How should CPL hopefuls approach open trials? The league’s coaches offer some advice

TORONTO — Footballers born before 1984 despise flashy boots.

But Valour FC head coach Rob Gale offered a colourful tip for Canadian Premier League hopefuls ahead of the CPL’s upcoming #GotGame Open Trials.

“I was on a few different trials before I joined a club. I remember me dad saying, ‘Wear yellow socks. It will stand you out if your football doesn’t,’” Gale told with a smile.

Message to trialists: Bright yellow socks aren’t advisable — and, in all likelihood, won’t be the reason you potentially land a CPL deal.

Heck, they might actually hurt your chances of making a positive impression.

“You’ve just got to be yourself,” Gale added in a more serious tone. “If you’re good enough on the day, you’re good enough on the day. Just enjoy the experiences.”

The league revealed Monday a series of trial dates in seven Canadian locations, stretching from the Maritimes to Vancouver Island, beginning Sept. 20 in Halifax.

York 9 FC coach Jimmy Brennan chats with Kurt Larson. (Joelle Elfassy/CPL)
York 9 FC coach Jimmy Brennan chats with Kurt Larson. (Joelle Elfassy/CPL)

“The coaches have all been talking about it,” York 9 FC coach Jimmy Brennan said. “We’re all looking for that diamond in the rough, that guy who can get to the next level.”

Catching the eye of a CPL bench boss will undoubtedly prove challenging given the trials could attract hundreds of hopefuls in each city.

Socks aside, CPL coaches said they’ll go about identifying prospects in their own ways. However, they’re looking for some of the same characteristics in prospective CPL players.

“What’s their personality like?” Brennan asked. “Do they have that drive, that good work ethic? Are they willing to push the limits and not be afraid to make mistakes?”

Pacific FC coach Michael Silberbauer echoed Brennan’s evaluation principles, adding a player’s reaction says as much about their ceiling as anything else.

#GotGame Open Trials lead coach and Canadian soccer legend Alex Bunbury. (Joelle Elfassy/CPL)
#GotGame Open Trials lead coach and Canadian soccer legend Alex Bunbury. (Joelle Elfassy/CPL)

“To me, it’s important what mentally they have,” the Danish tactician explained. “It’s way more important how you react after a mistake.

“Mistakes are allowed,” he continued. “It’s what happens after mistakes that is going to be important.”

Then there’s the Alphonso Davies effect — the belief there are similar players from coast-to-coast, waiting to be unearthed ahead of the CPL’s April 2019 kickoff.

Davies was lured to the Vancouver Whitecaps’ residency program after turning heads as teenager in Edmonton.

The 17-year-old’s recent transfer to Bayern Munich could total tens of millions depending on how well the young Canadian performs.

Canadian Premier League coaches met with Alex Bunbury during last week's CPL Coaches Summit. (Joelle Elfassy/CPL)
Canadian Premier League coaches met with Alex Bunbury during last week’s CPL Coaches Summit. (Joelle Elfassy/CPL)

“You’re always looking for that special player who brings something a little different,” said HFX Wanderers coach Stephen Hart.

Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., who has been a staple of the Alberta soccer scene for close to two decades, insists the pipeline of Canadian talent is waiting to be tapped.

“There’s unearthed talent that we haven’t gotten to,” Wheeldon told “The purpose of these trials is to show these kids who might be playing in the park they can come out and show.

“We’re looking for that type of Alphonso Davies player … There are more of those players out there, we just need to pick them. They are coast-to-coast.”

The coaches also enter these national trials looking for a variety of players with diverse skillsets and strengths. In other words, they aren’t just looking for the next Davies, they’re also looking for the next Atiba Hutchinson or Kevin McKenna or Lars Hirschfeld – players with less attacking flare who were key cogs in Canada’s national team setup for years.

“I personally like players who are clever away from the ball,” said FC Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus. “Do they understand space? Do they understand what it means to dominate possession and own the entire field? Do they understand their responsibility off the ball when defending? I’ll be looking at what they do away from the ball.”

In an interesting twist, hometown managers aren’t exactly going to welcome out-of-town rivals who are scouting talent in their communities.

“There are a few hotbeds (for Canadian talent) and I’m not going to tell you which ones they are,” Brennan said.

“We’re trying to protect our own area. But there is some fantastic talent across the country. It’s going to be a great opportunity across the board to see these kids, from all different ages, come out. This is the opportunity that everyone has been waiting for. Their time is coming.”

That’s not to say this will be the only “time.” In addition to offering some questionable fashion advice, Gale offered another thought before CPL clubs begin to define their rosters.

“It’s never the end of the road. It’s an opportunity, but not the last opportunity. Go embrace it, learn from it — good or bad,” Gale said. “The end result doesn’t define you.”