One thing that was not mentioned during the biweekly State of the League article on CanPL.ca was the format that the league would actually take. We don’t know how many games there will be or whether there will be conferences or anything of that sort.
We don’t know with 100 percent certainty anyway. It’s long been stated that the league wants to launch in a “European” style, meaning a single table with no playoff format.
It’s always been the position of this space that it would be a mistake to do that.
In the North American soccer bubble the conventional wisdom is that anything European is “correct” and that things North American are “wrong.” Ironically, the more local the football is in this part of the world, the more global the people involved in the leagues want things to be run.
And, that seems to describe the Canadian Premier League.
The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the vast majority of potential fans that do not think in such terms. These are fans that have grown up with North American sporting traditions and find European conventions, well, foreign. Not, better.
At best these fans think the European model is neutral. At worse they view it as wrong.
So, when I hear that the CanPL wants to launch without a playoff format…I shake my head.
Not having a championship game denies the league a massive marketing push. The disaster scenario is if a team wins the title with multiple weeks left in the season. North American fans will not show up to a game if all hope is lost. Not outside the hardcore, anyway.
And, the hardcore is not big enough to sustain this league. If it was thee would have been a CanPL 15 years ago. Hell, the CSL wouldn’t have folded.
I suspect this is a lesson the CanPL will learn quickly. I’ll be surprised if there isn’t some kind of playoff within the first few years of the league. It might just be a two team final, or something equally exclusionary. That’s fine. The league just needs its day to shine. There will be a significant CFL presence in the league. They need their Grey Cup Sunday.
As a quick aside: I strongly disagree with the notion that the winner of a round robin tournament is somehow a more “legitimate” champion than the winner of a playoff. They are equally legitimate. So long as every team in a league is working towards the same championship goal then the winner is legitimate. Period.
That said, there is a strong contingent of folks that are single table truthers out there that insist on idea that a playoff is a bastardization. So, it’s probably going to start that way. They might argue that the Voyageurs Cup will offer that opportunity for a showcase day, and it will. For TFC. Or the Whitecaps. Or Impact. It seems a long way off before we see an all CanPL final.
There might be a middle ground. Maybe the CanPL could create a League Cup competition that is restricted to CanPL members. That way you’d be guaranteed a Cup final day and there would be another piece of hardware floating around that teams could win – there’s nothing like winning a title to boost attendance attention.
Canadian soccer fans have gone a long time without having a special day to collectively celebrate the sport. It would be a shame to not create one now based on some kind of misguided desire to “be like Europe.”