The Canadian Premier League’s inaugural season provided a lot of food for thought for soccer fans from coast to coast.
Marco Carducci, Amer Didic and Dominick Zator became the first CPL players to earn Canadian national team call-ups in 2019. Will 2020 see one of them — or someone else — become the first CPLer to play for Canada’s senior team?
Cavalry FC became the first CPL side to beat an MLS club this past year in the Canadian Championship. Can the Cavs or another CPL team go one extra step and hoist the Voyageurs Cup?
Will Tristan Borges repeat as the Golden Boot winner? Will the Canadian youngster even be in the CPL next year, or will he be scooped up by a team somewhere else in North America or Europe?
The CanPL.ca Editorial team of John Molinaro, Armen Bedakian, Marty Thompson and Charlie O’Connor-Clarke offer up five thoughts each for the 2020 CPL season.
If you’re one of Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, or the Montreal Impact, you know better than anyone that, as much as you can get a read on a young potential talent by plugging him away in academy or reserve games, that’s not a suitable substitute for actual big-game experience at the highest level… and there hasn’t been an option like that in Canada.
Until now, that is. With the CPL, these three MLS outfits have now seen what Canada has to offer, and these talents have meaningful minutes to their name. It’s not a question of “what could they be” anymore, but one of “can they translate to MLS?” — and that may be a minor distinction on paper, but it plays a major role in player acquisition.
So, who bites first? There’s a massive pool of Canadian players with top-tier experience now ripe for the picking, after all.
2. Terran Campbell vs. Easton Ongaro
Speaking of young Canadian players with experience, the 2020 Golden Boot race will be fascinating to watch, as two young strikers look to establish themselves as the league’s very best goalscorer, period.
Certainly, a third or fourth or fifth option will emerge — and it’s possible that Campbell, Ongaro, or both won’t even reach the heights of their 2019 campaigns — but for now, on paper, it’s these two strikers who will likely go head to head, with full campaigns under their belts as starters, having used 2019 to earn starting roles up top for Pacific and FCE, respectively.
3. Oh, Canada! Next CanMNT call-ups
Marco Carducci, Amer Didic, Dominick Zator… who’s next on the docket for John Herdman’s side? The CPL’s impact on the Canadian player pool was immediate, as the former two players had definitely fallen out of the fringe, and the latter, Zator, was never on any national team radar at any youth level, either. So, the natural next question is who’s next, but also, when will a CPL-er actually play for Canada, too?
A few names come to mind, of course: Tristan Borges or David Edgar of Forge, Campbell or Ongaro, maybe — there are plenty of options in each position for Herdman to choose from. But, it’s a waiting game, for now.
4. Where will released players land?
As clubs enter year two, there will be plenty of turnover across the board. It’s the natural order of things. A team is born, as players far and wide come together under a new banner. They battle as one throughout the year, and then, when the dust settles, the clubs must pick up the pieces, and build again for another fight.
A team is born. A team is made. A team is fractured. A team is rebuilt. It’s the circle of life(!).
But, as teams release their players into the wild, do not fear, for it may not be the last we see of them. Just because one team releases a player does not mean they are gone from the CPL forever. We’ll likely experience a new situation next season where players who began their CPL adventure with one club continue it with another in year two, three, and beyond. There’s lots of talent to choose from across the board, after all.
5. Will Ryan Telfer return to York9 FC?
One of the league’s star players, scorer of the first goal in CPL history, has returned from his loan to York9 back to Toronto FC. Will he return in 2020?
There’s no indication yet, but there are clues; the Reds left Telfer on their unprotected list for another round of MLS Expansion Draft action. But, that was a natural assumption, anyway; it’s why Justin Morrow and Nicolas Benezet were also unprotected, as the Reds risk contracts that might not be desirable. The point is, Telfer’s future hangs in the air, still. So… we’ll see.
6. Winnipeg: Most underrated Canadian city for soccer talent?
I don’t hate Winnipeg. I love Winnipeg! And so should other CanPL supporters.
Valour FC went heavy on their hometown crop in Year 1.
Marco Bustos was a maroon-and-black highlight reel — arguably the best attacking midfielder in the league behind Tristan Borges. How about Tyler Attardo, too? Six goals over 1,000 minutes is an incredible return for a 17-year-old. Dylan Sacramento is tearing it up in New Zealand on loan right now.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned for Rob Gale and Valour FC last year, but if they stay with this Winnipegger base, good things will happen in 2020.
7. How many CPLers will feature on the Olympic qualifying roster?
Canada’s first Olympic qualifying camp will come sometime early in the new year and, for the first time potentially ever, Canada has active day-in, day-out starters on professional teams available to be selected.
Two-thirds of the squad as CPLers? That feels like a conservative estimate; Easton Ongaro, Terran Campbell, Diyaeddine Abzi, Noah Verhoeven, Matthew Baldisimo, Marcus Velado-Tsegaye, Tomasz Skublak, Elliott Simmons, Chrisnovic N’Sa, Tristan Borges, David Choinière… the list goes on.
Who knows, maybe a few CPL overagers will join the under-23 group? In any case, we’re going to see loads of CPLers in Canada gear soon — a sight we’re all looking forward to seeing.
8. What will the 2020 CanChamp look like?
Without the Ottawa Fury, the Canadian Championship has changed up its format for 2020. Now 12 teams, the tournament has a “qualifying quarterfinal stage,” contested between eight teams, and a proper quarterfinal after adding four teams that received a bye to that round.
Cavalry FC receives a bye, alongside the three Canadian MLS teams, by virtue of their performance in last year’s competition. With the bracket set up to foster local rivalries, there are some tasty potential matchups on the horizon.
9. Who’s the next big Canadian player to come to CPL?
Last year we saw a couple big Canadian soccer names make the jump to the Canadian Premier League; Marcel de Jong, Marcus Haber, David Edgar and Ryan Telfer among others. Now an established league entering its first offseason, which players will it attract next?
MLS releases put forward some interesting names, such as Ashtone Morgan, Jordan Hamilton, and Dejan Jaković. What about Ottawa Fury players like Carl Haworth and Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé to join former teammate Chris Mannella in the CPL?
Some CPL teams could be close to big windfalls of talent this offseason. Who will be the first big names?
10. Will Nico Pasquotti’s long throw get blown down?
I’m not tattling!
Cavalry FC’s Nico Pasquotti has a wicked long throw. It occupied many tricky spots and created numerous nervy moments for defenders. But will that happen again in 2020?
His whipping toss has been called illegal by many, with the ball being released to the side of his head and a light trailing predominant foot the main complaints.
No one is saying CPL referees should be micromanaging, but in the cold light of a first off-season, maybe they see his signature throw as something more felonious than a cute trick.
11. Which U SPORTS Draft player is the next Schaale or Ongaro?
One of the best success stories in the 2019 season was the immediate impact we saw from CPL-U SPORTS Draft picks. From Peter Schaale in Halifax to Easton Ongaro in Edmonton to Zach Verhoven on Vancouver Island, pretty much every club saw major contributions from that pathway.
With a new crop of draft picks coming in for the 2020 season, it’ll be fascinating to see who emerges as the next star. There’s plenty of talent from Cape Breton University — Corey Bent, Marcus Campanile, Isaiah Johnston, and Charlie Waters — who could follow in Schaale’s footsteps. Or, is there a surprise in store with a player from another program?
A ton of talented young players will be entering the league as U SPORTS picks in 2020, and it’s only a matter of time before at least one of them is a household name.
12. What expansion clubs will we see?
Year one was a party in all seven CPL cities, but I’m excited to see where the party goes next. This has been a hot topic of conversation all year long, and we’ve had some indications from commissioner David Clanachan that expansion is very much on the horizon.
So, what other thriving soccer communities will the footy-mad community at large discover in the next year or so? There’s plenty of untapped potential across Canada, and I, for one, am fascinated to see what’s next. Quebec? Saskatchewan? Ottawa? Who knows.
13. How will Pacific react to a coaching change?
The CPL’s first coaching change was one of the biggest news bombshells of the 2019 season, dropping midweek before the Tridents’ final game of the year. They won 2-0 over Valour, with James Merriman taking over for Michael Silberbauer, and they looked good doing it.
Heading into the new season, though, plenty is up in the air — it’s unclear whether or not Merriman will even be the permanent head coach at Pacific, for one. After a unique inaugural season in the CPL where every team (to varying degrees, of course) had to adjust to a new coach for most players, Pacific have to do it again.
Of course, Merriman was with the club all season, but still, he wasn’t in charge until the very end. It’ll be very interesting to see how much (if at all) Pacific’s approach changes after a fourth-place Fall campaign that had as many ups and downs as most other clubs.
14. Will Forge find redemption in the Concacaf League?
Forge’s continental campaign in 2019 was memorable to be sure; their defeat of Antigua GFC in the first round was historic, and a win in the first leg against Olimpia was jawdropping. However, a lot of us would be lying if we didn’t say their collapse down in San Pedro Sula wasn’t a little disappointing.
I’m a sucker for Concacaf football, and it was incredible to see CPL teams take part (and put up a darn good fight, at that). With a championship now under their belts, Forge surely wants to take another step forward, and redeem themselves on the international stage.
For this specific purpose, it’s probably a good thing that Forge were champions in year one, because their previous Concacaf experience might give them a real shot at this thing in 2020.
15. How does HFX fill out their roster?
Some fans were a little surprised when they saw the amount of turnover coming in Halifax, with 16 players not returning for 2020. That provides an interesting opportunity for Stephen Hart to, essentially, rebuild after a tough 2019 that saw the Wanderers finish last in the CPL.
The club has announced a few new signings already, and the roster is becoming a little more fleshed out ahead of year two, but there’s plenty of work left to be done. The core group of players coming back — Peter Schaale, Akeem Garcia, and so on — is a solid foundation to work on, but it’ll be fascinating to see how HFX looks next season.
16. Who will be the first CPLer to play for Canada?
Cavalry’s Marco Carducci and Dominick Zator, and FC Edmonton’s Amer Didic became the first CPLers to earn a call-up from the Canadian national team in 2019. None of them saw action, though, which raised the obvious question: Will a CPL player become the first to earn a Canadian cap in 2020?
17. Who is the next Tristan Borges?
What an incredible year it was for Tristan Borges in 2019: A CPL Champion, Golden Boot, and league MVP honours. Will someone win the trifecta in 2020?
18. Will there be more coaching changes?
Only one CPL manager lost his job in 2019 — Pacific FC’s Michael Silberbauer was relieved of his duties with one game to go in the season. Will CPL teams show a similar kind of patience in 2020? Or will a slow start in the Spring season lead to more firings?
19. How about an all-star game?
Most North American sports leagues have an all-star game, so why not the CPL? How about an East (players from HFX, Y9 and Forge) versus West (Valour, FCE, Cavalry and Pacific) format? Or maybe the CPL all-star team against an MLS side? Or a club from England’s Championship?
20. Will Pacific lead the way again in U21 minutes?
Pacific led the way in minutes played by Canadian under-21s in 2019, with a whopping 13,532 minutes. Will Pacific reign supreme again in 2020 when it comes to trusting the kids? Or will another team step up to wrestle the crown away from them?