Every coach in the Canadian Premier League took a blank sheet of paper and created a roster from scratch.It was a unique situation for all seven coaches of the upstart professional soccer league.Yet, the bosses at HFX Wanderers, York9 FC, Forge FC, Valour FC, Cavalry FC, FC Edmonton and Pacific FC — the seven flagship franchises — were up for the challenge and have their squads raring to go for the opening weekend of the season kicking off Saturday in Hamilton.“To be honest, it was exciting and something that most people involved in the game would love to do,” said Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis. “Especially those who like to build, which is what I like to do. It’s exciting, it’s also challenging because you’re not a coach making two signings to wrinkle out some things on your new team, but you’re really starting from nothing, so every decision you make has to fit into an overall puzzle.”Smyrniotis and Forge FC of Hamilton host Jimmy Brennan and York9 FC in the inaugural CPL match at Tim Hortons Field (1 p.m. ET, CBC) on Saturday. Pacific FC of Langford, B.C., on Vancouver Island will host HFX Wanderers of Halifax on Sunday (7 p.m. ET) in the league’s second match.
Kyle Porter (L) York9 player, and Kyle Becker,(R) Forge FC player at the announcement of the CPL’s first game. Press conference in Toronto, Ont. on Tuesday January 29, 2019. Craig Robertson / Postmedia
In total, the seven teams will each play 28 league matches in a split-season format. The spring season will be compromised of the first 10 games and the final 18 games will make up the fall schedule. The two season winners will meet for the CPL championship.“Anywhere else in the world you inherit a team, where ours it’s a blank canvas,” Brennan said. “You have to do your homework to make sure you get the right players that are going to suit your style of play and your philosophy, and it’s been pretty enjoyable building the squad. We’re happy where we’re at with the guys we have and the whole process has been really good.”Some teams, such as FC Edmonton and Cavalry FC of Calgary, had a framework of their squads having joined the CPL from other leagues. FC Edmonton spent seven seasons in the North American Soccer League before rebranding itself after a year-long hiatus and joining the CPL. Cavalry FC is essentially Foothills FC, who won the Professional Development League championship last season.“We’ve got a great local content, which is something that I’ve talked about certainly wanting to create here, something that Edmonton can really rally around,” said FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus. “But when you combine some of these players with the imports that we’ve brought in, certainly it’s very positive.”
An FC Edmonton forward battles with a Cavalry FC, player during a friendly preseason training match at the Cohos Commons Field, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), in Calgary on Saturday, March 30, 2019. Darren Makowichuk / Postmedia
Edmonton and Calgary had been playing exhibition games against each other prior to the announcement of their franchises. The FC Edmonton Academy was maintained and run by Paulus during the hiatus of the senior team and they faced Calgary’s PDL club in a series nicknamed Al (Alberta) Classico.“I’d say around 50 per cent of our team is probably from within the group I worked with last year that won the PDL championship,” said Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “Like any club, if you were in a division below, you would have a chance to move up a division and add reinforcements and we’ve followed the same approach as if we’ve moved up. We kept the guys that performed very well and were deserving of the chance and then we’ve definitely clicked the upgrade button. All these guys that have come from outside, they’ve definitely improved the roster to make us a full-fledged professional team.”The rest of the clubs had to establish their own base and began recruiting players shortly after their team was announced as a flagship franchise.
Valour FC midfielder/forward Dylan Sacramento is applauded during the unveiling of the team’s inaugural kit at Canad Inns Polo Park in Winnipeg on Thurs., April 4, 2019. Kevin King / Postmedia
“What we did, is we sat down with the staff, we had a number of targets that we wanted and once we narrowed it down to the players we wanted, we went after them quite hard,” Brennan said. “We were fortunate, we got the players we wanted. We got a lot of local guys, we got a few foreigners as well that we targeted so the process was good. We had a big player pool of targets and we’re happy with the ones that we got, so we’re quite happy with our squad.”Every team has to work within the roster structure presented by the league, which was created for the betterment of soccer in Canada. Over 50 per cent of a team’s roster must be made up of Canadians with a limit of seven international players per team. Teams must also have three domestic players under the age of 21 on their roster who must play for a minimum of 1,000 combined minutes this season.“It’s been unique, the challenge,” said HFX Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart. “You have Hamilton that has some background, Edmonton and Calgary they have some sort of background already, but we’re starting from scratch and we had to convince players to come and play in Halifax. And of course, finding the right (preseason) competition for the team to develop and gel has been a little bit challenging as well, but it’s been an exciting time.”Hart, a former Canadian men’s national team head coach, joined HFX Wanderers after spending three years as the head coach of Trinidad and Tobago, where he was born. Not surprisingly, his roster features four players from the Caribbean island.“I have some players that I knew, that I worked with in Trinidad and Tobago,” Hart said. “The rest of the players are young, they’re not really known to me, I’m learning them, and they’re learning me. So it’s been a sort of situation where we’re sparring, we’re feeling each other out.”In order to help teams build their rosters, the CPL held a series of open tryouts throughout the country. They also created a U Sports draft, allowing university players to be part of the league without losing their school eligibility.
FC Edmonton is in their third day training this week at the Edmonton Soccer Dome on March 13, 2018. Shaughn Butts / Postmedia
“I’m very fortunate,” said Valour FC head coach Rob Gale. “If I look down the squad, with the exception of our four international signings, I’ve worked with every single player on the squad through my youth national team days.“Therefore, you would think that they enjoyed working with me and playing for me and they enjoy me and have come back to give it another go. I think I have an advantage in that sense that they understand what I’m about as a person and as a character, my values, and I think we have a lot of similar shared values and we do a lot of work on that behind the scenes to make sure that we’re as tight a group as possible.”Pacific FC head coach Michael Silberbauer is the only coach in the league new to working with Canadian talent. A product of Stovring, Denmark, Silberbauer had spent his entire playing and coaching career in Europe prior to landing on Vancouver Island. The 37-year-old, who made 25 appearances with the Danish men’s national team during his playing career, was brought to Pacific FC by team president Josh Simpson, who was a former Canadian international and played professionally alongside Silberbauer with Young Boys in Bern, Switzerland.
Cavalry FC Dominick Zator (L) and Tofa Fukunle celebrate a goal during a friendly match during a training session at Foothills Fieldhouse in Calgary. Jim Wells / Postmedia
“I’ve been blessed with an assistant (Jamie Merriman) who has been amazing because he knew a lot of the players and we’ve been working well with each other and he is able to answer some of the questions that you can’t see on video that I had about them,” Silberbauer said. “That’s helped a lot in the whole process of brining a team together.“Everybody was challenged with getting players together to form your new team and that’s a big challenge,”. “It was lot of hours. We tried to take our time, we tried to find guys we really believe in and it was a really long process. But I’m really happy with the outcome. We’ve really tried to be selective with what we’re doing.”Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Twitter: @DerekVanDiest