anchor of everything the Nine Stripes do.
Although his passing is a bit of a work in progress, Aparicio’s contribution in midfield is easy to see when you watch York9 play. He might be one of the most unmistakable players in the CPL, the way he throws around his five-foot-sic frame. Despite being one of the smaller players on the field, Aparicio is incredibly tenacious in jumping into tackles and using his shoulders to hold opponents off the ball. His physicality is a much more significant part of his game than perhaps we expected entering the season, and the rate at which he gives away fouls (about 2.5 per game) might be concerning, but the energy he brings is extraordinary.
Elijah Adekugbe – Cavalry FC
Cavalry have turned a lot of heads with their 5-0-0 start to the season, scoring eight times and conceding just twice. Elijah Adekugbe has been there every step of the way, playing all 90 minutes in each of his team’s five league wins. He and the now-injured Nik Ledgerwood have formed the base of Cavalry’s extremely suffocating midfield, winning duels through the centre of the park by closing down space and then hanging onto possession.
Adekugbe is an excellent positional midfielder who’s quietly consistent whenever he’s on the pitch. Although Ledgerwood came in a little more highly-touted than the 22-year-old Adekugbe due to his experience, it’s arguably the latter who has impressed more with Cavalry. Adekugbe’s passing accuracy has been much better than Ledgerwood’s and he’s contributed more to the attack. At 34, Ledgerwood isn’t often able to get up the pitch quickly, so Adekugbe has largely covered that ground.
Expect Adekugbe’s role to increase as the season wears on, especially if Ledgerwood has nagging injuries to work through (as it seems he does at the moment).
Noah Verhoeven – Pacific FC
Much has been made of the youth movement in Michael Silberbauer’s squad. Every single Pacific FC lineup has featured a strong contingent of under-21 talent. Both Verhoeven and Kadin Chung have played every minute (over 1000 between them) of CPL action for Pacific, and they’re quickly becoming crucial to the side’s overall setup.
Verhoeven, who was recently rewarded for his CPL efforts with an invite to train with the Canadian men’s national team, has shone in a number of slightly different roles this season. He began the year alongside Matthew Baldisimo in a flat 4-4-2 formation, but Silberbauer has recently chosen to push Verhoeven further up the pitch, allowing him more freedom to roam and occasionally overlap with Ben Fisk.
As well as being a poised, confident passer of the ball from anywhere in midfield (with an average accuracy of just under 85%), Verhoeven is also capable of sending in a good cross from the flank, which isn’t a skill that all centre-mids have in their arsenal. He delivered the corner that led to Pacific’s first-ever goal, back in their home opener, and he’s been given quite a few dead-ball opportunities since.
Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson – Forge FC
Forge’s Swedish midfielder didn’t walk into the side as one of their most indispensable players, but he probably is now. Achinioti-Jönsson made his first start three matches into the season, only appearing as a substitute once before. It seems that now, though, he’s earned the complete trust of Bobby Smyrniotis.
The Forge attack truly broke out in that third game, a 3-0 win over Pacific, which was the first time Achinioti-Jönsson was deployed smack-dab in the middle as a holding midfielder. He put in an incredible shift that night, posting a 92% pass accuracy, two tackles, and three interceptions. With Achinioti-Jönsson reliably able to take care of things on his own in the centre of the pitch, Forge were able to commit more men to the buildup.
The reason Achinioti-Jönsson appears on this list and not, say, a list of defensive mids is that he’s more than that. He’s excellent in possession and doesn’t often give up the ball, typically moving it safely from the backline to an attacking player. Achinioti-Jönsson has been a bit of an unsung hero in Forge’s recent success, but he’s been a major lynchpin in midfield for them.