The Canadian Premier League kicks off its fourth season of football on Thursday after qualifying for the men’s World Cup.
After two seasons interrupted by the pandemic, the eight-team national competition has been bolstered by a more normal preseason — and the hopes that they too can experience the wave of Canadian men’s football and Olympic champions.
READ MORE: Canadian men return to work after celebrating World Cup qualifier
“It’s fantastic for the game and the country,” said York United FC head coach Martin Nash, who played 38 games for Canada between 1997 and 2008.
“Where the (national) men’s and women’s program is now, I think little kids are coming up, they’re in a big generation.”
York United open the CPL season at home on Thursday against Halifax’s HFX Wanderers FC. Saturday is the Calgary Cavalry FC in the Ottawa Athletic.
In a rematch of last year’s championship game, defending champions Pacific FC host Hamilton’s Forge FC in Langford, BC on Sunday, while Winnipeg’s Valor FC FC visits Edmonton.
READ MORE: With the new CPL season fast approaching, FC Edmonton continues to add players
The teams will play a 28-game season, with the top four advancing to the playoffs. The championship game is scheduled for October 29.
There have been changes in the low season.
Nash resigned as first-team coach and technical director under head coach and general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. at Cavalry FC to take charge of York after the club chose not to renew the contract of Jim Brennan, who served as head coach and technical director.
Pa-Modou Kah, named CPL Coach of the Year after leading Pacific to the title, left to take charge of North Texas SC, FC Dallas’ MLS Next Pro team. Veteran assistant James Merriman is now in charge of Pacific.
Carlos González is set to start his first season at the helm of Atlético de Ottawa, following in the footsteps of his Spanish team-mate Mista.
The league is looking for a commissioner with David Clanachan stepping down to lead the launch of an expansion club in the Windsor-Essex region. The CPL already has expansion plans with Vancouver expected to join in 2023 and awarded a conditional franchise to Saskatoon.
Canada’s treasury ‘exhausted’ as budget cuts COVID spending, look at uncertainty
Budget 2022: 4 things that affect your wallet
And the league is still looking for new owners for FC Edmonton, who took over the franchise in late December. Meanwhile, the other seven teams help keep Edmonton going by lending players for their pennies and writing checks to cover expenses.
READ MORE: CPL Takes Over FC Edmonton Operation Amid Search for New Owners
Local talent thrives on FC Edmonton roster
Nash was part of the Canadian team that was a surprise winner of the 2000 Gold Cup under coach Holger Osieck. Now he is trying to train a new generation of local talent.
The CPL was created to do just that. Clubs will have to reach a higher target of 2,000 minutes for national under-21 talent this season.
York, with a large number of young players, far exceeded last year’s requirement.
“We have a core of really exciting and talented young players,” said York CEO, President and General Manager Angus McNab. “And that’s what this competition is about. We should be here for people’s first introduction to professional gaming.
“Spread across the country, there are now 23 times eight (team) jobs in professional football that did not exist before. And with the strict limits on foreigners, with the fact that you have to have a majority of Canadian players in your starting eleven, that’s a positive because it gets minutes and chances for these guys. And we will always talk about that.
“That’s where we are as a league. That is where we are now as a competition. And we see our place in the football pyramid as a springboard for these guys to go further and achieve more, and hopefully at the national team level too.”
CPL rosters can range in size from 20 to 23 with a maximum of seven international players. Teams must field at least six national players in their starting eleven.
Joel Waterman (CF Montreal) and Lukas MacNaughton and Kadin Chung (Toronto FC) are examples of CPL players now playing in Major League Soccer. And Tristan Borges’ January 2021 transfer from Forge FC to Belgium’s OH Leuven showed that overseas leagues took notice.
Borges returns on loan to Forge. And there are some more famous names in the CPL.
Ashtone Morgan, former Toronto and Real Salt Lake fullback, is boosting an already strong Forge team, which started its season in February when they lost 4-1 overall to Mexico’s Cruz Azul in the La Liga round of 16. Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.
And on Tuesday, York signed Osaze De Rosario, 20, the son of Canadian icon Dwayne De Rosario.
More recently, Osaze De Rosario was based in Ukraine with Rukh Lviv, where he agreed to terminate his contract with the club nine days before the Russian invasion. The young DeRo also spent time at the New York City FC and Toronto FC academies.
Six players from the CPL were included in Canada Soccer’s 25-man roster this month for an Under-20 camp in Costa Rica ahead of this summer’s CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, which serves as qualifier for the Under-20 World Championship. 20. FIFA 2023 and the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
The six CPLers are Kwasi Poku and Dino Bontis (both Forge, Matt Catavolo (Valour), Max Piepgrass (Cavalry), Lowell Wright (York) and Kamron Habibullah (Pacific, on loan from Vancouver Whitecaps).
© 2022 The Canadian Press