Where Would You Go? – A Free Agents Guide to picking your Next CPL Squad

Where Would You Go? – A Free Agents Guide to picking your Next CPL Squad

Ok, imagination time.

I am a young soccer starlet. A free agent working with an outside the box management team.  I want to make the most of a short career and I am looking for a jumping off point to really kickstart my burgeoning career. The CPL seems to fit the bill, but who should I sign for?  Let’s make a little sales pitch for each team. (Caveat: Let’s assume everyone has the same space under the cap for me and that they need my position filled on the squad – so I will be a projected starter everywhere). Let’s look at some of the main benefits of signing with a team, all things being equal. I have decided to consider seven rather arbitrary factors: Success on the Pitch; Coaching Staff; Fan Base; Opportunity for Advancement; Marketing Opportunities; Bang for your Buck; and Benefits Unique to the Team. Is this an all-encompassing list? Nope. Is it pretty arbitrary? Yep. Is it likely to be riddled with bias? You betcha! But it is the off-season, and I have a CPL itch to scratch dammit! So let’s go!


Atletico Ottawa:

This one has some obvious benefits. Quality stadium and amenities to play at. A solid fan base. Deep-pocketed ownership. International coaching staff and connections. So let’s break down the pros and cons of signing here.

AO are the defending regular season champs. Made it to the Finals. Playing here means playing for one of the big dogs in the league. Not bad.  And with a real playoff shot, a chance to win silverware and play in big pressure games. That’s a check for a young player looking to make a name for oneself.

The coaching staff. This is a big plus. The coaching staff here is lead by the reigning Coach of the Year, so you are getting a good one. Also the links to coaches at lots of levels are here through the Atletico Madrid umbrella. And coaching is not just the team’s leaders but the number of specialists that can be reached out to. Madrid/San Luis can provide additional expertise that other CPL teams aren’t privy to. (See Ollie and Ingham’s off-season trial as a case in point).

Ollie Basset takes a corner for Atlético Ottawa (Tim Austen/Freestyle Photography)

The fan base is also a draw here, after all, it’s MASSIVE (*barfs onto his keyboard, and takes a moment to clean up, couple of keys sticking now). But with the crowds that turned out and the relative downturn in other local sports (read: the Sens and Redblacks suck), an opportunity exists to be a big name on the sports landscape in the nation’s capital. That’s a draw.

A chance to step up is a no-brainer here. While all the general opportunities of a feeder-league exist here, the bigger benefit of having a very rich parent club with all kinds of international contacts helps. Plus with stars already heading towards chances in LigaMX with big bro Atletico San Luis, a bigger shop window exists.


Marketing. While not the only fish in the pond, AO benefits from having no major US Sports leagues in what is a big market. No MLS, NBA or MLB means the NHL and CFL are the big eyeball competition. With very little hockey overlap, you can make a name for yourself in sports circles here. If you want to grow your name, and make a few bucks while doing it there are worse places to be. Big city, small summer sports names.

Atlético Ottawa vs Forge FC October 30, 2022 PHOTO: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography

Bang for your buck. Well living in the nation’s capital is never going to be cheap. So assuming you aren’t a local dude with a mom and pops willing to let you move down to the basement, you are going to have to spend a bit more of your earnings on life’s necessities than in some other CPL cities. Being in a beautiful city in the summers with lots to do outside of games and practice is a plus. After all footy isn’t the only thing in life. This is a good balance.

Of course the most unique thing about this club has been mentioned but is worth coming back to. Training camps in Spain, conversations with internationally-trained coaches and chances to play in bigger leagues under the Atletico umbrella are unique to this team. This is a selling point no other team can match. Ottawa should score high in your options.


Halifax Wanderers

Um, no need to dawdle on the first point. One finals appearance in the weird fishbowl of the Island Games is not nothing. But it is an outlier compared to the usual outside the playoffs, tragically low-scoring, well-supported nothingness. So this one is not a big hook, yet. If the new gaffer’s lower league success transfers quickly, anything can happen, but for now, nada.

Coaching. This coach is young and dynamic like his product on the field. He has coached a lot of Canadian success stories that have gone on to brighter futures. You would be foolish to doubt the potential for finding a path to success in the Canadian soccer landscape with the new Halifax. This is a plus.

Halifax, Nova Scotia – Aug 17, 2021: during the match between HFX Wanderers FC and AS Blainville at the Wanderers Grounds in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Trevor MacMillan/HFX Wanderers FC)

Fan base in Halifax is the balm and bane of its existence. They will turn out. They will cheer you on. They will make you a fixture of the sporting community. All except for one guy they will love you for just showing up. A supportive fan base is a massive plus and will help you play your heart out for their loyalty. So that is the biggest plus. That little salty, edge that makes you push yourself for their love isn’t quite there yet (Except for that one aforementioned guy with the sign). How much that really matters is up for debate. I guess it depends on our free agent’s character.


Opportunities to step up have not really appeared out east yet. But I would argue they are coming. A team needs success and a network. Wanderers seem to be working on both. To be continued.

Marketing Share is huge. Halifax is a big city by Canadian standards. And with no other teams in the Maritimes, it represents a bigger fan base than just the city. Plus the Wanderers are really the only pro game in town in the summer. No real traditional North American pro sports competition. All eyes on you my friend, all eyes on you. Of course the marketing heft of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver it is not. But it is all yours. Think of all the free donairs alone!

Canadian Premier League – HFX Wanderers FC vs Valour FC – Wanderers Grounds, Halifax, Nova Scotia – August 5, 2019. The Wanderers FC celebrate a HFX Wanderers FC Defender Matthew Arnone (23) goal – Trevor MacMillan / CPL

Bang for your buck. If the number of my friends who have moved east has any bearing, (sorry Haligonians looking for a home), then money stretches a bit here. Nothing wrong with being the big dog sports-wise and having a bit of change in your pocket too.

Miscellaneously I am going back to mention the Wanderers Grounds. It is grass. It is full. It is loud. It is a real estate agents dream (location, location, location). Why does this matter to you as a player? Because you are a player. Your dreams may be big, but you are still alive in the moment. Nothing beats playing in front of a packed house with the crowd singing your name (I would guess). These moments may not come at every step of your journey. Seize them with both hands when you can.


York United

Success on the pitch is nowhere to be seen in the first four years. One playoff appearance, but it was not much of one. Perhaps this is their year…perhaps it isn’t, again.

Coaching here is solid if unspectacular. Nash is a fixture in Canadian soccer and got his CPL start at one of the most successful sides in the CPL. I’d say this is an above average attraction, but barely.

York United fans thank Diyaeddine Abzi during his final home match. (Photo: David Chant/York United)

What can I say about the fan base? It is curious. I mean the average fan at York Lions Stadium seems to be the parent/coach of a youth team player who got tickets, parent/family of a player on the pitch, or someone who got lost in the outer regions of the city and decided to stay for the match. I will give some credit to the ever growing supporters group culture. It is not necessarily growing in numbers that fast, but it seems to be growing in groups.


Opportunities to step up to a higher level are this team’s jam! They sell on anybody and everybody they can. Do they move them out so quickly that they can barely be remembered by the fans. You bet, but hey, this is a development league baby!

Marketing for the team and players here does not suffer from a lack of effort. In fact, Giantopolous is likely to get a sitcom out of this. But when you are competing against TFC’s multimillionaire Italians, baseball stars at Skydome, and whatever else turns up in the big city, you may be out of luck for drawing eyes and sponsorships.

Jordan Wilson celebrates scoring the game-winner for York United vs Edmonton (Photo: David Chant/York United)

Will your CPL salary go far in Toronto. Let’s put it this way, get a roommate in Hamilton and a Presto Pass.

What are the unique benefits of this club? There is a good chance you’ll end up as the face of a re-brand, so there is that. Maybe a new stadium and outlook in Etobicoke one day? A chance to be in a video with Yorky? Whatever it is, it won’t be great.

Valour FC

The only team in the league that has yet to taste the playoffs in any capacity in Valour FC (RIP Eddies, we hardly knew ye). I guess you good make a name for yourself in their pantheon of legends if you could just drag them across that line. Best get to the playoffs before the new VFC though.

Moses Dyer on the ball for Valour (Valour FC/Robert Reyes Ong)

Coach Dos Santos is worldly and cultured. He pushes the squad and has created a style – defensively sound and counter attacking. (Not boring. Many people like this style I tell myself). It is not a terrible place to learn the game.

The fans here are better than VFC deserve in my opinion. The Trench sounds great. The numbers are great considering the overall malaise on the pitch. This is a place that could erupt if they just get the chance.


Opportunities to step up so far seem abundant. Players have gone abroad and of course more have gone on to MLSNextPro too. You will be seen, and you will look like a bargain because you can be a diamond on a rough team.

Good luck with marketing yourself as the man about town from a sporting standpoint. The Blue Bombers exist. They are the boys of summer here and always will be. Sorry, but football here means Grey Cups.

Sean Rea celebrates with Valour teammate Diego Gutiérrez James McDonald / Valour FC

I think there is bang for your buck here. Winnipeg is underrated as a city. There are some lovely spots, places to eat, cool neighbourhoods and it has some great history. There is bang for you buck here if you know where to look.

What is the unique selling point of Winnipeg. Well simply making the playoffs will make you a footy legend. And if you like craft brews you may be in heaven…


Cavalry FC

Easily the most successful team with nothing real to show for it. I know they have a retroactive title now, but does that really sooth the pain? I guess it has to. They have been to the Finals and have never missed the playoffs. If you play here you will be in the mix.

Coaching here will teach you not only the game, but how to dress for success to. Coach Tommy is a dapper sort to be sure. But clearly this is a great coaching staff. Martin Nash of York United came through the Cavalry team. And players have learned and moved on, and new players have arrived. All of this in large part due to having the chance to work with Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

Canadian Premier League – Cavalry FC v Forge FC – Calgary, Alberta, Canada Aug, 12, 2022 Cavalry midfielder Mikaël Cantave scores the winner in the 90th minute. CFC Media Mike Sturk

The fan base is loud and loyal. The FootSoldiers are one of the the most intimidating crews in the league. The fan base is one of the bigger ones in the league. They may be on the verge of revolt soon, as they are still waiting for their CPL Finals game since year one. They would be fun to represent on the pitch.

Some of the biggest moves abroad have happened here. Pepple, Loturi and Farsi are three great examples. Tommy has contacts no doubt. This is a good place to play if you want to make a move up.


I think you can market yourself here well too. Calgary is a huge city with a lot of corporate money. In the summer the big competition is the Stamps. While big, I don’t think they are Roughriders/Blue Bombers dominant. There is an opportunity here to make a name for yourself. Once Hockey starts you will be invisible though.

Calgary ain’t cheap. I don’t think this is a bang for your buck type town, but maybe compared to Vancouver and Toronto you are ok. Upper middle of the road maybe for CPL.

Cavalry FC’s Elliot Simmons, Joe Mason, and Victor Loturi (L-R) celebrate Mason’s goal vs. FC Edmonton. (Tony Lewis / CPL)

The unique benefit of playing in Calgary is the Southern Family ownership. Genuine billionaires. Who knows how much they may invest as the league grows, but the improvements to the pitch already speak volumes. I like the potential. The negative in the miscellaneous column is the loss of the Eddies. They were a real away day. The rivalry was not one really, results speak for themselves. But the chance to take a bus with a bunch of other supporters made for one of the few true away day scenes for the players. And players love to here their fans cheering in the enemies house.

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Pacific FC

Three straight playoff runs and a recent NorthStar Shield means you can count PFC amongst the successful. Last season also saw them play some exciting CONCACAF games, and they have beaten MLS opposition. Having sold their star mid-season and still making the playoffs is a pretty big accomplishment. Success is part of the PFC DNA.

Marco Bustos, Pacific FC – Sheldon Mack / CPL

The Tridents are on their third coach going into their fifth season. But their head coach has been there since the beginning. He understands who they are and how to play the game in Canada. Not a bad place to learn the game. After all, a lot of good players have moved up from PFC.

The fan base here is fun to play for and stands to grow in the next few years with a new rival on the scene. The crowds are solid if unspectacular. And with the stadium due to expand with the dreaded Hydro Pole removed, the sky is the limit. The Lakeside Buoys are a veteran SG and T.O.P. sounds good on the drums. It should be fun to play here.


As touched on above a number of players have moved up from PFC. Most famously it was Wero Diaz going to Norway in a big money move. But seeing two defenders make it to TFC is impressive too. (And Campbell and Hojabrpour going to Forge could be seen as a step up too, but I digress). PFC will give you opportunities.

Marketing yourself here has possibilities. The Island doesn’t have many other options for top level professional athletes. With PFC on the map now, making a name for oneself should be doable. And with three pro sports teams in play, L1BC rolling along and a WoSo pro league in the offing, the province is due to become a soccer hotbed. Nice timing!

Pacific FC’s Thomas Meilleur-Gigure kicks the ball away from HFX Wanderers’ Akeem Garcia in CPL action at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday, April 23, 2022. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Bang for your buck is a tale of two cities. Victoria ain’t cheap, and Island life is always a bit more dear than on the mainland in general. But PFC isn’t in Victoria, so the benefit of being in Langford is living in the cheaper areas of the island is beneficial. Still, I’d guess this is one of the CPL’s more expensive areas to live in.

What makes playing here unique. The new rivalry. A new team nearby has arrived in Vancouver FC. That should stir some juices. Add to that that the ownership is really the PFC ownership, and that they seem destined to poach some of PFC’s best talent, and this could get spicy.


Vancouver FC

This one will be tricky because there is nothing to base my comments on except my say so. But that has never stopped me, so here we go. Success on the pitch? TBD

Coaching is a hype train for Vancouver FC. Their guy has all kind of international contacts. The rolodex is deep. (Yes I’m old). This could be good.

Afshin Ghotbi, 58, will lead the Vancouver FC soccer club as the first head coach in club history. (Vancouver FC)

The fan base is will be interesting. Not quite Vancouver, but Vancouver in name. Will the suburbs show up? I think so, just because VWFC has a habit of finding ways to alienate their fans. PFC is the established team, but the new guys may have a shot at some fan growth. A wash.

Opportunities to step up. Oliver Gage works for PFC/VanFC so he gets the international contacts game. The new coach has been around. Yes, there will be opportunity.


I love their Grey on Grey already. Sweet colours because they will look good with anything. Can a player make a marketing push for themselves here? Sure can. But the BC Lions, VWFC and Seattle teams are a serious bit of competition. And the Canucks will have some late season overlap. Not ideal.

Vancouver FC is set to take to the pitch for the upcoming 2023 season. The new club’s logo is a V-shape design that evokes a bald eagle on the right side of it. (@CPLsoccer/Twitter)

Is there bang for your buck here? Sure, compared to Vancouver proper and Victoria. This is the benefits of playing in the suburbs, with a big city name. I think it will be ok.

The uniqueness of playing for Vancouver FC will be that everything is new. Expectations are low as an expansion team, but you are backed by championship ownership. It looks pretty bright on that front. Everything is unknown, but my guesses are pretty positive.


Forge FC

Ok, because you know who I am, I did Forge last. I am very open-minded and unbiased, but I will acknowledge that being in the crowd for 4 of the 5 championship games Forge has played (2 legs year one) may have created a slight unrecognized favourtism in me. Unprovable but I digress. Here we go!

Success on the pitch has almost become boring by this point, because it is so de rigueur in the Hammer to be at the top. (See, no bias). But seriously, Forge even received one of those pretend retroactive paper cut outs for winning the league. (Technically they should also get Atletico’s – what with the missed Bekker goal in Ottawa and the illegal man in the wall goal in Hamilton. What do you mean I’m petty, you’re petty! But please keep reading). No team is more successful than Forge in the CPL. 3x Shield winners, Concacaf League success, first CPL team in the Champions League, and ever so close to being a Canadian Champion. Yeah, success will benefit you here.

Forge manager Bobby Smyrniotis lifts aloft the North Star Shield in front of the Forge supporters (David Chant/Chant Photography)

The best coach in CPL history, and not burdened by overconfidence born of too many plaudits. (Again, I am not bitter). But he has coached at the L1O level and the CPL. He gets development. Canadian national team players have called him coach. He is always in discussion to be moving on to a higher level. You will be well-coached in Hamilton.

The fan base here is the most loyal, passionate and good-looking in the league (Hmm, I guess there is a little bias in me after all). This group has become demanding, with high expectations. There is the chance that this fan base may put more pressure on player’s than any other (Cavalry is close). If you want that pressure, this is a good place to grow up in a pressure cooker.


Despite being amongst the cream of the crop annually, the big moves up are less pronounced here. Biggest move in CPL history is still Borges. Mo Babouli went on to a bigger pay day, but came back to York (York? Really Mo?). Kwame Awuah is playing in MLSNextPro and may very well jump up with the team to MLS. You will get the opportunity to be seen. But a jump ain’t guaranteed.

Tristan Borges celebrates scoring against Pacific (Photo: Forge FC Hamilton / Brandon Taylor / Jojo Yanjiao Qian)

Marketing in Hamilton is led by the mighty Ti-Cats. And Forge is awfully close to TFC, not much further than York is. Still, being a winner buys opportunities to be the face of some corporations. You might not be massive here until the league is better known. But you won’t be anonymous.

What is the unique advantage of playing at Forge? Well it is home base for the CSB, and home of league founder Bob Young. The potential to have a league-wide conspiracy named after you is greater here than anywhere else. Invest in tinfoil and you could make a fortune on your own exploits being discussed around the CPL.



Ok, this was mostly tongue in cheek. And that is largely because Forge gives me so little to do in the off-season. But there are definitely teams that have more pull than others when it comes to new players. Being in Ontario (especially the Golden Horseshoe) puts you in a populous soccer hotbed. Being in Ottawa gives you a rich daddy with connections. PFC and new VFC have a burgeoning rivalry and shared outlook/ownership. Halifax has a sweet community. Calgary is your opportunity to join the Sith. Valour is, I don’t really have the word for them yet…middling?

I would love to play anywhere in the CPL, but age, a lack of skill and a mediocre agent have led to me just writing about it. Hurry up 2023, I want back in the stadiums!

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