CanPL.ca Virtual Newsroom covers which CPL clubs should be considered favourites in the recently-announced 2020 CPL season in their The Island Games announcement special. Watch in full here.
The prayers of Canadian Premier League fans across the country have been answered.
The CPL announced on Wednesday the launch of the “The Island Games,” a round-robin competition that will involve all eight of the league’s teams, and run from August to September in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (full schedule and exact dates to be announced later). The Island Games will serve as the CPL’s 2020 regular season, with the winner crowned league champions.
It’s a unique format, one that CPL clubs, players and coaches weren’t expecting when pre-season training camps kicked off in February. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced leagues around the world to shut down, delay the start of their campaigns, and come up with different ideas as they returned to the pitch.
After being in a holding pattern since mid-March, CPL clubs will soon make their way to P.E.I. to compete in this multi-staged competition with the North Star Shield at stake.
All of which raises the obvious question: Which CPL team is best suited to win the Island Games?
CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, Marty Thompson, and John Molinaro offer their thoughts.
Honestly, any team could win this championship and it wouldn’t be all that surprising. Still, I have to pick one, so I’ve gone with a fairly safe choice rather than a less-proven side such as Pacific FC, York9 FC, or FC Edmonton.
If the CPL had used the format of The Island Games in 2019, Cavalry FC would have rampaged; they won their first seven games of the year in what you might reasonably dub “a hot start.” They had no trouble getting their feet under them last season, despite being a (mostly) new club.
“But,” you say, “early 2019 was chaotic since every team was brand new, and Cavalry won’t have the advantage of their Foothills familiarity this time around.”
Yeah, that’s true. Although they do still have that edge on the heavily rebuilt (and newly-built, like Atlético Ottawa) sides — as do Forge FC and, to an extent, FC Edmonton, to be fair. But consider, if you will, what made Cavalry so dangerous in 2019. Tommy Wheeldon Jr. had his side drilled to wear teams down with “90 Minutes of Hell.”
With many CPLers having not played a game in as many as 10 months, fitness will understandably be an issue in the Island Games. Five substitutions notwithstanding, a club that can high-press its opponent into the ground for even 60 minutes will be scary.
We have no idea, of course, if Cavalry’s fitness will be at the level required for that, but they’ll certainly try. They were able to maintain that system pretty consistently throughout 2019 without succumbing to fatigue, which may be a good sign for those purposes.
– By Charlie O’Connor-Clarke
Yeah, I know it’s completely unimaginative and incredibly easy to pick Forge FC – they are, after all, the reigning CPL champions. Be that as it may, for my money, The Island Games are Forge’s to lose.
Teams are going to have to hit the ground running in Charlottetown after a wild summer that saw all eight sides slowly ease their way back into training due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Which team do you think is best equipped to overcome the less-than-ideal training preparations that clubs have endured once The Island Games kick off? The answer is Forge: Of the 20 players they currently have under contract, 17 are returnees from 2019 – a league-high amongst the seven clubs who competed in the CPL’s inaugural season.
If a team is going reach the final of The Island Games, it will have to play 11 matches over a short period of time. Team depth will be tested, as will the ability of coaches to effectively rotate players in and out of their starting lineups. Which manager do you think is best set up to handle the challenges of this grueling schedule? The answer is Bobby Smyrniotis, who was a master of rotating his squad and getting the most out of his deep and versatile bench during Forge’s championship campaign in 2019.
With a smaller margin of error at The Island Games compared to a full-length regular season and points being at a premium, teams can’t afford to slowly build momentum, but rather must storm out of the gate and continue hitting their stride over six weeks. Having maintained the core of their championship side (with the exception of Tristan Borges), the current holders of the North Star Shield have to be considered the favourites to win The Island Games and repeat as CPL champions.
– by John Molinaro
Chemistry is going to be a key factor at The Island Games, and Pacific FC has that in spades.
As we saw last season, PFC’s group of raw youngsters were growing into their professional roles. It’s part of Rob Friend and Josh Simpson’s vision: “Trust The Kids” and, in the process, build a championship team beyond Year 1.
Every Pacific player stayed on Vancouver Island during the COVID-19 stoppage, including international signee Alejandro Díaz and recent additions Jordan Haynes and Sean Young. First-year coach Pa-Modou Kah is, quite understandably, pleased with his team’s dedication.
“COVID has been a blessing, in a way, in giving our players more time for individual and team focus,” Kah told CanPL.ca. “More sessions (working on) our shape, reviewing games from last year and seeing what needs to be better, and for us, as a group, it’s always about the process.
“The boys have been top-class professionals. Everything has been so professional and well done.”
Pacific FC has the most promising roster in the CPL. To not be affected by the loss of internationals is one thing – to have all 19 players hit the pitch together on Day 1 will be another advantage altogether.