The end of 2019 is fast approaching, and as we begin our reflections on the year that was, it’s important to note that none of Canada’s soccer achievements would be possible without the hard working men and women who make up the economy of this sport from top to bottom.
Whether it’s with Major League Soccer, the Canadian Premier League, the national team programs, provincial levels, Concacaf executives, and even youth programs, the dedication and work of coaches, players, referees, organizers, specialists, analysts, parents, media, and supporters cannot thrive without a shared passion for the sport.
Here’s the first part (spots 5-1) of an annual tradition we hope to implement at CanPL.ca: the 10 most influential voices in Canadian soccer in 2019. To read part 2 (spots 10-6), click here.
Among the many firsts this year, the Canadian Premier League provided a platform for one of the most important social developments in the sport’s recent history – Carol Anne Chenard led the first all-female refereeing team in a men’s professional game in the 2019 CPL season, paving the way for a greater level of equality and progress in soccer.
That Chenard oversaw a massive game between Forge FC and Cavalry FC with little fuss is a testament to the quality of the refereeing program in Canada, which saw female referees take part side-by-side with their male peers throughout the season, in multiple positions. It was done so with little mention – just as things should be – but, it’s important to realize that this sport hasn’t always been the most open to this kind of integration in the past. That Canada hosted referees of all genders with no second thought? That’s pretty cool, I’d say.
4. The Stone Carvers of Cape Dorset
It’s not often you see a new league take shape in the world of football, and even rarer is when those upstart leagues can set new standards for what it means to involve all communities in the shared love of the beautiful game. In what was a world-first display of originality and creativity, the CPL reached out to stone carvers in Cape Dorset – Taqialuk Nuna, Palaya Qiatsuk, Pitseolak Qimirpik, Kellipalik Etidloie, and Palaya Qiatsuq – to design unique league awards for 2019 and beyond.
“Something like this is powerful for us and our community,” Palaya Qiatsuq, a former Mayor of Cape Dorset, told CanPL.ca. “This is important. Communicating, so the people from the North come to the South and be recognized. We appreciate it.”
This was the first instance where Canadian soccer truly differentiated itself from the rest of the world. No other league had woven the culture and artistic tradition of a soccer-loving first nations population as the CPL did. For their efforts, the stone carvers of Cape Dorset poured their love into unique league awards that set a new standard for what a “Golden Boot”, for instance, can be.
3. Tristan Borges, Forge FC
Tristan Borges went from an unknown player middling away in Europe to being a household name in Canadian soccer over the course of one single season in Hamilton. That he did so with a league-leading 13 goals and MVP-winning performances isn’t what we’re highlighting here, though.
No, it’s the fact that Borges proved the CPL’s entire mantra correct that earns him a spot on this list. Think of how many other Canadian players will now look at Borges’ individual successes and hope to replicate them in the years to come. More than that, think of how many kids, not just in Hamilton, but across the entire country, can now dream of playing soccer at home and being the “next” Tristan Borges? The 20-year-old gave new hope to the 14-16-year-old player in Canada, and did so with the sort of bravado you want from a star man.
2. Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Cavalry FC
No one single person was more important to their entire city’s soccer community than Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has been for the city of Calgary. It’s why Wheeldon Jr. was named to Avenue Magazine’s 40 Under 40, and why he continues to serve faithfully as the central figure of the city’s professional and youth ranks. Wheeldon Jr. is the perfect example of how charisma, passion, tactical acumen, and a firm, friendly handshake can make a man great. And, with a bright coaching future ahead of him, Wheeldon Jr. spurred a soccer movement in Calgary unlike any in 2019, too.
Spruce Meadows felt different. From the very beginning, Calgary embraced the professional game in a more meaningful way than other cities across the country. Wheeldon Jr. provided the spark of something special in Calgary, which roared into the fire of “90 minutes of Hell” all season long with Cavalry FC. That his Foothills team is also a champion-winning side is a testament to his abilities, but it’s the man himself that makes soccer work in Calgary. There is nothing soccer in Calgary that doesn’t go through his desk, whether officially or through a gracious phone call for advice. For that, the 2019 Coach of the Year earns our esteemed nod.
1. Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich
Was there ever any doubt?
Alphonso Davies, all 19 years of him, is far and away the biggest influencer in Canadian soccer in 2019 … and, most likely, in the entire decade. Playing for Bayern Munich – no, starting regularly for Bayern Munich – is something that kids around the entire freakin’ planet dream of doing; and Davies is doing that, week-in and week-out. He’s not just playing, though. He’s impressing. He’s scoring and assisting. He’s featuring in Champions League bouts. He’s starring in matches. Davies is killing it.
His social media influence in unparalleled in Canadian soccer. No one single player gets more likes and comments than he, naturally. But, like Christine Sinclair inspired a generation of girls to follow their dreams of playing soccer, Davies is doing exactly the same at a much younger age. Davies isn’t just influential – he’s a complete game-changer for Canada.
(It’s why his goal sunk the U.S. national team for the first time in 34 years).
Alphonso Davies is Canada’s first global star. Odds are, he can reach even higher heights at Bayern, and beyond. We are witnessing the makings of something great. This is only the beginning.