EDMONTON — At first glance, it’s a case of simple math.
Each Canadian Premier League team will be allowed to carry seven international players on its roster. But, each team can only have have a maximum of five international starters per match.
So, if a team chooses to max out its allocation of seven internationals, and every international on the roster is healthy, that coach has decisions to make. He might see that he has the freedom to take a chance or two to use an international spot on a project player, the kind of signing who might not make an immediate impact when the first ball is kicked in late April.
Valour FC coach Rob Gale spent one of his seven available international spots on Belgian 20-year-old goalkeeper Mathias Janssens, though the team already had Winnipegger Tyson Farago signed. Farago has significant NASL experience between the posts through his time with FC Edmonton.
So far, Gale is one of only two CPL coaches to use an international spot on a ‘keeper. The other is Halifax’s Stephen Hart, who has Trinidad and Tobago veteran Jan-Michael Williams on the books. (But, unlike Janssens, Williams has years of experience in Europe.)
“He’s a calculated developmental gamble,” said Gale of his Belgian keeper. “I think it’s a player who can compete for the starting spot, but he has the potential to be someone we can move on in the future.”
Gale admitted that he is looking at how he allocates his international signings a little differently than the other CPL managers.
“For me, I am not only looking to build a team, but I want to build a club,” he added.
Gale said that he splits his international signings into two categories. The first are players who have the international experience and developed skill to help Valour right away. The second group are players who may be looking to establish themselves in North America, but they need the game action so they can develop. He said that a diamond in the rough becomes polished if he gets two or three seasons, maybe 100 games, under his belt. The player develops, moves on, and Valour benefits.
Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said that the prototype for a prime CPL international signing would be Fredy Montero. The Colombian striker wasn’t a proven commodity when he came to Major League Soccer in 2011 as 24-year-old. But it was in MLS where he developed into a real impact player, one who would go to Sporting Lisbon as a changed man. Wheeldon said he sees players in their mid-20s, looking to develop but already having some polish in their games, as ideal.
“I think they have to offer me something that I don’t have in the squad,” he said. “They need to make an impact. But, at the same time, they also have to be able to develop while they are here.”
FC Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus said that he might allocate just one of his international spots to a project player. The rest would all have to be able to make immediate impacts.
“Our league rules allow us to start five internationals, and you’re allowed to sign seven,” said Paulus. “So, I would take a chance on an international who needs a fresh start in their career. Of course, with MLS being here, our league’s an attraction for a lot of those players who might have just lost their way and come from high-level footballing countries. They might see the CPL as a way to get back on track. So would I take a chance on one? Yeah, I would. But just one.”
Paulus said he looks for internationals who have North American experience, know about the travel, the weather and the artificial turf. During his time in the NASL, he saw too many internationals come across the pond and then crash and burn — because they couldn’t cope with summer humidity or winter cold or long flights and airport layovers.
And, for Paulus, the notion of using one of the seven international spots on a ‘keeper is eyebrow-raising. He’s already signed two Canadians, Connor James and Dylon Powley.
“For me, I won’t use an international spot on a ‘keeper. I think we do a great job in this country of developing keepers,” he said. “We’ve gone with two young Canadians to give them their opportunity here. But I could name in 30 seconds six to 10 Canadian keepers who could play in our league.”