It’s that time of year.
We’re in the final stretch of December, which means CanPL.ca is ready to look back at the previous 12 months, and examine how the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural season played out on the pitch. But we aren’t the only ones who are in a reflective mood. Our friends over at OneSoccer are just as nostalgic, as they picked out the best performers from the Canadian Premier League this past year.
So, without further ado, below is OneSoccer’s list of the top 50 CPL players of the 2019 season.
Who else could it possibly be? The Toronto native enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2019, winning the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer (he also scored the winner in Leg 1 of Finals 2019) and helping Forge win the North Star Shield. Borges also claimed the Best Player and Best Canadian Under-21 Player honours at last month’s CPL Awards ceremony, so really, this is no-brainer.
2. Kyle Bekker (Forge FC) – 4 goals, 5 assists, 28 games played, 2444 minutes
The Forge captain was a true workhorse, playing in all 28 matches and establishing himself as one of the CPL’s best playmakers. Borges garnered most of the headlines in the Hammer, but Bekker, a Canadian international, was just as an influential figure in helping Forge win the North Star Shield. He was also a finalist for the Player of the Year award.
If there was a CPL award for Defender of the Year, he probably would have won it. Zator was a stud centre back for his hometown club, anchoring a Cavalry defence that conceded the fewest goals (19) in the league over both seasons. John Herdman took notice of his stellar play, as Zator earned his first call-up to the Canadian men’s team.
The German was a stats nut’s dream in 2019. According to Sportlogiq, he was the best in the league at passing under pressure, and he was generally among the CPL’s elite midfielders in every category for passing and defensive actions. At times an underrated part of Cavalry’s success, Büscher really pulled the strings in their midfield.
Krutzen was one of the best centre backs – if not the best – in the CPL this season. The classy Belgian was a mainstay in Forge’s back line, playing with a number of partners in the middle throughout the year. He barely put a foot wrong in marshalling Forge’s defence, and played a major role in guiding the Hamilton club to a CPL championship.
Malonga was a key cog in Cavalry’s run towards winning both the Spring and Fall campaigns. He finished tied with Terran Campbell for second place in the Golden Boot race, and was a finalist for the CPL Player of the Year. No forward generated chances the way Malonga did, whether through clever movement, hold-up play or breaking lines. The Congolese striker led the league in shots and shots on target per 90 minutes, too.
Trafford was the best left-footed centre back in the league. The veteran filed the role exceptionally well, leading the CPL’s best defence as one of the smartest positional minds out there. Trafford, largely sitting deep, was a defensive wall that few attacking units managed to break down.
Cavalry’s goalkeeper was one of the league’s biggest success stories in 2019: The first CPLer called up to the Canadian men’s national team, a league-leading nine clean sheets and the winner of the Golden Glove – as well as taking home the VW Premier Performer. The 23-year-old put his stamp on a sensational campaign with a wicked penalty stop in Leg 1 of Finals 2019.
This 23-year-old Winnipeg native was easily the most electric Valour player in 2019, and probably one of the most entertaining players in the CPL. His year will be best remembered for the 20-yard stunner he scored 30 seconds into a game at Tim Hortons Field, but he was worth the price of admission every day.
Forge’s pacy winger surges high after an immaculate Finals 2019. Nanco took more shots and completed more line-breaking passes in the final third than any other player over those two matches. He also set up Tristan Borges’ Leg 1 winner with a lovely piece of skill. One of Forge’s first signings showed leadership throughout the campaign.
Breaking down #11-20 in OneSoccer’s Top 50 List
On loan from Toronto FC, Telfer was an attacking dynamo for York9 with his goal-scoring ability, turn of pace, and ability to play a number of different positions. He proved to be tough for opposing defenders to contain at times, and finished off a remarkable year of personal growth in the CPL by earning his first caps for Trinidad and Tobago’s national team.
Who would’ve thought that an unknown quantity would make such an impact in his first pro year? Coming out of League1 Ontario, Doner introduced himself as a dynamic, attack-minded player with pace and skill, and he won the right fullback spot in both the CPL Fan Awards team of the year and CanPL.ca’s unofficial best XI, for good reason.
Cavalry’s diminutive attacker proved to be one of the hardest players to mark in the CPL, when healthy. Still, half-a-dozen goals and a couple of assists is a good return for the minutes he played. Running at defences from deep, Camargo pulled defenders all over the pitch in 2019, helping fellow attackers Dominique Malonga and Nico Pasquotti to find space.
When Michael Petrasso finally got up to speed after his injury problems, he proved an absolute force on the wing for Valour. A fine distributor of the ball, the former Queens Park Rangers man set up countless chances – indicative of his five assists.
Mr. Reliable. Samuel could be found anywhere across the Forge backline in 2019 and was stellar in each spot. Rarely did the physical defender look out of place, including in Leg 2 of Finals 2019 when Samuel created an impenetrable wall able to swat just about anything Cavalry threw his way.
Esua was voted FCE’s Player of the Year by the coaching staff and his teammates. The 23-year-old right fullback from Cameroon firmly established himself as a regular starter for the club, and one of the best international players in the league.
Although he struggled with injury, the Senegalese midfielder was a key piece in Forge’s title-winning midfield. He posted passing accuracy numbers above 90 per cent on an almost weekly basis, and he was also defensively reliable, often serving as the link between the defence and Kyle Bekker further upfield.
Campbell, 21, came out of nowhere to take the league by storm, becoming the first CPL player to hit double digits in goals, ending the season with 11, and being nominated for Best Under-21 Canadian Player. The former Whitecaps FC 2 product was in the hunt for the inaugural Golden Boot alongside Tristan Borges and Dominique Malonga right until the end of the season.
One of many Year 1 surprises, Pasquotti used his non-stop physicality on the wing to cause opposing teams plenty of problems. The Cavs wide man never let opponents sleep, completing the most dribbles (59) on his team while setting up several chances with his quick feet or with his dangerous long throw.
Like Elimane Cisse, Achinioti-Jonsson dealt with injuries in the Fall season, but Forge was always much better off with him involved. The Swede was more of an out-and-out defensive midfielder, constantly cutting off passes (his 43 interceptions was eighth-best in the CPL, and more than any other full-time midfielder).
Breaking down #21-30 in OneSoccer’s Top 50 List
21. Peter Schaale (HFX Wanderers FC) – 1 goal, 1 assist, 17 games played, 1530 minutes
A solid centre back who ably anchored Wanders’ defence despite a lack of experience. Schaale made his pro debut in the Wanderers’ inaugural match in April and went on to make 21 appearances, including a number of games where he wore the captain’s armband, before returning to U SPORTS with Cape Breton in the summer.
The Trinidadian international was one of the few bright spots for a Wanderers side that finished last in the overall league standings in 2019. He scored a team-high seven goals for HFX in league action, and added one goal in four Canadian Championship appearances.
The Alberta native was the heart and soul of a Cavalry side that dominated the regular season. Ledgerwood demonstrated why he was a trusted member of Canada’s national team for many years with his poised and polished performances in the Cavs midfield, playing a starring role in the team’s run to winning both the Spring and Fall titles.
Arguably the best midfield general in the CPL, Beland-Goyette exceeded in all facets as a central anchor. The former Montreal Impact player stood out on a sometimes mediocre team, finishing in the top 10-per cent of all CPL midfielders in tackles, key passes and line-breaking passes according to SportLogiq.
Edgar had to be the best mid-season pickup, as the 32-year-old was exactly what the doctor ordered for a Forge team that showed cracks in defence to start the season. Without Edgar, Forge is not winning Finals 2019 – his second leg showing was outstanding and worthy of man of the match honours.
Didic was the perfect match of physicality and technical ability for the Eddies. At six-foot-six, he was hard to get around as a centre back. Good in the tackle and some impressive passing range. Makes sense why John Herdman called up the 24-year-old to the Canada squad.
Gasparotto, a 24-year-old centre back, played every minute of the 2019 regular season (2,520 minutes in total). He even featured in all six of York9’s Canadian Championship outings, captaining the side on occasion. No wonder, then, that he earned the nickname “ironman.”
The goalkeeper earned a Golden Glove nod after recording seven clean sheets across 22 starts for his hometown club in 2019. James, 23, was selected seventh overall in last year’s CPL-U SPORTS Draft.
29. Ben Fisk (Pacific FC) – 6 goals, 5 assists, 24 games played, 1663 minutes
It seemed that, after years of turbulence, Fisk found a place to flourish on Vancouver Island. He was one of the faces of Pacific FC in 2019, and one of the club’s most vocal leaders, as well as a productive attacker. He wore the captain’s armband a few times for the side, and he was well deserving of the honour.
Ongaro, a 21-year-old native of Edmonton, enjoyed a breakout 2019 campaign with his hometown club by tallying a team-high 10 goals, which was good enough to finish fourth in the league’s overall scoring race. One to watch in 2020.
Breaking down #31-40 in OneSoccer’s Top 50 List
Like his fullback partner Morey Doner, Abzi was impressive in his first year as a professional. He was one of the best one-on-one defenders in the CPL, burning his opposite number with pace and some slick touches on the ball. He was always fast enough to get back defensively, too, contributing more than his fair share of interceptions and tackles.
A thorn in just about everyone’s backside, Cavalry’s live wire winger “earned” fouls left and right, beat players for speed, and played the odd cheeky ball for teammates. It helped that he backed up that play with a nose for goal: a pair of curling efforts at Spruce Meadows come to mind.
Novak swooped in and took Forge by storm after Emery Welshman’s transfer in August. He was a standout attacker, whether with his back to goal or charging forward, with a good goals-per-minute rate. Must be those breakfast sausages.
Playing over 2,000 minutes as an under-21 is no small feat. Pacific FC’s inaugural signing gave no reason for coaching staff to doubt his abilities as a quick right fullback. Good on the overlap, and more than capable of snuffing out attacks that drifted to his side.
Arnone, 25, lead HFX in minutes played this season as a centre back, scoring two goals and winning the supporters’ Player of the Year award.
Where would York9 have been in 2019 without Gattas? The Chilean was the club’s top scorer and most lethal attacking threat, especially during the Fall season when he went on a tear by scoring seven goals.
Rampersad, 24, was a regular starter as HFX’s go-to box-to-box midfielder this season and was one of the club’s most consistent performers. Largely went unnoticed on a last-place team.
The diminutive midfielder was named York’s captain and went on to make 31 appearances in all competitions, scoring two goals and tallying a pair of assists along the way. One of his goals was even mentioned on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Night.
Earning a spot in Halifax via the Got Game Open Trials, Iida was an entertaining player for the Wanderers. He didn’t get into the lineup as much as fans might’ve liked, with injuries setting him back, but whenever the Japanese midfielder saw the field he showed flashes of top-level skill with the ball.
The versatile Brazilian attacker was so good for Cavalry in the Fall that he unseated Sergio Camargo for a starting role in Leg 1 of Finals 2019. He produced many memorable moments for the Cavs, including a pair of goals in the 8-0 win over Valour. Minatel was an exciting creative player who Cavalry will be happy to have back in 2020.
Breaking down #41-50 in OneSoccer’s Top 50 List
FC Edmonton’s raging bull of a forward makes the list after a solid campaign. The Belgian displayed great pace as a direct forward, making him hard to handle early on (his four-goal Spring campaign shows this) as teams tried to combat his speed. He was good for a spectacular goal, too.
Potentially the fastest man in the CPL Year 1, Bona gave Wanderers fans plenty of chances to see his speed across 25 appearances, mostly at right fullback. Bona was incredibly solid in defence, too, cutting an imposing figure with a knack for winning balls in the air and on the ground.
Cavalry had a wealth of centre backs in 2019, but Waterman turned heads with his consistency. He could move the ball better than his fellow defenders, with more of an attacking instinct that saw him deployed when such a mindset was called for, especially with the likes of Mason Trafford able to cover defensively.
Another member of the CPL Fan Awards team of the year, Adekugbe was the definition of depth for the Cavs. He was a rock-solid defensive presence in midfield, rarely (if ever) beaten one-on-one, and he was extremely composed with the ball at his feet, even under pressure.
Versatility was Frano’s strength in Year 1 of the CPL. At right fullback or in several midfield roles, the 26-year-old was always plugging the right hole as a technically gifted and smart defensive player – with a decent delivery off free kicks as well. An underrated talent on the CPL Champions.
Awuah’s 2019 might be best remembered for the way he and Chris Nanco dominated the left flank in Leg 1 of Finals 2019 at Tim Hortons Field, completely overwhelming Dominick Zator and Nico Pasquotti. Awuah was able to slot in at left fullback or in midfield for Forge, making him a very useful, versatile player with a ton of attacking upside.
York9 FC’s inaugural signing provided much-needed service in Year 1. An experienced winger, Porter led his side in assists (four) while having the fifth-most touches in the opposing box (54) across the season.
Cavalry’s bombarding attacker makes the top 50 as a physical presence that imposed himself 31 times across all competitions. As a winger or out-and-out striker, the Englishman was a handful against many sides – including the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place.
49. Triston Henry (Forge FC) – 9 clean sheets, 55 saves, 22 games played, 1980 minutes
Henry, a 26-year-old native of Scarborough, Ont., finished tied with Cavalry’s Marco Carducci for most clean sheets in the league, and he impressively posted shutouts in both legs of Finals 2019, backstopping Forge to the CPL Championship.
A second round pick from the 2018 CPL-U SPORTS Draft, Verhoven (a 21-year-old from Burnaby, B.C.) offered Pacific a sturdy presence in midfield in both the CPL and Canadian Championship during his first season as a professional.