How ‘The Island Games’ will test the CPL’s ‘top four’ theory Virtual Newsroom debated the CPL top-four theory & more on its Island Games special episode. Watch in full here.

The Canadian Premier League unveiled its 2020 regular season plans on Wednesday, with all eight clubs set to descend on Prince Edward Island for a 35-match sprint to the CPL championship.

As you’ve seen, the format of The Island Games neatly whittles eight clubs down to four with a second group stage. This four-team stage fits nicely into a commonly-asked question this CPL off-season: Does the CPL have a top-four?

Who are these four sides, you ask? Well, it’s a simple combination of Finals 2019 participants Forge FC and Cavalry FC, with big off-season winners Pacific FC and York9 FC.

Y9 coach Jimmy Brennan has added loads of talent, with the signings of Chris Mannella, Michael Petrasso and Gabriel Vasconcelos turning heads. Similar additions have made Pacific a dark horse to win the shortened 2020 season: Marco Bustos, Alejandro Díaz, and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère chief amongst the newcomers.

RELATED READING: 2020 CPL regular season: The Island Games

As for Forge and Cavalry, they’ve kept their core pieces in place, a rare feat for first-year clubs. Plus, all four aforementioned clubs have been largely spared by the unfortunate circumstances regarding international players stranded abroad, with Cavalry the only club to lose players to a closed Canadian border.

OneSoccer’s Hangouts crew recently pegged the 2020 cream of the crop at three teams, with Kurt Larson saying the addition of Ryan Telfer made York9 an elite team in the CPL.

“There’s a top three in the league right now, and York9 has joined that group,” Larson argued.” It’s going to be difficult for other teams to break into that top three.”

But, with Pacific moving unscathed through the international player situation, and York losing Peruvian Adrian Ugarizza, an argument can be made that the CPL has a top four.

Chris Mannella. (Photo courtesy of York9 FC)
Chris Mannella. (Photo courtesy of York9 FC)

These four clubs are a tier above and their expectations for getting to the second group stage at The Island Games will be a minimum requirement. You can’t say that for rebuilding squads such as HFX Wanderers FC and Valour FC, expansion side Atlético Ottawa, or even FC Edmonton.

From that second round, it’s a foot race – that’s what makes this top four group so competitive. Any one of them could take those final two spots from a World Cup-style second group stage.

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

For supporters of the other four CPL clubs, reading this is likely infuriating. But the promise of a top-four is one that brings noteworthy, circle-your-calendar matches – and clubs such as Valour FC (just an example, no reason why we’re picking them specifically), a chance to nick a result off of a media favourite.

The popular rise of the English Premier League in the 2000s was predicated on its “top four” of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal. While media favoured these clubs, they also loved to see them fall. All four teams have had dull stretches in the past decade, some longer than others, each of which well-documented and fussed over.

This is all to say the CPL top four is a theory that could easily unravel in The Island Games’ truncated season. Ottawa, Edmonton, Valour, and HFX could have easily challenged for a playoff spot in a traditional six-month season, but a 35 match campaign leaves little time for new-look squads to build up to a late-season push.

You can’t argue this predicted cream of the crop of Forge, Cavalry, Pacific, and York9 is built for the here-and-now. This August and September is their chance to prove it.

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