TORONTO — It’s within the Canadian Premier League’s remit to be part of the solution.
While the CPL will aim to raise the standard of the Canadian player across the board — inclusive of rough-and-tumble defenders and diminutive playmakers alike — one of its most immediate benefits could be the opportunities it opens up for the type of talent that has found its path to the professional game most stubbornly blocked.
In his previous role, Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis earned a reputation for developing the same technical players he’ll reunite with at Tim Hortons Field when the league kicks off in April.
One of those players is Kyle Bekker, an attack-minded midfielder, a No. 10, who knows a thing or two about how difficult it can be for players like him to make their mark outside abroad.
“I’ve kind of felt it to an extent, just playing in more of an attacking role,” Bekker told CanPL.ca.
The 28-year-old has turned out for five clubs in three U.S. leagues across six years as a professional.
“No disrespect to MLS,” Bekker continued, “because they’re growing and they’re doing something amazing, but with them getting a bigger budget and more recognition worldwide, they then have the ability to go out and get a big No. 10 that’s going to come in and be a game-changer not only for the team, but for the league.
“Which is amazing, but we haven’t realized as North Americans … if you have $1 million to spend on a No. 10, why is there an incentive for a team in MLS to grow a No. 10?”
Even the attacking players who manage to make it as far as a first-team opportunity, Bekker added, are under enormous pressure to produce immediately.
“You have to come in and be so lights out and carve it out for yourself so that they have to play you,” he continued. “But the nine other kids who could easily get the experience and keep growing and they might grow into something special, they don’t have the time to do that.
“Now (MLS teams) have the budget to go out and sign someone who is going to be lights out and who is going to be someone who can sell their jersey. Again, no disrespect to them. That is amazing — that’s something that shows they’ve grown the league to the point where they’re able to do that.
“But it has hurt the development of players within our country at the same time, because there’s no status quo of, ‘Oh, we need to bring in this many Canadians through the academy, we want to get them on the team and we want to have a Canadian-dominant team.’ There has never been that sort of initiative from a coach or from a team within MLS.”
Suffice to say there will be such an initiative under Smyrniotis in Hamilton, and Bekker is wholeheartedly on board.
“What we want is to bring in a Canadian-heavy team that has the talent that people think that Canadians don’t have,” Bekker said.
“We’re going to put a nice image on the pitch, and we’re going to be successful, and we’re going to do this time and time again to keep proving everyone wrong.
“We have this talent in our backyard,” Bekker added. “We just have to take the time to actually care for it and not freak out and go away from everything we should be, which is a Canadian-dominant league.”
A NEW START
What’s more, Bekker has been frustrated by those he sees as waiting out the league’s first couple of seasons from afar “rather than jumping at the chance to be a part of it from the ground up.”
But he has seen nothing to dampen his conviction that he is a part of history in the making.
“For me, what I’m most excited about is starting from zero,” he said.
“With the help of Bobby and all of the guys in the background — Bob Young, everyone in Hamilton — we have the opportunity to get it right from Day 1.
“We need to know that this takes time and we need to be methodical so that we can get this right and it will hit the ground running — and this will be around forever.”