Bunbury hopes CPL shifts Canadian culture as Open Trials head to Toronto

TORONTO – The Canadian Premier League’s #GotGame Open Trials will make its latest stop this week in Toronto, as the fourth city of the seven-stop tour, and for Trial Lead Coach Alex Bunbury, the hope is that the strong turnout across the country is a sign of bigger things to come for the beautiful game in Canada.

The iconic Canadian international forward, who broke scoring records at Portuguese club Maritimo during his playing days, has been at each of the CPL’s Open Trials locations alongside the coaching staffs from each of the league’s seven clubs, sorting through the over 200 trialists in each city in hopes of unearthing hidden gems of talent.

Whether it was players like Kouame Ouattara in Halifax or Lukumbi ‘Spider-Man’ Tshindaye in Quebec, Taha Ilyass in Hamilton, or the many more who turned heads, the Open Trials have certainly lived up to the billing, with CPL commissioner David Clanachan telling on Tuesday that he expects around “15-20” trialists to potentially be invited to preseason camp ahead of the league’s inaugural 2019 campaign.

But Bunbury hopes, above all, that the Open Trials have, perhaps, signalled the start of what he hopes can be a cultural shift across the country.

“I went through that, ‘Canada does not have soccer players, it has hockey players,'” Bunbury told Sportsnet’s Michael Leach. “Now we will have an identity because now we have our own professional league that has been created for Canadian players to develop.”

He added: “With this format you know that you’re going to find some players who normally don’t get the opportunity to showcase their talent.”

York 9 FC head coach Jimmy Brennan agreed, telling Sportsnet’s Leach that the opportunity that the Open Trials affords players in Canada is invaluable, and in some ways, otherwise unavailable.

“There are a lot of talented kids in Canada, but they don’t have that opportunity, they don’t have a passport. If they go to the U.S. they’re classed as a foreigner,” Brennan told Leach. “If you’re not getting into a TFC, Montreal or Vancouver where do you go? Your career is done.”