TORONTO — The all-new, 13-team Canadian Championship is here, and it feels like just the beginning.
Neither Vaughan Azzurri nor A.S. Blainville looked out of place against professional opposition. The Canadian Premier League, as we know, doesn’t plan on remaining a seven-team competition for long. With those facts in mind, it’s not hard to imagine the pool of teams competing for the Voyageurs Cup growing deeper and deeper.
But we’ll have to settle for just the three matches in one evening for the time being. Let’s dive in to what we saw.
York9’s midfield problem
Jimmy Brennan missed the trip to Blainville, but when he watches the tape back he’ll see some familiar issues blocking York9’s path to a first win.
The biggest one: they struggled for long stretches against Forge and Cavalry when their midfield was pressed aggressively. Blainville noticed and adopted the same approach.
It would be unfair to suggest York is completely lost when this happens. Their best solution has involved Daniel Gogarty, Ryan Telfer, Wataru Murofushi and Cyrus Rollocks working in tandem down the left — Gogarty distributes from the back, Telfer stretches the field, Rollocks drifts out to create an overload and can also run in behind, and Murofushi finds good spots near the touchline to provide safe passage for the ball through midfield. But aside from Gogarty, none of those players were occupying their usual positions in the starting lineup.
Telfer and Rollocks were on the bench and Murofushi took up the Joseph Di Chiara role at the base of midfield. That restricted his best quality — his movement and ability to find pockets of space. And without Rollocks, there was no threat of York bypassing the press and exploiting the space behind the defensive line, because Rodrigo Gattas doesn’t have the same speed.
Blainville had the better of the chances until Telfer and Rollocks came on and finally sparked the visitors into a couple of mildly dangerous moments.
Murofushi’s deeper position here and the Telfer-Emilio Estevez two-man pivot that did not work at all against Cavalry both came about as a result of Di Chiara’s injury. There is no obvious replacement for him on Brennan’s roster, and that’s going to continue to be a problem until he is fit to return.
With that in mind, I would have liked to have seen Steven Furlano for more than five minutes here. He’s a natural fullback but was moved into midfield at halftime against Cavalry and contributed to a much, much better 45 minutes. Moments after coming on in the same role in Québec, he pinged a lovely 40-yard ball to Gattas that led to a chance.
Saturday’s game against Pacific is a big one between two sides that need to start winning. If Di Chiara is unavailable again, Brennan will need to come up with something.
Talent waiting in Québec
With all due respect to a Vaughan side that’s more than capable of causing an upset, it was hard not to feel that in Blainville, York had been handed a tougher tie than HFX Wanderers.
Why? Because the birth of the CPL saw League1 Ontario mined for its best players. No fewer than eight now in the top tier turned out for Vaughan alone last season, including York’s own Daniel Gogarty, Austin Ricci, Justin Springer, and Colm Vance.
That’s a big chunk of your team to replace in one offseason.
Diyaeddine Abzi aside, the same didn’t happen to the PLSQ. On this evidence — and that of the Blainville-Oakville tie 12 months ago — that was down to a lack of local connections and familiarity rather than any shortage of quality.
Pierre-Rudolph Mayard, for example, has dominated the Québec league over the past couple of seasons with Blainville and would not look out of place on a CPL roster. The Open Trials in Montréal were, by all accounts, among the strongest in the country, too.
Here’s hoping future expansion can tap into the talent waiting in la belle province.
HFX’s wide men flourishing
A lot of the conversation around HFX Wanderers of late has revolved around Luis Alberto Perea, and his importance to Stephen Hart’s attack.
Rightly so. Perea looked — and was — a difference-maker in his one and only appearance thus far, the 2-1 over Forge at the Wanderers Grounds.
But there are two more pieces to Hart’s three-man front line, and they are quickly proving they are of equal value. Akeem Garcia and Mohamed Kourouma both got on the scoresheet against Vaughan, and it was a superb bit of wing work from Kourouma that created Garcia’s goal.
Garcia has earned some attention having scored twice in four games, but Kourouma has flown under the radar. He has created six chances in two starts and a sub appearance, good for tied third in the CPL, and added another four on the night against Vaughan.
The 28-year-old journeyman, who grew up in Montréal and has spent time in Belgium, France, and Guinea, dominated the PDL with Miami City but didn’t get picked up by the Wanderers until April.
With Garcia on the opposite flank and Kodai Iida and Juan Diego Gutiérrez competing for minutes in the No. 10 role, Perea could find himself the beneficiary of a supporting cast beginning to hum along nicely when he makes his return.
Side note: How clever was the routine Vaughan pulled off to equalize from a corner? We’ve talked plenty about the importance of set pieces early in this CPL season, and that little gem nearly earned the underdogs a draw.
The rich get richer in Calgary
Sure, Cavalry has looked very, very good in its first three CPL matches. But Pacific was likely to grab a result against a much-changed XI to take to Spruce Meadows, right?
Despite the return of Marcus Haber, this one was all but decided within 16 minutes — and there was plenty for Tommy Wheeldon Jr. to be happy about.
Cavalry lacked width in attack despite beating Forge on Sunday, so they decided to use this match to test out a 4-3-3 formation. It went well: Nico Pasquotti and Carlos Patiño, the two wingers, created nine chances between them and Pasquotti had two assists.
The other pressing issue the Cavs are facing is meeting their Under-21 minutes requirements. They have three eligible players — Malyk Hamilton, Victor Loturi, and Gabriel Bitar — and got them all into the game here, with Hamilton looking like a legitimate option at right-back/right wing-back and the 17-year-old Loturi taking an early, unexpected first-half appearance off the bench in his stride.
The only negative is the injury suffered by Oliver Minatel. But Cavalry has one foot in the next round and a tie against Forge that will send the winner on to the Vancouver Whitecaps.