New on SocTakes: Canadian Premier League primer

Canadian Premier League

Image credit: Canadian Premier League

Canada has announced that, at long last, the country is building a national, professional, Division I league of its own. Here’s everything we know so far about the league, the teams announced for next season and how the league will operate.

First up, the league itself. The Canadian Premier League will be the top league sanctioned by the Canadian Soccer Association, equivalent within their pyramid to MLS. Canada Soccer made the decision on May 6, 2017, and the league plans to begin play in the spring of 2019. There will almost certainly be eight teams playing at launch, with the slight possibility of 10 should a few more pieces fall into place sooner. So far, though, seven teams have been officially announced.

We’ll go through the seven officially announced teams first, in order of announcement:

York 9 FC – York Region, Ontario

  • Home stadium: York Lions Stadium (3,700)
  • Head coach: Jimmy Brennan
  • Colours: electric green, charcoal grey, black on black

York 9 was the first team to be announced, representing York Region in the greater Toronto area. The name is a reference to the nine cities and towns that constitute York Region, as well as the attacking No. 9 player. York’s choice of green is based on the forests throughout the municipality and the ownership by Greenpark Group. The team will play initially at York Lions Stadium on the York University campus, and is planning a 15,000-seat soccer stadium with a unique wooden construction. Head coach, general manager and co-owner Jimmy Brennan is a York native who played in England as well as MLS, received 49 caps for Canada and coached in both League 1 Ontario and the Toronto FC Academy system.

Cavalry FC – Calgary, Alberta

  • Home stadium: Spruce Meadows (5,000)
  • Head coach: Tommy Wheeldon Jr.
  • Colours: army green, Calgary red, black on black

Calgary’s Cavalry FC was the second team to be announced. This team is, to a decent extent, an offshoot of the PDL Calgary Foothills FC team, with general manager and head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. having spent the past five seasons with the PDL side. The name and colours are directly inspired by the Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment of the Canadian Army with strong ties to Alberta and Calgary. The team will be playing in a brand-new stadium at the famous Spruce Meadows equestrian facility. The stadium is currently expected to seat 5,000 in a natural grass, modular facility, allowing for potential expansion in the future.

HFX Wanderers FC – Halifax, Nova Scotia

  • Home stadium: Wanderers Grounds (5,000)
  • Head coach: Stephen Hart
  • Colours: harbour blue, naval grey, aqua ocean

The Wanderers are playing up the maritime aspects in a big way, for obvious reasons. The colours and crest all draw heavy coastal symbolism, and the club motto is in Scottish Gaelic, incorporating the strong local Gaelic ties. As the largest city on Canada’s Atlantic coast, the harbour has been a vital part of Halifax since the city’s beginning. The name itself, “Wanderers,” is an homage to the Wanderers Amateur Athletic Club which operated for a century from 1882. The club will play at the Wanderers Grounds, home to the former Wanderers, in a new 5,000-seat stadium similar to the plans in Calgary. Head coach Stephen Hart, despite his Trinidadian citizenship and international status, is a fixture of soccer in Nova Scotia and has been for decades. He has also spent the better part of the past 20 years with the Canadian national programs.

Valour FC – Winnipeg, Manitoba

  • Home stadium: Investors Group Field (33,234)
  • Head coach: Rob Gale
  • Colours: valour maroon, wheat gold, earth black

Valour FC is the first announced team which intends to share ownership and a stadium with a Canadian Football League team, in this case the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Valour name is tied to Valour Road in Winnipeg, dedicated in 1925 to a trio of residents who received the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery in World War I. The maroon in the crest comes directly from the ribbon on the Victoria Cross, while wheat gold and earth black tie in to the Canadian prairies. The design in the middle includes both a combination V/W shape for Valour and Winnipeg, while the circle design is taken from the Victoria Cross. Head coach and general manager Rob Gale played amateur soccer in Winnipeg for a decade and has coached the Canadian youth international teams at the U16, U18 and U20 levels.

FC Edmonton – Edmonton, Alberta

  • Home stadium: Clarke Stadium (5,000)
  • Head coach: Jeff Paulus
  • Colours: prairie blue sky, River City navy, white rabbit

FC Edmonton is actually the oldest team in the CPL, dating back to 2009, having played in the NASL from 2011-17. The professional side was shut down at the end of the 2017 NASL season due to uncertainty with the league’s future and a lack of viable options for 2018, but the club planned to restart a professional team at some point in the future. Enter the CPL, and of course, FC Edmonton is back with a new logo and head coach. Jeff Paulus has been with the FC Edmonton organization since 2011 as academy technical director and an assistant with the NASL first team. He’s now been appointed head coach of the reborn professional side under general manager Jay Ball. Clarke Stadium is expected to undergo some upgrades to build permanent locker rooms on-site and expand the seating to 7,000.

Forge FC – Hamilton, Ontario

  • Home stadium: Tim Hortons Field (14,000)
  • Head coach: TBA
  • Colours: spark orange, platinum steel, waterfall white

Hamilton was one of the first two teams initially approved, along with Winnipeg. The club’s branding is heavily inspired by Hamilton’s long history in steel manufacturing dating back over a century. Forge FC is another team that shares ownership with the local CFL side, in this case the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Bob Young. For Forge FC games, Tim Hortons Field will have its capacity reduced by covering the top stands on both sidelines. Club vice chairman John McGrane is a former Canadian international who coached the Hamilton Steelers in the Canadian Soccer League in 1988, 1989 and 1991. The club has yet to announce a head coach or general manager.

Pacific FC – Langford, British Columbia

  • Home stadium: Westhills Stadium (7,500)
  • Head coach: Michael Silberbauer
  • Colours: starfish purple, lagoon blue, lighthouse white

The most recent club to be announced is Pacific FC, based on Vancouver Island. The club’s branding is inspired by the island, incorporating the native Douglas fir tree and shape of the island itself. The stadium is set to undergo renovations to increase the capacity through temporary modular pieces, and will eventually be replaced by a permanent expanded stadium. Head coach Michael Silberbauer is the only non-Canadian coach in the league. He’s a retired Danish international currently working as an assistant coach with FC Luzern in Switzerland. Club president Josh Simpson is a retired Canadian international from mainland British Columbia. The club is intended to represent Vancouver Island as a whole rather than any particular city.

Those seven are all officially confirmed for next year. The Ottawa Fury are expected to join them following the conclusion of the 2018 USL season and discussions are ongoing involving possible teams in Moncton, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Mississauga. Despite those conversations, though, it’s widely expected that the league will feature eight teams in 2019 and 12 in 2020. Each team will play 28 games — 14 at home — in 2019, playing each of the other seven teams four times.

For the rosters, the league will be operating under a salary cap for both the players and coaching staffs. The average player salaries are expected to fall between $40,000-$60,000. Every club must field a minimum of six Canadian players at any give time during a game, and at least half of the roster must be Canadian.

Players will come from five player pools:

  1. Foundational: professional Canadian players already playing “at a high level”

  2. Up and coming: players in developmental leagues, including League 1 Ontario, the PDL, and lower-division leagues internationally

  3. Home territory: players from the surrounding community of each club, comparable to the MLS Homegrown system

  4. Canadian universities and colleges: likely a draft of U Sports players

  5. Open market: Players signed from anywhere, without restriction on nationality

There will likely be some sort of draft for pool Nos. 1, 2 and 4, although league officials have described it as “more sophisticated” than a typical player draft.

That’s all we know at present about the Canadian Premier League. News of the eighth team — or just confirmation from Ottawa — is expected before the end of the year and player signings will begin early next year. The schedule is expected to run from April into October, potentially without playoffs. Media deals have yet to be announced, but are expected to include streaming options.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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