Canadian Premier League Gears Up for Its Second Season
Following a Prolonged COVID-19 Absence, the Canadian Premier League Gets The Ball Rolling With Island Games Tournament
Canadian Premier League teams and their fans put months of anticipation behind as the league resumed on August 13 with The Island Games, a sequestered three-stage tournament that will decide this season’s CPL champions.
All personnel participating in the tournament – players, coaches, and other staff – were quarantined for two weeks in their home cities before the tournament. The teams traveled to Charlottetown via a charter and will be housed in a bubble at the Delta Prince Edward.
While “The Island Games” sounds like a 90s action movie centred around a winner-take-all battle royale on a tropical island, these games will take place on the much more temperate Prince Edward Island. All matches will be played in Charlottetown on the University of PEI Artificial Turf Field behind closed doors.
The addition of the Atletico Madrid owned team, Atletico Ottawa, to the league’s inaugural seven teams meant this season’s format was always going to be different. With eight teams, the split spring and fall season model of 2019 was scrapped in favour of a single round-robin league. COVID-19 will make this year’s format even more different than initially anticipated.
All eight teams will play each other once in the first round. Subsequently, the top four teams from that round will advance to a six match group stage. The top ranking teams in round two will face off in a single match final to determine this season’s champions.
The season began with a rematch of last year’s final, with Calgary’s Cavalry FC facing off against defending champions Forge FC of Hamilton in an action-filled 2-2 draw.
Last season’s finalists were the teams to beat, finishing far ahead of the pack with 62 (Cavalry) and 56 (Forge) points respectively in the regular season, while third placed York9 trailed 22 points behind. Teams will be eager to prove in PEI they have closed that gap.
Victoria’s Pacific FC brought in new head coach Pa Modou Kah. York9 made significant additions to their coaching staff and analytics department.
Winnipeg’s Valour FC, which conceded a league-high 52 goals last season, have a new defensive core with experienced internationals Arnold Bouka Motou and Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
Other teams have strengthened their squads, many with help from the CPL’s unique partnership with data and analytics group 21st Club. The group created a database of young international players, and the CPL hopes this can help it cast a wider scouting net and raise the quality of the league’s international contingent.
Atletico Ottawa remains a wildcard. The lack of a preseason meant fans were unable to see them play before their opener against York9 on Aug. 15. On paper, the squad is a good mix of experienced international players, CPL standouts, MLS loanees, and youngsters, but it is difficult to project what the team will look like on the field, especially in Miguel “Mista” Ferrer’s first-ever stint as a head coach.
Eliminating travel could also be a boost for teams like Halifax’s HFX Wanderers, who often had to deal with long away trips due to their location.
All this, combined with the shortened schedule for the tournament, could see some shuffling of last year’s established order.
Canadians can catch a glimpse of this action on CBC TV and the CBC Gem app which will air some weekend games. All matches are also available on the OneSoccer streaming service.