Four years ago, the inaugural CPL season was launched, giving Canada its first professional domestic league in nearly thirty years. One of the main reasons for forming the league was to give Canadian talent a platform to grow and develop their game, with the intention of nurturing their talent to the point where they’re hopefully noticed and signed by teams in Europe and the MLS. We have had success stories in the CPL in that regard in its first few years, Tristan Borges got a move to Belgium (although the move, unfortunately, didn’t work) and defenders Joel Waterman, Lukas Macnaughton, and Kadin Chung have all applied their trade in the CPL before making the step up to Major League Soccer.
This summer, the talent conveyor belt has been taken up a notch, and might be the clearest indication yet that the Canadian Premier League is indeed the talent breeding ground it was intended to be, and their method to achieving that is working.
The league itself is set up to give Canadian players an advantage. On match day, a CPL squad must have a minimum of six domestic players in their starting eleven, along with a maximum of five international players in their starting eleven – any subs made in a game aren’t affected by this rule meaning if for example a team subs on five international players, they’ll still be at least one domestic based player in the eleven (this in itself is an extreme example). As well as having a minimum on the number of Canadians that play, another crucial factor is that a team must allocate 2,000 minutes worth of playing time to at least three players in their squad who are 21 or under at the start of the season. So far, York United lead the way for U-21 playing time with a total of 4,489 minutes accumulated so far through eighteen games with young Canadian players such as Lowell Wright and Osaze De Rosario getting plenty of game time at York to shine! De Rosario has been outstanding for York this season and looks set for big things, meanwhile Wright has impressed with both York and Canada’s U-20 side, earning himself a move to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Another part of the CPL model is providing a clear pathway to Canadian players from U-Sports and League 1 Canada. Like the NHL and CFL, the CPL has a draft system and in the CPL, in revolves around U-Sports players. CPL teams can draft college players who are eligible to play U-Sports for at least a year and can then be signed to professional contracts early on, or developmental contracts. The developmental contracts allow them to be paid, train and play with their CPL team before returning to their university team in the fall. Once graduated they can then sign professional contracts and fully begin their soccer careers. In the first ever CPL draft, Cavalry selected Joel Waterman in the second round and after impressing in the CPL in 2019, CF Montreal signed Waterman who since then hasn’t looked back, even being called up to a CMNT squad in March 2019! Other notable U-Sports players in the CPL include Isaiah Johnston, Gabriel Bitar and Victor Loturi, the later has recently signed for Ross County in the Scottish Premier League.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
The CPL enjoys a good relationship with League 1 Canada, this season has seen League 1 Ontario team up with the CPL to host double headers, with York United and a Forge hosting League 1 Ontario games immediately after their own corresponding matches had finished. CPL is a middle man for League 1 Canada, creating a more natural pathway to get to MLS with CPL teams as mentioned earlier, in the need for Canadian players in their rosters. Plenty of talented players from League 1 Ontario and the Première ligue de soccer du Québec have been signed by CPL sides. Tristan Borgers, who was the 2019 CPL player of the year played for Sigma FC in 2018. Lukas MacNaughton also played in L1O, making appearances with North Toronto Nitros and Alliance United. MacNaughton would sign for Pacific in 2019 before leaving for MLS side Toronto FC in 2022. In July 2022, MacNaughton got on the end of a cross from former Juventus winger and Italian international winger Federico Bernardeschi, a moment for him that he wouldn’t even have dreamed of a few years ago, and all possible thanks to the CPL talent pipeline!
Quebec has also been a hotbed for talent, Zachary Fernandez and Samuel Salter both played in the PLSQ and both have been amongst the brightest sparks for HFX this season, it wouldn’t be surprising to either go onto play in bigger leagues. The stand out PLSQ – CPL players so far has been Diyaeddine Abzi and Mohamed Farsi. Abzi made twenty appearances for PLSQ side Blainville in 2018 before signed by York United (then called York 9) in 2019. Abzi has been out of the best players in the CPL in that time, and in June 2022 he was sold to French Ligue 2 side Pau where he’ll be coming up against the likes of AS Saint-Étienne and Bordeaux. Farsi also played for Blainville before making the move to Cavalry in 2020. After impressing in Calgary, he was signed by Columbus Crew of the MLS and recently made his debut for the Ohio based side. With the inclusion now of League 1 British Columbia and possible future League 1’s in other provinces/regions, the conveyor belt of talent form League 1 Canada to the CPL and beyond looks like a bright one!
So that brings us to this summer, where a number of high profile young Canadian players have gone onto play in Europe. From York United we have the aforementioned Diyaeddine Abzi, who recently made his debut for Pau and if he impresses there, they’ll be no shortage of eyes on him with France being considered one of the worlds great soccer development nations. Then we have two brothers, William Akio from Valour, and Victor Loturi of Cavalry. Both have been key players to their respective sides, enough to impress Ross County of the Scottish Premier League who signed them both this summer, both have since made their debut with Loturi having even scored already for Ross County. Akio has pledged his international career to South Sudan, but was developed in Canada and is still an example of giving young Canadian based players a chance in the CPL, they are both joined by Canadian Ben Paton, who has been at Ross County since 2021. Recently, Lowell Wright also became part of the conveyor belt, signing for MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps in a deal that could become the highest transfer in CPL history!
The most recent and hyped player so far from this summer to move to Europe has been Cavalry’s Aribim Pepple. Pepple burst onto the scene to score six goals in just seven games this season, gathering the attention of English clubs such as Forrest Green and Luton Town. Ultimately Luton, a team from the Championship won the race to sign him, giving the teenager the opportunity to play in one of the toughest and rewarding leagues in the world! The league gave us a behind the scenes look into a CPL transfer when it came to the Pepple move. It was revealed that the CPL has a centralised soccer operations department alongside the eight club operations departments. Part of the CPL’s operations department is to help teams being able to make transfers, whether is bringing players into the league or selling them to other leagues, free from the day to day pressure of running a club, the department are able to go out and try and promote CPL players to agents and recruitment staff around the world in an effort to get them and the clubs the best deal possible.
It’s clear that the CPL is working as a Canadian talent pipeline. Plenty of players have gone to play in bigger leagues in Europe and the MLS, players who just five years ago wouldn’t of had that opportunity open to them. The CPL’s commitment to playing Canadians, drafting U-Sports players, giving League 1 Canada players a chance and openly putting their players in the shop window has so far bred success for the young league. There are still milestones that have to be reached, such as the first CPL player to play for Canada’s national team, play in European competition and win an MLS championship, but I’m sure all those moments are just a matter of time!
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