By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Apr 22, 2019) US Soccer Players – The Canadian MLS clubs are soon going to have some company playing in an entirely different league. Canada is finally getting a national pro league, which starts at the end of this month, with the aim of popularizing the game to a national audience as well as help develop players.
It sounds a lot like when MLS launched back in 1996. Although Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, play in the US-based league, the Canadian Premier League has been in the works since June 2013 when a group of investors decided to go ahead with a strictly national league.
Agreeing to avoid putting teams in MLS markets, the CPL will feature seven teams stretching across the country. Only FC Edmonton predates the league. The remaining six clubs are new: Cavalry FC, Forge FC, HFX Wanderers FC, Pacific FC, Valour FC, and York 9 FC.
The league will kick off on April 27 when Forge FC host York 9 FC at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, about 40 miles south of Toronto. It’s worth noting that game will take place just two hours before and only 40 miles away from BMO Field where Toronto FC will host the Portland Timbers. Here are five other things you need to know about the CPL:
Regional derbies and traveling great distances
Even though most of the teams are new, the country’s geography will help create rivalries from the very start. The provinces of Alberta and Ontario each have two teams, while British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia each have one.
Both sets of clubs in the same province will feature rivalries: the “Al Classico” – the Al for Alberta in a play on words for the Spanish “El Clasico” – pits Cavalry FC and FC Edmonton. The 905 Derby between Forge FC and York 9 FC is named after the area code that each club shares. Canadian Premier League clubs will also travel long distances. Over 3600 miles separate Pacific FC and HFX Wanderers FC. It's a shorter distance flying from Toronto to London.
Ottawa City FC, which competes in the USL, considered moving to the CPL, but ultimately did not. The league is looking at expansion markets in places including St. John’s, Moncton, Quebec City, Mississauga, Regina, and Saskatoon.
Hybrid North American/European model
Like in Europe, teams will play each other home and away during the season with no playoffs. Even the name is reminiscent of England’s top flight. Like MLS, the season runs from April to October to avoid the cold winter. Unlike MLS, which features a single-entity model and teams are franchises, the CPL has a European model where teams are independent members with players under contract to each team.
There are financial obstacles to any new business venture. MLS went through some tough years in the early 2000s, contraction and a stretch of money-losing years before soccer-specific stadiums and expansion ushered in a new era of stability. CPL investors will need to remain patient and stay the course to make this work over the long term.
The good news is that the league already has some big-name sponsors on board. Italian sporting apparel company Macron has custom-made all the team’s uniforms. Volkswagen became a founding partner earlier this year.
Competition with MLS
The league – featuring the motto “For Canadians, by Canadians” isn’t aiming to compete with MLS. Instead, the CPL is looking to be in addition to it.
“We are committed to creating an authentic Canadian soccer experience and plan to connect with the millions of soccer-loving fans across the country,” CPL Commissioner David Clanachan said in a recent news release.
Since there are no plans by MLS to further expand into Canada, the new league comes at the right time. On its website, the league’s manifesto has the CPL “proving we belong. In the neighborhoods and cities that make us who we are. This is a league we can call our own.” The closest thing to that is the Canadian Soccer League, which dates back in various forms to 1926. That league features Toronto Croatia, which once played in the NASL. The CPL differs in that it stretches from coast-to-coast and has the sanctioning of the Canadian Soccer Association.
Stadiums old and new
While teams spent preseason training in the Dominican Republic, back in Canada a series of stadiums await to host games. The stadiums range in age from a new one (Wanderers Grounds in Halifax opened just last year) to one of Canada’s oldest (Clarke Stadium in Edmonton dates back to 1938). York 9 FC Stadium has plans to build a new stadium but hasn't released a timetable.
Some of the stadiums needed refurbishing with the league well aware of optics. The CPL chose to scale back the seating at larger venues to a capacity of 10,000 to potentially create a better atmosphere.
Developing young players a priority
The new league is all about developing young players. The idea is for clubs to find and nurture players plucked from their local markets. The aim is for Canada’s National Team to field a competitive roster in time for the 2026 World Cup.
That World Cup, co-hosted by the United States, Mexico, and Canada, is a real opportunity since its last appearance in 1986. For example, the Toronto metropolitan area, where soccer is popular, has a population of 1.3 million. York 9 FC will play in that market and hopes to capitalize on the potentially-deep pool of local talent.
The league has some strict rules regarding players. Overall, teams will have up to 23 players and only seven foreign nationals allowed on each. Six Canadians must be in each team’s starting lineup. Furthermore, a minimum of three domestic players on each roster must be under 21 and have to play a minimum of 1,000 combined minutes during the season.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- The MLS rivalries in the I-95 corridor
- The other Gold Cup seeds
- Soccer Tactics: What works for Ajax
- USMNT vs Chile in the 1988 Clasico International Cup
Logo courtesy of the Canadian Premier League