Finals 2019 coaches Smyrniotis, Wheeldon Jr. eye strong start at ‘The Island Games’ Virtual Newsroom pours over the recently-announced CPL 2020 season and what we can expect from The Island Games. Watch in full here.

Finals 2019 participants Forge FC and Cavalry FC learned their route to a second Canadian Premier League finale on Wednesday, as the Canadian Premier League revealed plans for a 2020 regular season taking place in Prince Edward Island.

The Island Games, which features a single-round, eight-team first stage followed by a four-team second group and one-leg final, will run 35 matches and start on Aug.13 in Charlottetown.

With seven matches in round one and three in round two, both 2020 CPL finalists will play 11 matches. The single-site competition is quite a change from the 28-match stretch of the 2019 CPL regular season in which Tommy Wheeldon Jr. coached his Cavalry side to Fall and Spring season titles and a 19-5-4 record.

When asked what fans could expect from the shortened 2020 campaign, Wheeldon Jr. was quick to reflect on Year 1 of the CPL.

RELATED READING: 2020 CPL regular season: The Island Games

“We’re still selling a league – and can’t be lost on any of us,” Wheeldon Jr. told, dismissing the potential for nip-and-tuck, World Cup group stage-like style of play on P.E.I.

“This pandemic has come at a tough time but, what we can do in 2020 is make this tournament an exciting one. We need to take the positives and showcase Canadian football and the media marketing aspect and get to more eyeballs across the country… and put on one hell of a tournament.”

Forge won when it mattered most in 2019. Their back-to-back playoff victories over Cavalry in Finals 2019 gave coach Bobby Smyrniotis his first professional title.

Smyrniotis is clear on how his side can repeat as champions: “Give me the route to a trophy and I’ll find the best way to get there.”

This championship path is, obviously, a unique one for Canadian soccer coaches and players. It brings unknown elements such as how many points will a team needs to advance and, well, how will teams deal with a seven-game gauntlet on short rest.

Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. surveys the match at Tim Hortons Field. (Photo: CPL)
Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. surveys the match at Tim Hortons Field. (Photo: CPL)

Smyrniotis said picking up a few wins off the bat is paramount. While seven games is a longer stretch than a World Cup or MLS Is Back’s initial round, it could be deceptively short.

“You want to get out there and be very positive in those first few games,” Smyrniotis offered. “I think that’s very important – you don’t want to be chasing.

“You need to know where you’re going in an event like this; how many wins, points, games. It becomes much easier when you know the format and the path.”

The Forge gaffer explained his staff has been busy analyzing their maddening 14-matches-in-two-months run to close out the 2019 season, taking lessons is squad rotation and ensuing results to better define, as Smyrniotis said, “the best way” to a second championship.

RELATED READING: Commissioner Clanachan: CPL wasn’t rushed into holding 2020 regular season

Smyrniotis also noted the mental battle that CPL teams will face as players spend several weeks in Charlottetown.

“We’re going to be away from home and there will be a mental toughness battle too. It’s important to manage that, too, in how we deal with players when we get there,” Smyrniotis said.

Wheeldon Jr. has also pulled from his 2019 experiences in putting together his Island Games roadmap, adding Cavalry’s historic seven-win run to start the 2019 CPL season would be enough to go undefeated in round one on P.E.I.

“You need to start well. We need to play it like a tournament and think about the training load – keep players on edge. We were phenomenal for an entire season, and then the playoffs came around and, well, that’s all people remember is that Forge beat us,” Wheeldon Jr. said.

“We have to prepare.”

The Island Games will begin on Aug. 13 when Cavalry and Forge face off. A draw to determine the rest of the season schedule will be held in the coming days.

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