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Five final thoughts on the CanPL
Where is the Canadian Premier League after year 4?
Another season of the CanPL wrapped up on Sunday, with a familiar ending: the Orange team standing in the confetti.
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Forge FC once again proved to be the best team in the league after what was a fairly comfortable 2-0 win in front of nearly 20,000 fans in Ottawa.
Ottleti deserves credit for getting to the big game - and for the marketing push that led to the big crowd — but ultimately the better team on the day won and, I’d argue, the most talented roster in the league.
It was a season with a lot to like. Great play, decent attendance in many markets and a legit fight for the top spot in the table.
There were things to be concerned about as well. FC Edmonton looks to be on the brink of folding after the league operated them for the year. York continues to struggle to find its audience and Valour ownership is getting increasingly restless.
With that in mind, here are five thoughts on the state of the CanPL after year four. three good and two opportunities to be better.
The Big, Bad, Orange Juggernaut (Positive)
Fans of teams outside Hamilton may not like this. They may even argue against it. However, I don’t see a negative in having a dynasty in this league. As much as fans think they want parity (that’s not a typo. They think they want parity) the truth is that leagues that have teams that dominate get bigger audiences, generate more revenue and create better narratives.
Is the Premier League as big as it is in North America today if it was first made widely available in an era when Manchester United wasn’t dominating and people weren’t dividing themselves up into Love United and Hate United camps? I don’t think so.
Having Forge act as hero or villain depending on your perspective frames the league in a way that it is easy to understand and gives new fans shorthand on how to watch and understand the league.
Où est l’équipe ? (Negative)
From the start people have been clear — for this to be a truly national league there needs to be a team in Quebec. Four years into this we do not seem any closer to that happening than we were in year one. Having Ottawa gives them a bit of French presence, but it’s not the same thing as being in Quebec.
Part of that isn’t the league’s fault — the pandemic could not be predicted and the damage it did to all industries in this country is undeniable — but they also need to be doing more.
Perhaps even running a team in the province while they look for an owner. It’s that important.
Pyramids are good (positive)
What do the top three teams in 2022 all have in common?
Ottawa*, Forge and Cavalry all are part of a recognized pyramid that allows those clubs to benefit from being in that environment. Even the fourth place team, Pacific, could kind of be seen as benefiting from being able to take advantage of being on the doorstep of the Vancouver Whitecaps and gobbling up those that got left behind there. It will be interesting to see what happens with Pacific now that they have competition on the Lower Mainland for those players.
Having an established pyramid to draw from is an efficiency that those clubs take advantage of and, I suspect, it’s why they’ll all be near the top for a while, unless other clubs can create their own pyramid to challenge them.
*whether Ottawa being part of the Atletico Madrid pyramid benefits Canadian soccer is a separate conversation from whether it’s good for Ottawa. One we will have soon in this space.
Play the kids at your own risk (negative)
There was a lot to like about what Ottawa did this year. Going from worst to first is impressive, no matter how you slice it.
However, there was also a negative. This was a team that struggled to meet the very minor U21 player minute requirements. As much as it is important to treat the CanPL like any league and judge its teams by their ability to win, there is a development aspect to things. Teams shouldn’t be up against it with the requirements.
This isn’t the first time a team has been close, either. In fact, the top teams in the league so far have been the ones that are struggling the most to hit the target, most often. That’s unfortunate.
Hopefully the teams were looking at the play of guys like Woobens Pacius, Osaze De Rosario or u21 player of the year Sean Rea — players that were far from tokens on their team — when they plan for 2023.
The lifer class is starting to emerge (positive)
But, let’s not forget the value of team guys that have long careers in the CanPL. When the league started, I said that there would be three types of players that would be most important in this league: The kids, the imports and the lifers.
The value of the kids is self-evident. The imports push the kids and increase the quality. The lifers’ value might not be as obvious to an onlooker, but in some ways they might be the most important group to the long-term success of the league.
They provide stability and connect teams to cities. When this league was created for 2019 things were a bit artificial, if we are being honest with ourselves. With possibly a couple exceptions, we were mostly cheering for laundry. The players had little connection to the cities or clubs.
That’s changing now. We are seeing guys get their 100th appearance (i.e. Kyle Bekker). There are players that are loved in their city because they are hated everywhere else (Hello José Escalante!) and even players that have crossed rivalry divides (Mo Babouli, anyone?).
Those are the guys that make this a league and it’s awesome to see a lifer class starting to emerge.
There’s going to be some rough patches ahead, but, honestly, it was a bit naive to think there wouldn’t be. Overall, however, there is more to celebrate than there is to worry about.
I will focus on the challenges when it is appropriate, but make no mistake: I am grateful there is a league for me to fret over and I cannot wait to see you all in the stadiums in 2023.
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