CPL coaches looking for blend of youth, experience to fit team systems

TORONTO – Systems and tactics and formations, oh my!

A coach’s notebook is riddled with all the little details that come with team building. But no matter the individual plan, one constant resonates among Canadian Premier League coaches: The players make a team tick.

Some coaches, like FC Edmonton’s Jeff Paulus, already have firm plans in mind, with Paulus specifying last month a 4-3-3 formation built for “quick, brave, 1-v-1” players is his current preference. Others were more coy, tiptoeing around the question and offering only that they do have a plan in mind.

But for Valour FC’s Rob Gale, the topic elicited a contrarian response.

“Modern football is about being versatile, being fluid, almost un-form like in your game so that you can adapt in-game,” Gale said. “Certainly we’ll have our principles in our style of play – an entertaining, front-foot possession game of attacking-style football – but I think you have to be able to adapt to what players you have at your disposal and bring the best out of them.”

Cavalry FC’s Tommy Wheeldon Jr. offered that he’s looking to build something more important than a tactical formation right off the bat.

“I build cultures and teams,” he explained. “Anybody that’s seen the PDL team (Foothills FC) I had, we played a very good brand of football, very honest, very hard-working but we were creative as well. I think that speaks to the Canadian DNA. What I’ll be looking to do is breed that with the players I have. Absolutely I want capability but I’m high on character as well.”

In the end, York 9 FC’s Jimmy Brennan explained, each of the coaches benefit from the unique circumstance of building their entire team from scratch.

“I think a lot of times, when a coach inherits a team and he wants to play a certain formation, he can’t because the players can’t adjust to it and he’s got to take a little bit of time in order to move players on and get the players he wants,” Brennan said. “We’re in a good situation here where we can really build our squad to suit our style of play and our system.”

York 9 FC head coach Jimmy Brennan, watching from the sidelines.
York 9 FC head coach Jimmy Brennan, watching from the sidelines.

Building a team also means finding the right balance between young talent and experienced professionals. Paulus has already identified around five former FC Edmonton players he’s looking to bring back into the fold, with their leadership qualities chief among his list of desired qualities.

For HFX Wanderers FC boss Stephen Hart, the question of roster balance is one that is intrinsically tied with the primary motivation of the CPL itself, with Hart explaining that a “big part” of building these rosters is giving young players an example on “what it takes to be a professional both on the field and off the field.”

Pacific FC’s Michael Silberbauer agreed, explaining that striking that right balance between experience and youth means defining clear roles within the roster, too.

“The perfect blend would be that everybody knows why they’re there, and we’re going to be honest with everybody,” Silberbauer said. “It would be that if you get an older leftback and a younger leftback, that the older leftback takes on a certain mentor role for the younger players, and it would also be good, in harder times, that those younger players have someone to lean on.”

Brennan figures the tried-and-true method of adding experience along the spine of his team at centreback, central midfield and striker is the way to go, but added: “The key to success is a difficult one, and everybody has to find the right ingredients that’s going to make them successful. And it’s not an easy task in world football.

“It’s hard to win and it’s hard to get your systems right, your formations right, and get the right players in place, so we’ve got a hard task ahead of us but we’re going to make sure we’re very thorough in what we do and make sure we get the right players in.”