As we prepare for the premiere of the Premier league, it’s important to reflect on what came before. The league had a game of the week on TSN and had national attention, but it’s teams came in and out of the structure every winter.
The Canadian Premier League kick-off this coming Saturday will be our biggest event in some time. The entire domestic soccer community will be settling down at 1 PM Eastern, either in Forge FC’s stadium or in front of CBC television, to witness a new and hopefully more positive era in our nation’s game. This otherwise quite ordinary league fixture is making hearts across the Dominion beat a bit faster, like an Olympic semi-final.
Nothing could better herald this dawn than our mascots. Four of the Canadian Premier League’s seven teams have, in recent weeks, introduced us to new mascots who will stand as symbols for all time, representing the Canadian Premier League to ourselves and to the world. Canada’s national coat of arms is supported by a unicorn and a lion, representing the British heritage of our governance and our culture that goes back way before Confederation. Perhaps, in a couple centuries, some new country will bear arms supported by Bolt and Stewie the Starfish. It is scarcely less probable than the existence of the Canadian Premier League itself.
In honour of this joyous week I have decided to rank all of the league’s mascots so far, from best to worst. These ratings are entirely objective and based off a proprietary statistical algorithm developed by the Prince of Wales and tested by Maple Leaf Forever!‘s secret nerd hive in Sudbury-Thunder Bay. As a result its decisions are not to be argued with, only agreed on and amplified.
New WPSL expansion club, Vancouver Island FC announced their first three signings in club history on April 19th. Three players were named to the roster: Liz Gregg, Mariel Solsberg, and Alexis McKinty. Coached by Neil Sedgwick and Wes Barrett, the first tryouts were held on April 1st and the club has two more tryouts scheduled for late April.
Liz Gregg joins VIFC with a wealth of professional football experience including multiple seasons abroad with Doncaster Rovers Belles.
Continue reading on the NSXI Network.
We don’t like life getting in the way of our sports.
Sports are supposed to shield us from the day-to-day irritations and stresses. They are our escape. So, when “real life” sneaks its way onto the playing fields many get angry.
“STICK TO SPORTS,” is the cry when someone tries to start a conversation about more serious topics. That’s a best case response. Worse?
“YOU’RE LYING/EXGGERATING/NEED TO SUCK IT UP.”
Often the voices calling to be heard are shouted down by those that just want to cheer.
We see this in soccer all the time, especially as it relates to racism. And, of course, as always, anything that has to do with women. It’s toxic when fans do this. It destroys lives when institutions do it.
Such is the case of Bob Birarda and the accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment made against him by, so far, 12 different women who were coached by him while part of the Canadian u20 program and Vancouver Whitecaps elite women’s team. The alleged incidents took place in and around 2008.
The 12 women came forward after Ciara McCormack published a blog detailing the abuse of power she witnessed while at the Whitecaps at that same time.
I won’t go into the details here as it is better stated by the 12 women and McCormack, but suffice to say it was horrific.
It also wasn’t a surprise to anyone that has been around Canadian soccer over the past decade. I first heard a version of this story about nine years ago. It’s been whispered by those “in the know” for years.
Yet, nothing ever was said publicly. Worse, nothing was done privately either. Prior to the accusations finally becoming public Birarda was still coaching women’s soccer for the club Coastal FC. He’s since been suspended by the club pending review of the accusations.
Over the past while, I’ve been thinking about why I never wrote or talked about these accusations publicly over the last decade. A fear of being sued likely played a role, but I was involved with a show in It’s Called Football (along with this website) that went after matchfixing (Ben Rycroft’s reporting leading the way), corruption in minor soccer (hello, Ben Knight) and talked openly about potential improprieties in Mo Johnston’s relationship with certain player agents.
In a previous job, I wrote a story accusing the Northern Ontario Minor Hockey Association of systemic racism against aboriginal players.
So, I’ve pushed the boundaries as a journalist before. Why didn’t I here?
I should have. And, I apologize for not doing so.
The question is one that I don’t yet know the answer to. But, it’s one that I, and everyone who heard the same whispers, needs to keep asking themselves so that it never happens again.
Ciara McCormack will be a guest on SoccerToday on Monday, live at 11am ET @SoccerTodaySPN
The Toronto Blue Jays were 20 days away from winning their first World Series. Bill Clinton was running for President.
And Canada had just lost its professional soccer league. When the Winnipeg Fury finished off their upset of the Vancouver 86ers on Oct 4, 1992, that was that. The dreams of the 1986 generation were dead and the dreams of the next were dead on arrival.
Although the game lived on at the D2 level and, eventually, MLS came to fill a tiny part of the void.
In exactly one month the long, hopeless, depressing walk in the woods will end. When Forge FC kicks-off against York 9 we can finally stop talking about what we don’t have and instead focus on what we might become.
In honour of the final 30 days without a pro soccer league here are the top 30 things I hope to see in CanPL over the next 5 years.
30. A wonder goal makes the sports packages.
I don’t care who or what team, but in a year where building recognition is the most important thing I hope to see a goal or play crossover into the mainstream.
29. Someone dislikes someone
Sports aren’t fun without conflict. The league will arrive the day there’s some true anger and rivalry
28. I’m (or other neutral reporter) is accused of bias
I don’t have a horse in the race, but I look forward to being accused of it. That will mean fans are being irrational and fans should be irrational.
27. Barrett’s Privateers is sung in Halifax
I mean, come on.
26. The Fury get humbled
Sorry, Ottawa fans but the Fury represent every negative person out there who tells us its silly to care about this league. It would be great to put a few goals past them in the V-Cup.
25. Fury and CanPL make up
…and then see the two groups make up for the good of the sport
24. A mostly CanPL u23 team excels at Olympic Qualifying
Now, wouldn’t that be nice…
23. The Fury join the fold
And all is forgiven
22. Quebec gets in
The league needs to be in French Canada and, especially, Quebec. Adding Ottawa and Montreal would be huge
21. A coaching change happens
I don’t wish to cheer for someone to lose their job, but the first coaching change that happens will be a sign of a healthy league – winning should matter.
20. Lower Mainland in
Three expansion teams might seem like a lot, but they brought seven in this year. Having a presence in all three major metros is important
19. A young player leaves for MLS
Establishing the league as a natural part of the player pathway is vital. It would be a huge success if a young player is poached by MLS in just the second year.
18. A V-Cup upset
One of TFC, VWFC or IMFC gets embarrassed in one leg of a series. It’s a bit early to hope for more, but that would be a great day for the league.
17. CanWPL announced
Planning to start a women’s league begins in earnest
16. Full D3 coverage
The League1 Ontario concept is extended to all 10 provinces, with a national D3 championship determined
15. A rival for Winnipeg
One of Regina or Saskatoon joins to bring the league to 11
14. A rival for Halifax
One of Moncton or Quebec joins to bring the league to 12
13. Al-Classico featured in some cheesy ultras profile
It shouldn’t matter, but we’re lying if we don’t admit that we want the rest of the world to notice
12. WE QUALIFY TO QATAR!!!!!
Not fully CanPL related, but let’s allow ourselves to dream a little
11. Kitchener-Waterloo joins
As one part of a SW Ontario expansion that hits the biggest population area still without a team
10. With London
And the 519 derby is born (just don’t call it that)
9. The women get a cup
Using the D3 teams along with a few CanPL senior women’s teams that are up and running the first women’s Voyageurs Cup is held
8. A player is sold to a Big 5 league team
This is what it is all about
We score a goal and compete with honor. There are players on the roster that played in CanPL
6. CCL Fever
A Can PL wins the qualifying tournament and gets a shot at the region’s big boys
Welcome St. John’s!
4. The first 16 round out
The 16th team joins – lets say Mississauga or Scarborough to round-out the GTA
3. First evidence the league is part of our culture
“16-year-old Dave Smith said ‘I always dreamed of playing for Forge. My dad used to take me to the games.”
2. The Canadian Women’s Premier League kicks-off
To a stable and successful future…
1 – The plan to launch CanPL2 and Pro/Rel is announced
And we smugly hold it over US soccer Twitter’s heads.
It almost seems blasphemes to openly worry about CanPL popularity at this point. Suggesting that the league will struggle to find relevance in a crowded sports market is something grumpy old sportswriters, clueless hockey fans and (some) Ottawa Fury fans do.
The rest of us are all in. True believers in this wonderful project. Planning has been ongoing for five years now. Everything has been put in place to make this thing work.
It’s failed before. Twice. First when the NASL blew up in 1984 (although that was more top do with American teams – OK, the New York Cosmos – overspending and ultimately misreading the market. Once the stars left so did the fans. The second time was all on us though. The CSL died on the vine in the 1990s and with it the hopes of nearly two decades of Canadian soccer.
Those failures are not viewed with nuance by most. Rather, it’s just proof that trying again is foolish and that it’s only a matter of time until it all comes crashing down again.
If you’re reading this you probably feel that things are different this time. You understand that two of the three NASL teams that didn’t fold (Whitecaps and Toronto Blizzard) were in Canada and both would have continued on if the league had not pulled the plug. It’s appreciated that the CSL was littered with owners who had far more good intentions than actual capital and that the CanPL owners are running in a completely different tax bracket.
You get all that, but that doesn’t mean that the feeling will be held by the majority of sports fans in this country. Those grumpy sportswriters and broadcasters still hold a lot of influence. The most listened to sports radio show in the country has featured two segments on the latest attempt to start a spring football league in the USA, but not a single word on CanPL.
We in the soccer community can dismiss the importance of this, but the reality is it’s an obstacle that is going to need to be overcome for the league to thrive.
Note, I said thrive, not survive. It will survive just fine. The demographics have shifted. The soccer-hating generation is literally dying off. Twenty years ago it would have been inconceivable that the three MLS teams would have become as important to their market as they have. Now, it’s silly to even suggest that’s going to change. Flash-forward 20 more years and it stands to reason that many of the current CanPL markets, and some we have yet to even conceive, will feel the same way about their soccer team as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal feel about theirs now.
But, there will be struggles initially. Struggles to get attention and to get butts in the seats.
And, make no mistake, those that want the sport to fail – and their remains a few who do – will glory at any struggle the clubs face.
Hell, even MLS still faces this in certain places. To the point that they had the research firm Boston Consulting research the market in 2015 so that they could grow their fan base. This is useful to CanPL fans in that they also included Canada in the research. Although they did not separate the data, you can draw conclusions of what CanPL will be facing when it comes to getting people to care.
What they found was that 66% of MLS fans fell into one of two broad categories. The “Soccer enthusiasts”-- highly engaged, soccer-first fans – and the “Hardcore Sports Fan – basically the crazy guy at the end of the bar that can talk in detail about the 1996 Western Regional final in NCAA basketball while filling out his fantasy NFL line-up and watching the Sens play the Hurricanes on a Tuesday night in November
That guy also likes soccer now. That’s a change over last couple decades.
The thing is those two groups only account for 32% of all soccer fans. So, MLS is missing out on 68% of its potential market.
Therein lies the biggest problem for CanPL. How do you avoid the same resistance to MLS that more than 2/3 of American soccer fans have?
It starts by understanding why that 68% aren’t watching their local team. There the numbers are a little less obvious.
The inclination of many would be to assume that those fans are so-called “Eurosnobs,” – fans only interested in watching the highest levels of play. However, the MLS research suggests that only 2% of fans fit that description. Related, that 2% account for 98% of the posts on BigSoccer’s US abroad forums.
Where, then, do the rest fit in? We can only speculate, but it stands to reason that a good chuck are “MexiSnobs” and a good number don’t have a local team to relate to.
You can’t do much about the ____Snobs fans. They have made up their mind for the most part. But, on the latter point you can absolutely address it. You need to be doing all in your power to make sure that the clubs are extensions of the community they represent.
MLS does a lot of things right, but they often default to the business side of life. If you talk to a lot of MLS fans they will tell you that their loyalty is to the stand that sit in and the friends that have made at the game over the years more than it is to the franchise that they watch.
Even as MLS teams do things to become true “clubs” they can’t ever totally shake that “franchise” label. The CanPL has the great advantage of being able to look at everything MLS has done right and everything that it has done wrong.
And that might allow them to tap into the missing 68% more effectively.
With less than two months to go to the start of the first ever CanPL season the league is starting to take shape. Sure, we might not have all the information that we would like, but by in large you can kind of close your eyes and see it now.
Having gone through a four year journey from rumour to reality it’s more than a bit surreal.
But, it’s not as surreal as the thought of Diego Forlan ending his career in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
That’s not a knock on Winnipeg. It’s just not normally seen as a place where guys that played in Madrid and Milan end up.
Maybe it is now though and that’s another aspect of the league, albeit not the one that most people focus on. It’s also an aspect that will divide opinion.
Keeping in mind that the Forlan rumour is far from a sure thing – it’s just the first true “silly season” suggestion in the league’s history. There will be more – should fans be excited by the possibility of an aging global superstar ending his career, or should they worry about the league losing its focus and becoming more about the sizzle of marketing than the steak of development.
Yes. The answer to both is yes. But, as long as the 6 Canadian starting rule is in place it doesn’t seem likely that the CanPL is going to go down the path of the Beckham-era MLS. In that case, is there really any harm in a guy like Forlan coming over?
Some might suggest that he’s taking time away from a young Canadian. Maybe, but at 40 he won’t be taking that time away for long. The key would be to make sure he was coming with the understanding that his role was to be a mentor to young players as much as it would be to score goals for Valour.
If he is willing to play that elder statesmen role then it might be a very good fit – particularly if he could be convinced to play a role beyond his playing years. Maybe that seems farfetched, but there’s a tournament of note happening here in 7 years. A guy like Forlan might see opportunity in associating himself with that.
As stated, this is still a long shot, but the underlying value of foreign players coming in and sticking around remains an important part of the league. Those players won’t often be in Forlan’s league, but think about how much Danny Dichio has given to the Toronto soccer scene. His value to the game here goes far beyond seat cushion memories.
The game has come a long way since those cushions flew, but it still has a long way to go, especially in places like Winnipeg where they are just now getting a professional team.
So, if Forlan comes don’t over think it. Instead, sit back and see what happens. It is hard to argue it would be a bad thing. At worse, he comes, sells a few tickets and fades away without doing much else.
At best, he helps mold a future Canadian national team striker. Either way, the league will march on.
Let's start with the obvious. Sebastian Giovinco will be missed. Mostly by Toronto fans, but also by MLS fans in general. The little Italian thrilled fans for four seasons, scoring 73 league goals, many of them of the jaw dropping variety.
He also won. Three Voyageurs Cups and a Supporters Shield were the appetizer to the ultimate prize. The 2017 MLS Cup championship.
Dream stuff for long-time TFC fans who lived through a lot of bad football to get to that day.
He was a Bloody Big Deal.
And, now he's gone. Not with a bang, but rather a pout. Walking out the door in the middle of the night with an Instagram post that thanked the fans and accused the ownership of cheaping out, no longer caring about the results on the pitch.
It's a time honoured strategy of players. A Blame the suits move. They're the bad guys that don't care about you little guys in the stands. Make sure to come out for my autograph signing in 2023. Only $50 for a photo!
Let's be clear. Giovinco has every right to chase the paycheque. I wouldn't turn down $30m and neither would you. But, that's what's happening. Had TFC offered Giovinco the same number he'd be perfectly OK with ownership's commitment to winning. It was their evaluation of his worth that informed his opinion.
This was always going to happen. This was a player that left Juventus to join TFC, effectively ending his chance at playing internationally again. If he was driven by glory he signs a cheaper deal with a Sassuolo, Chievo or Genoa, rips it up, and has 20 more caps for Italy by now. No one dreams of leaving Juve for Toronto.
You only leave Juve for two reasons: for money or opportunity to advance your career further. Unless Giovinco thought his agent had misspelled Torino when he sent the offer to him he was coming to Toronto for the money.
And, he's leaving Toronto for the same reason. It was always going to end this way.
In terms of the football, it's going to be difficult for Toronto fans to critically evaluate whether it was right for Toronto to let him walk. Should they have matched the Saudi offer and let Giovinco retire as a TFC player?
Well, he's 32. It's pretty much universally understood that attacking player's peak years are between 23 and 31. The decline after that can be sharp. So, Giovinco is, statistically speaking, past his prime years.
There are outliers though. Is Giovinco trending upwards?
His stats over last four years:
2015 -- age 28, 34 app, 22 goals, 13 assists
2016 -- age 29, 34 app, 21 goals, 16 assists
2017 -- age 30, 29 app, 17 goals, 7 assists
2018 -- age 31, 28 app, 13 goals, 7 assists
His appearances, goals and assists figure has dropped each of the last two seasons. Doesn't seem to be out of line with statistical norms. If his production drops the same percentage this year as it did between 2017 and 2018 he would end up with between 9 and 10 goals in 2019.
That's a quality MLS forward, but not a DP and certainly not a $10m a year DP.
Of course it's also 10 goals TFC is going to need to replace. That's the other side of this move and one that can't be evaluated until it happens. But, by making the move today they have the DP space and money to start that process in the summer, which is generally when MLS teams make their big moves.
One of the first things they team you in Journalism School is that you should never put a date in your lead. The first paragraph of any story needs to grab the attention of the reader and no one gets excited by a date.
That might explain why the Canadian Premier League didn’t lead off its press conference yesterday with the date of its first ever game. Instead, they started by explaining how Volkswagen Canada was the league’s first major corporate partner. More on that in a minute, but to most fans they buried the lead.
April 27, 2019 at 1pm in Hamilton, Ontario. The 905 Derby (ugh, really. You have a team of marketers and that’s what you came up with. What is it with this region and its obsession with area codes?).
The only problem with this – if you view it as a problem – is that the game is at a time that will make it impossible for fans to go to both that game and Toronto FC’s match with Portland at 3pm.
A few celebrate this “shot across the bow” of the CanPL against the established team. It shows intent and a failure to be fearful of Big Bad TFC.
Far more people were puzzled. Why would you cut out thousands of potential fans be making it impossible to do both games that weekend? In time, Hamilton and York will have a solid core of fans that live and die with the team. A tiny, tiny, tiny amount do now. Until that changes it is absolutely vital that CanPL teams seek out fans that are also fans of MLS teams in Canada. This move eliminates the possibility of the curious taking a flyer on the CanPL game as well as the MLS game.
It was preventable and it was a mistake to schedule the game in such a way.
I argued this strongly on Twitter yesterday. Roughly 95% of the people who interacted with the Tweet agreed. Twitter is hardly a scientific tool, but it also isn’t without influence.
It wasn’t long until the insiders were slipping into my messages to tell me that another announcement was coming soon that would make it all make sense. The implication was that this was a TV decision and that it was done to maximize the viewership there.
After hammering back and forth with a few people today what I’ve pieced together is this: The CanPL is very close to working out a pay-to-broadcast deal with TSN. Basically, the CanPL would pay for all production and talent costs and share in advertising revenue generated during the broadcast. In exchange TSN would promote the airing of the games.
No guarantees on editorial content beyond that, but SportsCentre sure does talk about the CFL a lot. Sportsnet, not so much. TSN has 100% of the CFL rights.
It was even suggested that the Volkswagen deal was largely tied into the deal. Basically, the auto giant would be the title sponsor of the broadcasts.
It’s not an uncommon relationship for a start up league and, on the surface, not the worst idea. They aren’t getting on TSN in a standard rights deal and streaming only will make it hard for them to get much traction beyond the hardcore audience that is only so big.
But, it’s still a bad idea to schedule games so that fans in MLS markets are forced to choose between. At best, it’s just disrespectful of fans. Ignoring that there are conflicting loyalties at play is silly and if you force a long-time TFC fan from Hamilton to pick a side he’s likely staying at BMO Field. That’s doubly the case with the York market, which already mostly identifies with being from Toronto anyway.
So, why? Just why?
Finally, how many fans do they hope to gain by being on TV? The industry trend is moving away from cable TV to streaming only. You’re not hitting Gen Zers with this. You’re barely hitting Gen Xers at this point.
And even the ones you’re hitting are probably already aware of the product. TFC struggles to draw 100,000 viewers. The CanPL will be lucky to hit 20,000 regularly. And all of them would probably watch on YouTube too.
Sometimes you need to be realistic. If what is being suggested in true then CanPL would have been better ignoring conventional TV this year, putting the product on YouTube for the hardcore (and getting some local TV deals), focusing on the in-stadium experience and then revisiting the major national media when the negotiations are on more equal terms.
Things happened to put Westhill's expansion behind schedule, which can happen. I remember when Clarke Stadiums expansion was a year behind schedule to install the big blue grandstand (and corner seating) because of a multitude of red tape re the stands and such. While it was put off the club had to play another year with only the decrepid 1300 seat concrete bleachers to use.
I'm happy that Langford came thru with giving Pacific FC a place to play otherwise there wouldn't likely be a CPL club on the Island. Its a bit unfortunate it won't be ready for opening day but the stadium is being done right, and will probably be the best sub 10k stadium in the country when the pole is moved and the final expansion on that side completes the stadium and brings it to 8K.
My jersey arrived today! I was mentally prepared for it to not come before the inaugural game. Unfortunately it looks like it will be a chilly day so it will probably be buried underneath another layer or two.
I’m sure they do but as per the VPs quotes a few days ago they faced delays starting.
There’s been multiple comments about how there’s a seemingly low number of workers on site which I find odd. I don’t work in trades but how would a GC find more skilled workers for a few days? Who haven’t been involved in a project? It seems unlikely that there’s a pool of qualified workers out there sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. I suspect that the GC hired multiple firms to complete different areas of the job and those firms are running full capacity. They must have protections against the GC going out and hiring other firms to complete their work?
As of today, if healthy, he is the #1 (things can change though).
With 3 games over 8 days + travel during the Gold Cup, having 2 inform RBs would be ideal.
Here is hoping Godinho finds his way back into the 18 w hearts before season's end.
The post I was responding to was about Americans on the field vs. Canadians. Of the ones you named, only Delgado gets any real playing time, and he was integral to TFC's 2017 MLS Cup win (as was Zavaleta, but both have regressed since then).
As you said yourself, the league is set up for Americans. That includes how they are counted on team's rosters vs. other internationals. That naturally means that even on the Cdn MLS teams there will be a few Yanks on the squads, unless they want to go the MTL route and trade away assets for more international spots (which hasn't exactly proven to work for IMFC as of yet).
The difference of philosophy seems to be born out of a desire to not want to burn assets on international spots, as well as the respective front offices' knowledge base. You can argue whether TFC have used their domestic (and international spots) effectively, but that's a different discussion.
At the end of the day IMFC is only regularly starting Piette and TFC is only regularly starting Osorio, which should be the bigger focus here. I honestly couldn't care less whether our MLS clubs are developing Americans, Ugandans or Argentines as long as Canadians are still lagging behind where they should be.
i emailed soccer canada asking about where to buy gear that you could get customized and would have more variety and they wrote me back saying their would be more news about merch coming out in mid May. for what it's worth