By Mike Rice.
The Canadian Premier League is very much in its infancy. Having been founded in 2017 with seven teams across the country competing in the inaugural season back in 2019. Atlético Ottawa joined in the second season to make eight and in 2023 Vancouver FC join the league, though FC Edmonton has left.
Trouble hit the league in a way which couldn’t have been predicted, where Covid curtailed everyone’s plans in every industry, not to mention daily lives. It led to many difficulties which we can all imagine, but it pressed on and is coming out of the pandemic in strong fashion.
In 2022 Forge FC, The Canadian Premier League’s most successful club to date with two league wins and three playoff titles, were part of the CONCACAF Champions League. They fell to Liga MX side Cruz Azul 1-0 and 3-1 across two legs, but with the differences in experience and budget, they gave a good account of themselves.
As the standard of the league improves, we have seen more interest in the league and there are even markets offered on the league from bookies enabling UK punters to bet on football online, alongside leagues such as Major League Soccer and those in Europe. Former CPL players have been making their debuts in MLS for the likes of Toronto FC, in the case of Lucas McNaughton, and even part of the Canadian Men’s National Team at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year with Joel Waterman. Waterman had played for Cavalry FC before joining CF Monréal and being called up by CanMNT head coach John Herdman.
The step to MLS is seen as an important one, the league is much older and more established than the CPL but moving to one of the three Canadian sides in MLS isn’t the only goal.
New players have, especially since the pandemic ended, moved the CPL from abroad as a place to continue to play and push for bigger moves. Alejandro Diaz came to Pacific FC from Liga MX giants Club America after struggling for a number of reasons to make a significant impact on the first team. After arriving in 2020 he left after two seasons with the club for Norwegian side Sogndal IL.
This has been something of a start for the CPL, as more players are now making moves to bigger clubs in more established leagues.
Canadian Marco Bustos started out with the Vancouver Whitecaps academy but has made his most notable senior performances at Valour FC and Pacific FC in the CPL. As the 2022 season has ended, Bustos looks set to confirm his move to IFK Varnamo in the Swedish top flight.
“Bustos is a great example of the CPL pathway,” says Pacific FC head coach James Merriman. “His career has not been linear. There have been many challenges, highs and lows, but his professionalism and drive has been consistently growing.”
And Bustos isn’t the only one. Ronan Kratt of York United has moved to Bundesliga side Werder Bremen on loan until the end of the German season. Another huge step for the league as well as the 19-year-old player from Ottawa.
Atlético Ottawa too has seen a number of their players leave on trial this month to MLS and Liga MX sides as more teams from around the world look to the Canadian Premier League for talent.
It is a glowing reference to the good work which is being put into the league as it continues to develop. Canada’s football scene is booming with their return to the World Cup after their second appearance in 2022, their last being way back in 1986.
We will no doubt be seeing more players making their moves in the coming seasons while the league grows in number of teams, reputation, and quality year on year.