EDITORIAL – The Canadian Premier League (CPL) isn’t the first time Canada has tried to launch its own national football league. In fact, the plans for creating the CPL were first put in place shortly after the closure of the ill-fated Canadian Soccer League in 1992.
Lessons Learned From the First CPL Season
However, after the end of the first season of the CPL, it does look set to be the most successful attempt to create a Canadian league that would rival the soccer leagues of the USA and Europe.
In this article, we’ll be looking at the lessons learned from the first season of the CPL.
A Short League Is Not a Bad League
One of the criticisms leveled against the Canadian Premier League was the fact that its first season would only have seven teams playing. This was significantly less than the most popular football leagues around the world, with there being 20 teams in the English Premier League, 18 in the German Bundesliga and 35 in America’s United Soccer League.
What quickly became apparent was that this smaller number of teams made the CPL both faster and more dynamic, with the league feeling less drawn out than the USL and, with so few teams, each match feeling tight and important.
The fan reaction that this smaller league was able to attract fits into a wider movement in sport and entertainment of creating small, faster paced versions of traditional sports and games.
The popularity of Rugby Sevens, 20/20 Cricket, Short Hockey, the establishment of a UEFA Futsal Champions League, and even the rapid-fire excitement of Pokerstar’s Zoom tournaments show that there is definitely a market for shorter punchier sporting and gaming events.
That being said, there is a desire to grow the league, with league commissioner David Clanachan repeatedly reaffirming his ambition to have more clubs join the league to allow for promotion and relegation.
In fact, in February it was announced that Atlético Ottawa would be joining the league as the 8th club. The Atlético part of the club’s name comes from the fact that they are owned by the Spanish football club Atlético Madrid.
There Is Plenty of Untapped Canadian Talent
One of the primary motivations for creating the CPL was to nurture Canadian talent, while giving players the opportunity to play the highest level without needing to go abroad. The first season seems to indicate that the teams in the CPL are doing just that.
Players like Diyaeddine Abzi, Easton Ongaro, and Tyler Attardo all made a name for themselves this season and are all under 21 years old.
Tristan Borges is a great example of the kind of talent that the CPL has given the chance to flourish. The 21-year-old moved back from Holland, where he was playing for Dutch Eredivisie club SC Heerenveen’s Under-21 team, to sign for Canadian Premier League side Forge FC.
Borges brilliant play during this first season led to him winning the CPL Player of the Year, best Canadian U-21 player, the Golden Boot for most goals scored, and tying for most assists during the season.
In fact, under-21 players were the key to the success of Pacific FC, better known as the Tridents. They gave 14,322 minutes to their youngest players during the 2019 season and were rewarded with 11 goals from Terran Campbell and consistently excellent play from Kadin Chung, Noah Verhoeven and Zach Verhoven.
Traditions Are Quick to Build
One of the best signs that a league is here to stay is the building of the traditions that mark it out from the other leagues around the world. Established leagues like the English Premier League and the United Soccer League are already a mass of rivalries and fan tradition, but after just a year, these are starting to appear in the CPL.
The Cavalry FC and FC Edmonton rivalry, jokingly referred to as the Al Classico, now has its own supporter-created, supporter-funded, and supporter-led award in the form of the Wildrose Cup.
There are even a pair of Pacific FC fans that rode almost 5,000 kilometers across five provinces to watch every match of the Canadian Premier League’s first full month. With that kind of dedication in both fans and team, the CPL looks like it might have a very bright future indeed.