We’ve had some fun at CanPL.ca trying to find a way that each of the eight Canadian Premier League teams could win the 2020 championship at The Island Games (without just saying, “Well, crazier things have happened”).
The reality is, though, that just one club can win it all in Charlottetown.
Unfortunately for the seven clubs you aren’t cheering for (you only read your team’s section of this article, right?), there’s a big reason why each of them won’t be lifting the North Star Shield this season.
So, to help allay some fears about the seven clubs that your team will have to compete against, we’ve found one (of, perhaps, several) reason why each CPL team will not be winning the 2020 title.
By all accounts, spirits are extremely high on Van Isle right now. Pacific’s young roster has been improved with more young talent, and new coach Pa-Modou Kah seems to have turned around the club’s mentality in his short time there so far.
Still, it’s no secret that coaches like to implement a new system when they take over a club, and that can take a while. It’s hard to refine something like that without testing it out in games (and even harder when your training sessions are restricted by social distancing protocols).
With precious little margin for error in The Island Games gauntlet, will Pacific FC have time to start clicking in Kah’s new system? Can they afford more than a couple mistakes?
It’ll all depend on how easily the other clubs settle back into their own, previously-established tactical systems, really.
FC Edmonton – Work in progress
Jeff Paulus has a pretty clear vision for FC Edmonton. He’s assembling a squad that can attack from the flanks, and whip crosses in for Easton Ongaro and/or Tomi Ameobi to bring down or smack home. They weren’t quite able to put that together consistently in 2019 (although Ongaro certainly managed to find his goals regardless), so Paulus has tinkered with the squad and brought in some new faces to improve things.
It sounds like the plan will be for Hanson Boakai or Keven Alemán, playing in a No. 10 role, to drop into the half-channels to help facilitate wide play, which is a dynamic the club didn’t quite have last year. However, all these adjustments may take time to click into place.
The Eddies do have depth in key positions — Ameobi and Ongaro will platoon up top, and Boakai and Alemán will do the same — but a lot of the bench options are young and unproven. Some key injuries might lead to David Doe or Marcus Velado-Tsegaye having to step in and start, putting a lot of pressure on the youngsters. Paulus and the club will be confident in their abilities, but they may need to take some risks with a young squad that won’t be a finished product yet.
Cavalry FC – Key pieces missing
Cavalry was the most dominant regular-season team in the CPL in 2019. Most of the players that got them there — Marco Carducci, Nik Ledgerwood, Dominick Zator, Sergio Camargo, and so on — are still in place. Some of them, however, are not.
The loss of Julian Büscher, who was in many ways the ball-distributing linchpin of the Cavs’ midfield, will sting (can Elliot Simmons and Elijah Adekugbe be the answer, though?). Striker Dominique Malonga isn’t returning either, although the club themselves will feel they’ve upgraded up front with Jair Córdova. The Cavs are also down a couple more international players, with 2019 fan favourite José Escalante unable to join the squad, as well as new Brazilian winger Richard Luca.
This season will show us just how important those players were to the 2019 Cavalry FC squad. A look at their current roster would probably suggest they’ll be fine, but all those names (save Luca) made major contributions to the club’s success last year.
Valour FC – New-look attack
While Valour deserves a lot of credit for rebuilding the squad almost entirely ahead of 2020, this much change leaves a lot of variables. The revamped backline looks like it should be much better than it was in 2019, but what about the attack?
Valour’s front line was actually a strength last year, with Michael Petrasso, Marco Bustos, and Tyler Attardo leading the fast-moving, supremely entertaining charge. All those players are gone now, and the club will be primarily relying on new faces to provide the goals.
Daryl Fordyce has plenty of experience scoring goals in Canada, and both Shaan Hundal and Austin Ricci have the potential to make noise given consistent minutes. New Zealand international Moses Dyer, too, could be a wild card in the offence playing as a No. 10 or a second striker.
Forge FC – No Tristan Borges
Part of the reason why Forge is many fans’ choice to prevail in The Island Games is how similar the squad is to their 2019 championship lineup. With systems and tactics already in place, they’re well-positioned to start strong and stay in front at this tournament.
That said, it would be dishonest to gloss over the fact that they’ve lost their leading scorer (and the reigning CPL Player of the Year) in Tristan Borges. The winger has moved to Belgium, and now Forge must find a way to replace his 13 goals and five assists, which is no small task.
Of course, Bobby Smyrniotis and the players are all confident in their “next man up” mentality; there’s a decent list of players who could be next to seize the spotlight (Marcel Zajac, Kadell Thomas, David Choinière, Elimane Cissé, Chris Nanco, and so on). Forge is a team that prides itself on versatility and depth, which is certainly an advantage this year.
York9 FC – Finishing woes continue
The Nine Stripes had no trouble moving the ball and creating chances in 2019. In fact, they were arguably the strongest team in the CPL in terms of passing and ball retention. However, the reason they couldn’t reach the levels of Forge and Cavalry was an egregious lack of finishing in front of goal.
Much of the attack has been revamped, of course, with Michael Petrasso, Gabriel Vasconcelos, and Álvaro Rivero joining Ryan Telfer. Still, there are never any guarantees. Telfer scored eight CPL goals in 2019, and Petrasso had six for Valour, but they’ll primarily be operating on the wings.
If Rivero or Vasconcelos (or another of the Y9 newcomers) proves to have the right touch in front of goal and converts some more chances into goals, the Nine Stripes will be dangerous. If not, though, then we might see the club struggle with what plagued it in 2019.
Atlético Ottawa – Fear of the unknown
This was the reason we gave for why Ottawa might win The Island Games, but it’s also a reason (perhaps a more likely one) why they won’t. This is a brand-new football club, with a rookie coach and a roster of players without much experience with one another.
Ottawa might just not have enough time to put it all together; the squad has some talented players both young and veteran, but for this to become a team, it’ll need to play actual games. Can they properly mesh in just seven games?
We have absolutely no clue how Ottawa might play, nor what the lineup might look like. Presumably, the club themselves have a better idea, but even they would be expected to tinker and experiment given more time.
History would suggest that’s difficult. In a full-length season, it would probably take some time for an expansion side to get up to speed. They don’t have that time here, so coach Mista will be hoping that the side’s extended training camp will have been good enough.
HFX Wanderers FC – No home advantage
The best thing about the Wanderers in 2019 was their incredible home form. Playing in Halifax in front of “The Kitchen,” the club was extremely hard to beat — much more so than when they were on the road.
Unfortunately, there will be no Kitchen Parties in Charlottetown. Although, technically, the Wanderers will be the closest team to their home market, just a short trip across the Northumberland Strait, it won’t be the same. Thankfully for HFX, no other club will enjoy home field advantage either this year, but it’s still going to sting.
The Wanderers showed on the final day of 2019 that they’re capable of winning away from home (a 2-0 triumph over York9 FC). Can they do the same, more consistently, at The Island Games? That might be a challenge for Stephen Hart’s side.