The full 2023 Canadian Premier League schedule came out on Monday, which means fans across the country have begun poring over their team’s fixtures, circling dates to see the most exciting clashes and perhaps planning an away day or two.
With 112 games total set to be played in this regular season between April 14 and Oct. 7, plenty of storylines with surely emerge throughout the year as each side rises and falls across various runs of form.
Although we don’t yet know which teams will set themselves apart from the rest, and which opponents are certain to be the most daunting, there’s plenty to learn from the initial schedule reveal. We at CanPL.ca have broken down the fixture list for all eight clubs to try and identify the big pivot points, the most difficult stretches, and the moments that could make or break a season.
Thanks to the temperate west coast climate in Langford and the well-kept turf pitch at Starlight Stadium, Pacific have no problem playing at home in the early stages of the season. So, the first half of the Tridents’ season may be a little bit more forgiving travel-wise than the second.
Pacific play their first three matches at home — also, four of their first five, and nine of their first 13. Their first trio of home games won’t be easy — facing a revved-up Vancouver FC for the expansion side’s first-ever game, followed by CPL semifinalists Cavalry and champions Forge. Still, being able to get into the rhythm of a season while playing mostly in familiar digs could be useful to James Merriman’s side.
In late June and early July, the Tridents have a four-game homestand where they’ll take on York United, Valour, Atlético Ottawa, and Cavalry in a stretch that could certainly put the Van Isle club in strong shape heading into the back half of the year. Indeed, there’s probably some pressure on Pacific to make the best of their early home games, because their unforgiving travel schedule later in the year will make it hard to recover lost ground. Four of their final five matches are on the road, with a three-game swing through Ontario followed by one last home game, then a trip to Cavalry to end the regular season.
The early going will be difficult for Vancouver in their inaugural season, as the club opens the campaign with three straight on the road — at Pacific, York, and Halifax.
Not long after that, the expansion side will play all four 2022 playoff teams consecutively — June 2 vs. Pacific, June 11 at Cavalry, June 17 at Atlético Ottawa, and then home vs. Forge just three days later on June 20. The latter fixture will be particularly tough, as they play the regular season champions on the road then travel across the country to Vancouver to take on the playoff champs on short rest.
That all said, a difficult early schedule means VFC might be able to surge later in the year. Considering they’re a brand-new club who will still be figuring out their on-field identity under coach Afshin Ghotbi, if things start coming together after a few months then they’ll have a lot of time at home in the final stretch to perhaps make a push up the table. Their final two matches of 2023 will keep them in B.C., with a contest at Pacific followed by a home game, which could be welcome news.
The Cavs could be well poised to make a very late push up the table for a spot or two, with three of their last four games coming at home. They’ll end the campaign with a pair of fixtures at ATCO Field against Valour and Pacific, two teams who could very well be vying with the Cavs for position in the standings.
Perhaps the toughest section of the year for Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s squad could be in late August and early September, where they’ll play the other three playoff teams from last season one after the other — Pacific at home, followed by trips to both Atlético Ottawa and Forge.
They won’t (or maybe they will?) be relishing that trip to Hamilton; it’s the place their 2022 season ended, and it’s where their 2023 season will begin on April 15. They haven’t traditionally had the best luck at Tim Hortons Field, winning there just twice out of nine trips — and not since 2021. Still, that’ll be fuel for the Calgary side, who are desperate to at last get the upper hand against the Hammers this year.
The Cavs also get to play in this year’s Canada Day match, when they head to IG Field to play Valour in what’s sure to be an entertaining matinee in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg club’s schedule makes good use of the limited warm weather months in Manitoba, as Valour play eight home games in June, July, and August — joint-most in the league (alongside the two clubs with grass pitches, Cavalry and Halifax).
The home opener at IG Field on April 22 could be a chilly one — as could Valour’s final game of the regular season on Oct. 6. Mostly, though, opposing teams will be travelling to Winnipeg in the summer. That means Phillip Dos Santos’ team might have a chance to carve out its identity in the middle of the season and turn IG Field into a consistently tough place for opponents to play — which wasn’t always the case in 2022.
Valour play just two midweek league matches this year, and both should be manageable. The first is a trip to Pacific on Wednesday, June 21, but they play at home on the Friday before that and the Sunday after, which should give them one extra day either side to travel and prepare. Similarly, they play Vancouver at home on Sept. 20, a few days after hosting Forge on the prior Sunday (so no travel in between), and they’re off to Ottawa on Sunday, Sept. 24 — again, a four-day turnaround rather than three.
Photo Credit: Valour FC/Josh Kjarsgaard
Perhaps the most notable thing for Forge’s schedule this year: Friday night matches. The defending champions play seven matches on Fridays in 2023, including three at Tim Hortons Field and four on the road (one each at York, Valour, Pacific, and Cavalry). The Hammers didn’t host a single Friday night game in 2022, so that trio of fixtures will be new for fans in Hamilton.
Forge also won’t be playing nearly as many scorching matinees as they did last season; of their 14 home games, 10 will kick off at 6 or 7 p.m. ET, with the rest all 4 p.m. starts — and none of those are in the summer months, so fans and players alike will not find themselves roasting on the hot Tim Hortons Field turf this year.
The Hammers will make their first return to Ottawa on May 27 for a 2022 CPL Final rematch, where they’ll hope to relive the 2-0 victory that gave them a third North Star Shield last October. This season’s first 905 Derby will come early, as Forge visit York Lions Stadium on May 5, and they’ll host the Nine Stripes later that same month on May 31.
York United FC
The Nine Stripes have made some major changes to their squad this year, especially in midfield, in large part by finding talent from elsewhere in the Canadian Premier League. A byproduct of that strategy is it’ll feel like almost every week a player is returning to his former digs — Brian Wright is back in Ottawa on May 5, followed by Matthew Baldisimo at Pacific on May 14 and Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé in Halifax on May 20. Elijah Adekugbe, however, doesn’t return to Cavalry until June 24 — he’s the latest of quite a long line of players (and coaches) to swap Calgary for York.
A few more significant things do stand out about York’s fixture list. That week of May 14-20, where they play on Vancouver Island on Sunday before a cross-country trip to Halifax the following weekend, will be the club’s first major trip of the year — three of their first four games are at home, and the fourth is in Ottawa. Expect that week to be a major test for Martin Nash’s side.
The Nine Stripes will have a few tough stretches, especially in the summer — a three-game road swing against playoff sides Ottawa, Hamilton, and Calgary in mid-August is perhaps the toughest. Mercifully, though, the Nine Stripes will have a four-game homestand from Sept. 8 to Oct. 1 toward the end of their campaign before one final regular season contest at Vancouver FC on Oct. 6.
The 2022 regular season champions will have their work cut out for them trying to defend that title. Atleti kick things off at home and get three of their first four at TD Place, with their home matches perhaps slightly more frequent in the early stages of the season than the end.
Carlos González’s squad finish the year with a pair of Ontario away games, heading to York United on Oct. 1 then finishing up with a 2022 CPL Final rematch against Forge on Oct. 7.
Ottawa open the season against Halifax, against whom they went 4-0 in 2022, though the Wanderers look to be much improved heading into 2023 under Patrice Gheisar. The last team to visit the capital this year will be Cavalry — who began their 2022 season there — as the Alberta side doesn’t play in Ottawa until July 29, by which time they’ll have already hosted Atleti twice.
Halifax Wanderers FC
The Wanderers Grounds are one of the most boisterous places to play in the CPL, and it’ll make plenty of appearances down the homestretch of the 2023 campaign. Halifax play at home in nine of their last 15 games, with four matches in the Maritimes in September alone.
That said, the beginning of that month will not be easy for Patrice Gheisar’s team. They’ve got a stretch of three games in nine days — home versus York on Monday, Sept. 4, followed by a trip to Pacific on Friday, Sept. 8, and concluding with another home match against Cavalry the following Tuesday. That’s the kind of run where they may be expected to slip up somewhat — so, if they manage to bank points and win at least two, they could be in a very strong position heading into the final few weeks.
Halifax will also play host to a pair of holiday Monday matinee matches which have been so memorable in past years. They host Pacific on Natal Day (Aug. 7), and York on Labour Day in what seems to be developing into a CPL tradition to kick off September.