CPL and MLS: The growing relationship with Canadian MLS teams

CF Montreal defender Joel Waterman who played in both CPL and MLS on April 30, 2022
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ANALYSIS – The CPL and MLS are pro leagues that have started to change the culture of soccer within their countries. MLS’s first season happened in 1995, on the back end of hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup. This is while CPL’s first season was in 2019, seven years before Canada co-hosts the 2026 FIFA World Cup with the U.S. and Mexico.

CPL and MLS: Where the relationship currently sits between the two leagues

The relationship between CPL and MLS in general needs to improve. However, the relationship between CPL and the three Canadian MLS teams is on a much stronger footing.

CPL and Canadian MLS teams

CF Montreal

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CF Montreal has been looking at CPL carefully and has taken players from the league. One example is Joel Waterman. Waterman played for Cavalry FC in 2019, which helped the defender and midfielder transition into MLS. He has played with Montreal since 2020, and he is now starting in most of those games. According to Marty Thompson, Digital Content Editor of the Canadian Premier League, Waterman became the first-ever CPL player to transition into an MLS team. This MLS team was CF Montreal in 2020. He scored his first goal on May 9, 2022, against Orlando City SC in a 4-1 win.

The closest CF Montreal lost to a CPL side was last year. Forge FC, then two-time defending North Star Shield champions, were the better team. However, the team from Hamilton was not able to capitalize and Montreal won that game in penalties and eventually the Voyageurs Cup in 2020.

Toronto FC

TFC has started looking for players from the Canadian Premier League. This has never been more evident than this year. The addition of Kadin Chung and Lukas MacNaughton from North Star Shield champions, Pacific FC, shows that they are looking at CPL closely.

While it has not been a consistent run for both players, they are having some good games for TFC. In particular, MacNaughton is having a big year for Toronto, regularly starting in the Starting XI as both have made some positive plays on the defensive end. This included Kadin Chung, in an MLS game, as he made a great defensive play to prevent FC Cincinnati’s Barreal to pass the ball into a dangerous area in Toronto’s box.

Yes, these players are also having some tough games with TFC. However, the fact that one of those players is getting regular minutes on an MLS team and the other also getting some playing time shows that CPL has a great future.

TFC has been getting a lot of experience playing against CPL teams on the road. They are finding out that they cannot just go there and get the win, they have to earn it. This could not be more true than in the 2020 Canadian Championship Final against Forge FC. Truth be told, Hamilton was the better team on that day. However, some missed chances by Hamilton and a stellar performance by Quentin Westberg gave TFC their eighth Voyageurs Cup.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

The Whitecaps were helped by the Canadian Premier League and specifically York United FC. This was when Vancouver had a goalkeeper shortage because of injuries. So, Vancouver signed York player, Niko Giantsopoulos, to a two-day deal on May 21 according to the Canadian Press.

β€œWe are very thankful to York, especially Niko, head coach Martin Nash, and general manager Angus McNab,” said Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster. “It is great to see Canadian clubs stand together and we are also grateful to our colleagues at the Canadian Premier League and Canada Soccer for their help.”

Vancouver is the only one of the three MLS teams to be eliminated by a CPL team in the Canadian Championship. In 2019, they were eliminated by Cavalry FC and in 2021, they were eliminated by provincial rivals, Pacific FC.

Canadian Premier League

This is what David Clanachan (then commissioner of the CPL) said at a CPL Finals media conference, where he comments on loans between CPL and Canadian MLS teams. This question seen in the Canadian Premier League youtube account came from Tristan D’Amours,

β€œAnd so yeah there’s no doubt I mean the MLS teams are, you know, we’ve had good conversations with them, not necessarily about this is only one topic our relationship with them I think is better than it’s ever been not that we didn’t have we had a bad relationship or we didn’t have a relationship right so, but we’re more we’re more connected as opposed to the MLS league in the united states we’re more connected to the three (Canadian teams) teams and so we have good conversations with him as you know but whether it be Bill Manning, Axel uh or even you know Joey Saputo and Kevin when Kevin was there.”

Players being loaned from MLS to CPL

Clanachan also stated that the limit for loans from MLS to CPL sides is five players. This allows players who may not get much playing time in MLS to get some playing time with CPL sides. One example from Montreal is goalkeeper James Pantemis. Pantemis got playing time with Valour FC in 2020 in the Island Games. He played seven games for Valour FC while only playing three for CF Montreal within the same year.

Pantemis then took a leap in 2021, where he was one of the best players for the Can-U23 team in the 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament. He also played 18 games as goalkeeper of CF Montreal in 2021. Another example was Ryan Telfer, he scored the first-ever goal for York9 FC (now York United FC). Telfer scored nine goals in 28 games for York9 FC in 2019. He also scored the first-ever goal in CPL history against Forge FC for York via loan from Toronto FC.

For Vancouver, Kamron Habibullah has recently been loaned from the Vancouver Whitecaps FC to defending North Star Shield champions, Pacific FC. This is according to Charlie O’Connor Clarke, Digital Content Editor of the Canadian Premier League. Habibullah has played in the Whitecaps’ youth system. In 2021, he played as a sub three times for the Whitecaps. Right now, he has played seven games for Pacific FC, but has not scored yet as of this article was published.

Analysis and other transactions

Pa Modou-Kah, former head coach of Pacific FC, who led them to the North Star Shield last year, is now coaching for FC Dallas’s farm team, North Texas SC.

This move shows that MLS is watching CPL and the growth of the league. If CPL improves more, American MLS teams might take a closer look at the Canadian Premier League. Also, CPL teams have shown they can be competitive against MLS teams. This includes Vancouver being eliminated in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian Championships by CPL teams. Lastly, Forge FC was the first-ever CPL side to make the Concacaf Champions League this year. All of these accomplishments are going to continue to pile up and eventually make the CanMNT and its youth teams get stronger in the Concacaf and international scene of soccer.