As we continue winding through CPL Season One, it’s become clear that the league isn’t — and never was — about “just one thing”.
It’s not just about developing young Canadians, or giving Canadian coaches a chance to prove themselves, or giving fans in more cities the opportunity to see pro soccer, or building new rivalries, or establishing Canada’s place in CONCACAF competitions. It is, at varying times and to varying degrees, about all these things and more.
With that in mind, allow me to send this week’s wonders off in varying directions all at once.
How good of a juggler is Tommy Wheeldon Jr.?
We’re about to find out, as Cavalry FC has its decisive second leg of the Canadian Championship semifinals against the Montreal Impact tonight—and then, less than 48 hours later, hosts a provincial derby against FC Edmonton, with first place in the Fall standings hanging in the balance.
Depth is one of the Calgary side’s many strengths, but how on earth does Wheeldon go about prioritizing it all? Cavalry has to score against Montreal to advance, but with Ignacio Piatti on the field for the Impact, defending will be a tough task as well.
The Cavs failed to score in league action last Saturday, a 0-0 draw in Halifax, while the Eddies are in the ascendancy, undefeated in four games and riding a hot streak from 21-year-old Easton Ongaro, who has four goals in their last three games.
Cavalry have been the CPL standard-bearers since the word “go”—the next three days will go a long way in determining whether that perception persists.
Who saw that coming from Valour?
Bianca Andreescu wasn’t the only one pulling off a big, unexpected result on the campus of York University this past Saturday — Valour denied the Nine Stripes the chance to go top of the Fall standings with a 2-0 road win, just six days after a demoralizing home loss to HFX Wanderers in which captain Jordan Murrell was ignominiously sent off.
The result was a textbook definition of snatching points against the run of play, with Valour’s two goals being an early counterattack and a late empty-netter, bookending numerous Y9 chances including a missed penalty kick. Even so, it’s a swift kick in the narrative pants for me, just a week after I openly wondered whether an unassailable gap was emerging between the league’s top four and bottom three.
Throw in Cavalry’s scoreless draw against Wanderers and it’s clear that we’re not yet beyond the stage where anything is possible on any given matchday.
Why is it always Honduras?
Forge FC’s two-legged victory over Antigua GFC in CONCACAF League play was a historic and exciting moment for this league — but, as is often the case in Canadian soccer, a moment of enthusiastic optimism has been tempered by the reality that a trip to Honduras is what’s next. In this case, Forge has Honduran heavyweights Olimpia in the next round of the competition.
Now, despite the national team’s troubles against the Central American side, Canadian teams have actually done alright against Honduran clubs in CONCACAF competition before. This, however, is a new tournament and Forge is still a relatively new team.
My colleague Steven Sandor noted that fixture congestion could soon become an issue for Forge, particularly as teams like FC Edmonton and York9 are emerging as serious contenders to claim that second spot in the CPL Championship this autumn.
That’s not to say Bobby Smyrniotis’s side is in over their heads; the addition of David Edgar will definitely do much to help solidify the squad both on and off the field. But should Forge find themselves spread too thin by the duelling responsibilities of high-pressure league contests and CONCACAF League, then, well, Canadian soccer might be on the precipice of another round of Honduran heartbreak.
Can we call Tony Tchani an honourary Canadian now?
Tchani was born in Cameroon and grew up in the U.S., but the 30-year-old midfielder’s move to FC Edmonton is just the latest bit of high-profile Canadian content in his pro career.
Back in 2011, Tchani was the player heading to Toronto FC in exchange for Canadian legend Dwayne DeRosario, who’d had a falling out with his hometown club (a bridge that was later rebuilt). He then moved to Columbus, where he’d have his most productive years in Major League Soccer, before a second Canadian stop, with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2017.
Tchani isn’t going to bulldoze his way to the top of anyone’s “best of the league” lists right away. But with the Eddies now sharing top spot in the Fall standings with their provincial rivals, it’s a shrewd move by manager Jeff Paulus to bring in the sort of “glue” guy that could help put his side over the top.
Perhaps Tchani hasn’t reached the status of honourary Canadian just yet, but if he can help his new team usurp Cavalry FC as the CPL’s top squad, he just might be getting the keys to the city of Edmonton.
Is Saskatchewan ready for the CPL?
Based on the number of diehard enthusiasts from the province that I’ve met over the years, I would have answered this question with a “yes” a long time ago. And with the ongoing success of the SK Summer Soccer Series this year, it seems more folks are jumping on board.
Frankly, in my mind, at this point the question isn’t if the league will come to the province, but when — and also, to which city?