Showcase and growth: The Canadian Premier League’s aspirations

Guest writer Rocco Fasano sat with Canadian Premier League president Paul Beirne with all the hot questions about the new league that will feature maple leaf talent from coast-to-coast.

The memory of Canada at the World Cup is fading in the collective minds of the lovers of the beautiful game. The 1986 World Cup in Mexico helped Canada gain a spot in the biggest show on earth thanks to the additional berth created by the fact that the host country was a member of CONCACAF.  The story goes (so I’m told) that Canada was unable to score a single goal in a three-and-out tournament (one could hardly expect more from a debutant), but impressed by putting up a fight against France. Albeit losing that match by a single goal, the peak of Canadian glory was reached by hitting the woodwork during that match.

Since then, the abyss.

The advent of Major League Soccer (MLS) has hitherto been unable to create a Canadian team capable of challenging for a World Cup spot thanks in part to quirky rules that have not facilitated the growth of Canadian players. Famously, Canadians have been capped and counted as foreigners on American teams, while Americans count as domestic players on Canadian teams.

Having said that, Canadian soccer clubs have had their day in the sun: Toronto FC reached the apex of MLS glory in 2017, and grazed the foremost peak in CONCACAF club competition by losing the Champions League final on penalties. However, quality Canadian talent is barely beginning to break into Toronto FC’s starting 11 (most notably Osorio, Ricketts, and Chapman) and on Canadian MLS teams (Canada’s hope for the future, Alphonso Davies).

Canadian soccer consciousness is awash with stories of victories in small international tournaments (recently I’ve seen a York under-17 selection defeat their peers from none other than Juventus), but something’s amiss.

Canada is a developed country of 30 million. Sure, it’s not sun-kissed all year round (unless you live in Regina), but it has the resources (land, money) and infrastructures that are the envy of the world. Yet, it cannot produce a team that gets close to a World Cup berth, unlike a country such as Uruguay which has approximately 1/10 the population and 2% of the land mass.

It is perhaps these sentiments that led to the creation of a league for Canadians, by Canadians. The Canadian Premier League – after months of arduous work by a team led by resident Paul Beirne – is set to launch in the spring of 2019.

For far too long, many talented kids have dreamt of playing professional soccer in vain. With nowhere to go, their dreams have been dashed as the road to pro was a dead-end path. In some ways we have out-sourced our path to the professional game to other nations. Not anymore. – Paul Beirne, President, Canadian Premier League

So far we have seven clubs confirmed: the Halifax Wonderers, York 9 FC from Toronto, Forge FC from Hamilton, Cavarly FC from Calgary, Valour FC from Winnipeg, FC Edmonton and Pacific FC from Victoria, says Beirne.

The league is working hard to add another franchise in order to start a coast-to-coast league with eight clubs, and we “should expect a few more announcements in the coming weeks”, adds Beirne, with excitement.

What differentiates Canada from a country like the aforementioned Uruguay or Iceland is the issue of geographical sprawl. “It is just a fact of life that Canada is a big place and our population is very spread out.  This is why we need Canadian solutions to the uniqueness of Canada. From a competition perspective we will do what we can to minimize the impact of travel, but there is no question there will be a lot of air travel”, Beirne states.

North American sports are characterized by the divisions and conferences, which Beirne doesn’t exclude but admits “it is too early to say.  We certainly would prefer a balanced schedule and I think we’ll achieve that in our first year.  In the coming years the addition of clubs may have us focussing more on regional match-ups.”

What about infrastructure? New owners often fall prey to the “edifice complex” and will be looking to build anew, which entails municipal investment and, in turn, public reaction. Beirne’s not worried: “One of our biggest unique Canadian challenges is infrastructure.  We are building a new facility in Halifax and enhancing some facilities in Calgary and York. Each community presents a different set of challenges and opportunities.  We will tackle them with the help of those communities as they come”.

Over the coming months, questions about salary caps, revenue sharing and foreign player caps are all to be defined. Beirne assures that “The CPL will feature a mix of domestic and international players”, which dispels the myth of a league with Canadian-only talent.

Beirne praises the work of soccer operations team lead James Easton who is establishing links to soccer schools and academies to be worked into the CPL’s fabric and ensure that Canadian soccer talent is given a fertile ground to grow, “the feedback has been amazing across the country – everyone if very keen to build a viable soccer economy that will elevate the game in this country for generations to come”.

Curious soccer aficionados are looking forward to catching the action but will have to wait a little while as it’s too early to have the television rights conversation, but the plan is to ensure that all CPL games will be available to Canadians.

Beirne leaves off with a message to the Canadian soccer-loving community The time has arrived for Canadian soccer supporters, players, coaches and everyone in the game who’ve long dreamt for a league to call our own. The Canadian Premier League will be the main stage for our very best to compete for the right to represent the Maple Leaf. All while elevating the standard of play across all levels of the game and building the player pool for our national teams”.

With the hope that this fulfills the dream of Canadian children growing up right now, and culminates in the dream of every fan of the beautiful game in Canada: making Canada a staple at the FIFA World Cup.

Rocco Fasano has been an avid follower of Italian football for 30 years. He learned to play and fell in love with the beautiful game in the idle streets on the periphery of a southern Italian town, where children use stones as goalposts. Rocco recently launched his Serie A Game of The Week on YouTube and has contributed over 500 pieces to Italian Football Daily and From The Touchline. You may follow him on Twitter at @CatenaccioNA.

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