A wild night of Canadian soccer saw six teams from three different leagues take part in 2019 Canadian Championship Qualifying Round 3 action across the country on Wednesday, with a trio of CPL outfits taking on foes from MLS or the USL for the very first time, and putting in commendable showings across the board.
In this special edition of the Breakdown, let’s review some of the talking points from these Leg 1 fixtures, ahead of the 2nd leg on July 24:
7. Cavalry has best chance to advance
Following a 0-0 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Cavalry heads into B.C. Place for the second leg with the best overall odds of advancing into the Semi-Finals stage of the Canadian Championship, needing a win or any scoring draw to best their MLS foes on aggregate. That’s the beauty of a 0-0 draw at home – particularly, the clean sheet aspect: You no longer fear a tied score. Sure, another 0-0 sends things to penalties, and that’s a wild bag, really, but score once? Well, things get interesting from there.
We’ve heard versions of this question a thousand times since kick-off; what is the CPL’s level? How does CPL compare to MLS? In the end, these questions aren’t easy to answer, because they tend to generalize what is, in essence, a game of complications, complexities, and, truly, luck.
So, on Wednesday, York9 and Cavalry went toe-to-toe with the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. They both came out of the first leg with draws after commendable showings. Neither CPL team looked battered, or even slightly bruised for that matter. Both Impact head coach Remi Garde and Whitecaps head coach Marc dos Santos, as well as Impact captain Samuel Piette and Whitecaps ‘keeper Maxime Crepeau, affirmed they were impressed with their opposition’s showingsand pleased with the quality on offer.
We’re in year one, folks. What we saw on Wednesday – packed crowds of 5000+, heightened expectations, pressure, true battles – is only a taste of what’s to come over the next few years. Having seen this all come to fruition at Toronto FC, this humble writer is seeing more and more signs each and every day of something special happening across Canada.
Now, does this bode well for the second leg? Probably not. These MLS teams usually turn things up at home and that’s going to be the true test. But, if for a moment, we can enjoy the sentiment, that’s perfectly fine, too. Speaking of …
5. Some poutine for thought
Before we get too carried away with the tactical minutia, permutations, and storylines on offer … can we just take a moment to acknowledge what we bore witness to on Wednesday evening?
Professional soccer teams from Halifax, Ottawa, York Region, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver all battled it out in meaningful competition – with teams in Winnipeg, Blainville, Edmonton, Hamilton, Vaughan, and Victoria, as well as Toronto proper, all featuring in other stages of the competition.
“That’s what this league and what this tournament is all about – giving Canadian players the opportunity to play,” Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said after his team’s 0-0 draw with the Whitecaps. “It means so much for a Canadian player.”
Added Fury head coach Nikola Popovic: “I think for Canadian soccer, you have to be proud of what’s happened here today.”
4. A perfect exhibition
Let me start by saying that there are talented players across the CPL, and scouts across MLS will surely have names notched from each of those seven teams as the summer window rolls on.
But, if I were looking for immediate, MLS-ready talent from the CPL, York9 and Cavalry is exactly where I’d start.
Both sets of players impressed on an individual level on Wednesday night, with particular plaudits going to Cavalry’s Marco Carducci, Mason Trafford, Jay Wheeldon, Elijah Adekugbe, Sergio Camargo, and Nico Pasquotti, as well as York9’s Diyaeddine Abzi, Manny Aparicio, Ryan Telfer, Joe Di Chiara, and, yes, even Luca Gasparotto – who redeemed his earlier mistake with an assist on goal No. 2.
It’s folly, thinking of certain players as only being able to play at a certain level; and it’s just not true. The best CPL players are better overall footballers than the rawest young players on MLS outfits. That’s not conjecture. That’s simply the reality of roster construction, where teams give opportunities to young hopefuls ahead of more immediate talent.
In any case, I’d be fascinated more than anything to be a fly on the wall during Dos Santos’ or Garde’s post-match meetings. I’d be willing to bet a fortune that there are circles over names that weren’t there before Wednesday night.
3. A worrying number
Three, that is. Not a great number to see on the opposite team’s score sheet at home in a home-and-away series, but it’s the reality that HFX Wanderers FC now faces as the Ottawa Fury scored three goals – peach-perfect goals, I might add – to take three key away goals out of Wanderers Grounds ahead of the second leg in the nation’s capital. It’s obviously not ideal for Stephen Hart’s side – but don’t count out the Wanderers just yet.
Hart has made clear his team doesn’t intend to feel sorry for themselves, even if there was a dubious offside call on a play that looked a legitimate goal – and they will approach the second leg looking to overcome this result with at least a two-goal win. It’s not impossible, as Hart points out, since a number of teams regularly pull this off in UEFA Champions League, FA Cup, and FIFA World Cup play …
Sceptics may point out that the Wanderers have yet to record an away victory and haven’t scored away from home yet in regular season play … but they’ve scored five times away from home and picked up a pair of away wins in CanChamp action.
2. Can we talk about …
… York9 midfielder Ryan Telfer? The on-loan Toronto FC product has now twice written his name in Canadian Premier League history, scoring the very first goal in the league’s inaugural match, and, as of Wednesday night, becoming the first CPL player to score a goal against an MLS team. And what a goal it was, too! What other moments of history might Telfer be a part of this season, we wonder?