By Dan Clubbe.
As Canadian Premier League fans finally got the news of a schedule they had all been waiting for, it’s time to start previewing the action.
Albeit in unusual circumstances — with all matches taking place behind closed doors at the University of Prince Edward Island Alumni Field in Charlottetown, PEI — fans of the eight clubs will no doubt be excited to see their teams in action once more.
Kicking off the restructured and rebranded ‘Island Games’ on Thursday, August 13th, will be a repeat of the 2019 final between Forge FC and Cavalry FC.
— Emily Wilson (@wilson_emt) August 13, 2020
Despite winning their opening seven matches and finishing top of the 2019 regular season standings, the Cavs were beaten in the final and will be hoping to go one better this year.
During the off-season, they lost some key contributors in top goalscorer and DR Congo international Dominique Malonga, as well as Julian Büscher, and Joel Waterman, who moved to Lokomotiv Plovdiv, TuS Haltern and Montreal Impact, respectively. However, boosted by the arrival of Marcus Haber into their squad, Tommy Wheeldon Jr’s side have all the makings of strong contenders once more.
Forge FC will be hopeful of following up last year’s successful inaugural campaign by going back-to-back, with Bobby Smyrniotis having retained most of their triumphant 2019 squad.
In Paolo Sabak — signed from NEC Nijmegen before the coronavirus pandemic halted the season — the Hammers have one of the most exciting prospects of the tournament on their hands. Sabak arrives in Canada after spending his entire pro career in Belgium and the Netherlands, and is a product of the KRC Genk Academy which has brought through the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco over the years. The attacking midfielder will be key to Forge’s attacking prospects and is definitely one to watch when the action gets underway.
The Vancouver Island-based club has overseen something of an overhaul from last season. Their 20-man squad has 10 players returning from the inaugural campaign, with 10 newcomers in their midst.
With that in mind, Pa-Modou Kah’s side are a bit of an unknown quantity and it remains to be seen what tactical style the coach will employ with his new-look squad. One thing we do know for sure is that new man Marco Bustos will have a big part to play for the Tridents — the former Vancouver Whitecaps man had an impressive inaugural CPL season with Valour FC, scoring eight goals in 27 appearances across all competitions, and will be looking to impact once more.
— Pacific FC (@Pacificfccpl) August 10, 2020
FC Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus has used the prolonged off-season to make minor adjustments to his playing staff, with 15 players returning from the side that finished fourth in 2019.
The Eddies coach has bolstered his attacking options with the arrival of Canadian duo Hanson Boakai and Keven Alemán from Inter Turku and Sacramento Republic respectively. Both will be looking forward to working alongside youngster Easton Ongaro, who impressed last year with 10 goals in 21 matches.
Last season’s bottom club will be hoping the change of format makes for a turnaround in fortunes in 2020. The signing of former Rangers man and Canada international Fraser Aird from Cove Rangers will give Valour fans renewed optimism. At just 25, Aird still has plenty of time on his side and has already amassed a wealth of high-level experience.
With the recent acquisitions Julian Dunn and Dante Campbell, both arriving on loan from MLS side Toronto FC for the tournament, their defensive issues may have been solved, however, this may not be the answer to all of manager Rob Gale’s problems, even if improvement seems assured.
After a disappointing campaign in 2019, York9 boss, Jimmy Brennan is likely happy to see how his new arrival, former Real Madrid academy star Alvaro Rivero, is taking all the attention surrounding his side. The 23-year-old Spanish striker arrives from CD Leganés B and will hope to light up the Island Games.
The Nine-Stripes have also added firepower in the shape of former Forge FC striker Jace Kotsopoulos and the much-talked-about teenage sensation Lowell Wright. With that in mind, it looks set to be an intriguing campaign at York9 and an improvement on 2019 will be high on the list of demands.
The most unknown of all the sides, Atlético Ottawa, nobody is quite sure what to expect from the club parented by La Liga giants Atlético Madrid. With such obvious resemblances in branding, will they produce on the field like their Spanish counterparts? Managed by ex-Spain international Mista, Ottawa are sure to be an intriguing watch.
As is the case across the clubs due to numerous unfortunate travel issues, a number of important players are unable to get into Canada for the event, including Ottawa stars Bernardinho (Ghana) and Tevin Shaw (Jamaica).
One of the more interesting additions to their inaugural squad has been the signing of Ben Fisk, the former Pacific FC man joining Ottawa in search perhaps of bigger things down the line given his experience with the Canadian national team.
Coach Stephen Hart will look to build on a positive season in 2019, a campaign that went against many people’s better judgement. Boosted by the arrival of former Montreal Impact keeper Jason Beaulieu and Alessandro Riggi from USL Championship side Phoenix Rising, Hart can be confident ahead of the start of the fixtures.
One man who is sure to attract the attention of the opposition, however, is Guinean striker Ibra Sanoh. The 26-year-old will be returning to his old stomping ground for this tournament. Formerly of the Holland Hurricanes College team on PEI, the powerful frontman scored 101 goals in 70 matches, smashing the school’s scoring record along the way and making his name on the Island.
How To Watch The Canadian Premier League Live
Canadian fans can watch coverage of The Island Games on CBC, beginning this Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.