Soccer·Preview

6 things you need to know about the new Canadian Premier League

The Canadian Premier League is ready for liftoff this weekend and promises to change the face of the sport in this country.

New soccer circuit begins play Saturday with the focus on homegrown talent

The Canadian Premier League kicks off Apr. 27 on CBC Sports and CBCSports.ca. (Canadian Premier League)
The Canadian Premier League is ready for kickoff this weekend and it promises to change the face of the sport in this country.

From coast to coast there are new teams, new players, new coaches and new fans as Canada aims to build a credible domestic league in the run-up to the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Canada will co-host the world's biggest tournament with the USA and Mexico.

Here are six things you need to know:

What exactly Is the CPL?

It is a new professional soccer league, featuring seven teams, launching across Canada on Saturday, April 27. It is sanctioned by the Canadian Soccer Association.

The seven teams are:

  • Cavalry FC (Calgary)
  • FC Edmonton
  • Forge FC (Hamilton, Ont.)
  • HFX Wanderers (Halifax)
  • Pacific FC (Langford, B.C.)
  • Valour FC (Winnipeg)
  • York 9 FC (York Region, Ont.)
In addition to the seven founding members, expansion talks are already underway with potential new investors. Former Canadian international Alex Bunbury, for example, has expressed a desire to launch a team in Quebec, most likely in the Montreal suburb of Laval.

The CPL is also hoping to persuade the Ottawa Fury to join its ranks. Ottawa has just kicked off its latest season in the American based USL Championship — the lone Canadian team competing at that level.

Who plays in the CPL?

The CPL has been designed for the benefit of Canadian players. Like the Canadian Football League, there are strict roster rules to which every club must adhere. Every squad must feature at least 50 per cent plus one Canadians, and on match days every team must field a minimum of six Canadian starters  — a clear attempt to develop and use homegrown talent.

Each team is limited to signing a maximum of seven foreign nationals.

WATCH | Forge's Kwame Awuah brings MLS pedigree to CPL (courtesy CPL):

Kwame Awuah brings MLS pedigree to the brand new Canadian Premier League, complete with a learning session under the great French midfielder Patrick Vieira. 9:22

How does the season work?

There will be two distinct seasons in one year — Spring and Fall — similar to how leagues in several Central and South American countries operate.

The Spring season, where each team plays 10 games, begins this weekend and runs until July 1. The Fall season gets going on July 6 and runs until mid-October, with each team playing 18 games.

The Spring and Fall champions will go head to head in a one-off championship match. Should one club win both seasons, it will face the team with the next best cumulative point total over both seasons in the championship final.

Will CPL teams get to play against Canada's MLS teams?

They will get the chance. The annual Canadian Championship is being expanded to accommodate the CPL's seven teams. A total of 13 clubs will now compete for The Voyageurs Cup beginning in mid-May.

The CPL contingent will enter in either the first or second qualifying round, while Canada's MLS franchises are exempt until the next stage. As defending champion, Toronto FC gets a bye into the semifinals.

What does it mean for Canadian soccer?

The principal aim is to grow the game and give professional opportunities to Canadian talent. For decades, aspiring Canadian professionals were forced to go abroad to earn contracts.

Jim Brennan is a classic example. The head coach of York 9 took his talents to England in the mid-90s, only returning to his home country when Toronto FC arrived on the scene in 2007.

Several Canadians have been tempted to come home now that the CPL is a reality.

Players such as Marcus Haber (Pacific FC), Nik Ledgerwood (Cavalry), Randy Edwini-Bonsu (FC Edmonton), and Kyle Bekker (Forge FC) will all be players to watch.

Is the CPL built to last?

The CPL has a seven-year runway to work its way into the hearts and minds of Canadian sports fans before the World Cup returns to North America.

Every other country produces homegrown talent and gives them somewhere to play. There is no reason why Canada cannot follow suit.

Will it work? It simply has to. The Canadian Premier League is a startup. It is not perfect and there will be mistakes.

But there is no doubt in my mind the CPL is Canada's last, best chance of producing a legitimate professional domestic league and giving Canadian kids a chance to dream.

About the Author

Nigel Reed

Analyst

Nigel has spent more than 30 years covering a wide variety of sports in both Canada and Europe. He has worked on multiple Olympic Games and World Cups, specializing in soccer, rugby and golf. In recent years he has broadcast Major League Soccer, Rugby Canada, Toronto Wolfpack and the 2015 Pan Am Games.

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