There is some discussion on social media about what the new trophy for winning the (Regular) Season will mean for the Canadian Premier League. So I’m going to break it down from my point of view, outside of the CanPL/OneSoccer media duopoly. (Just kidding, those guys are great, but still…)
I am one of those guys who in the early days, before the CPL had kicked a ball, that was clamouring for a traditional balanced table winner as champion to go alongside a Cup Competition. I bemoaned playoffs as “non-soccer-y” and tried to explain that if we were gonna rip off the “Premier League” moniker, we may as well go all in.
Then the split season with a playoff was announced and I probably whined for a bit. (I am too lazy to research myself). But it grew on me over time. And it also opened my eyes to the world of soccer. I mean I live on a continent where playoffs are a thing, and apertura/clausura exists happily. So why limit myself to the “English Game?” (Great movie though, innit?)
So I watched season one of the CanPL and enjoyed it thoroughly. Did Forge FC being crowned the first ever champion help with that? Indubitably. And did I revel in the tears of Cavalry’s “Spring and Fall” celebrating protesters, somewhat hypocritically. Definitely. What fun is a rivalry if you can’t crush the souls of your enemies with a few “Que sera, sera’s” and an avalanche of memes? But the rules are the rules, and everyone got the same instruction manual at the start of the season. If Tommy and his charges decided to go all out and leave nothing in the tank for when it mattered, so be it. Forge are Forever First.
Year two was a one-off tourney borne of necessity. Forge won it as the heavens had deigned. And still, all was right with the world.
Year three, a new playoff format was examined, the split season was long gone now that the league was balanced, and Pacific FC upset the natural order and very nearly collapsed the league and probably our universe* and the commissioner resigned as a result**
*(current universe has obviously been collapsed by the death, re-birth, and alternate re-birth of Yorky)
**(That last part may be embellished/made up).
In year four almost all was right with the world again as Forge FC won the North Star Shield at home in front of an unusually quiet crowd. (Trust me Forge owns TD Place). I say almost because in a strange, but oddly CPL thing to do, a post mid-season “change” was made to recognize the regular season champs. Most teams paid it absolutely no mind, as the rules had been fully fleshed out before the season started, and they continued experimenting with new formations, signings, and the like, in order to be ready for the playoffs. (See Forge, Cavalry and Pacific).
There was one outlier of course. Atletico Ottawa. Realizing they had no realistic shot at winning an important pressure-filled game against Forge FC – the league’s recognized bullies, and yet also heroes – Atleti elected to focus on the lifeline they were thrown by Commissioner Noonan.***
The Road To Olympic Gold – FC13 Podcast
***(Lifeline received by virtue of Bekker’s shots being too hard and fast for the naked eye, but to bring that up would be so petty. I’ve been called worse)
So Atleti accepted with glee what most clubs had dismissed. Dismissed because frankly everyone felt a little embarrassed about it, not the least of which were Papa Atleti Board Members in Madrid who worried they might have to display the “Championship” Poster in public. But I digress. Onward and upward. (In fairness to Atleti the son, none of the other playoff quality teams had ever lived the ignominy of a last-placed season. I am sure that must of played some role in their desperation to be recognized. A kind of Sally Field’s, “You like me, you really like me!“, moment so to speak.
Year Five is where, in the words of Armen Bedakian, we finally have a “proper” season. (So take that CPL and your meaningless 4 year experiment!). Of course this is the season in which we are all playing for that one thing, the “proper” championship trophy that no one has yet seen. Of course, in true CPL fashion teams will actually be playing for many more things, such as:
⁃ a spot in the expanded playoffs that will give new meaning to worthless regular season games. Because nothing is more worthy than a sub .500 playoff team!
⁃ A shot at the Concacaf Champions League, which can only be earned in one way, by being a “proper” champion. (What’s that? Oh sorry, it can only be earned in one of three ways, including: the old, non-proper champion way; the new proper champion way; or by being crowned Canadian Champion…in an additional champion way? Phew, glad we cleared that up).
⁃ And of course players will be playing for both personal and civic pride, as well as to earn themselves looks from teams abroad in higher competitions. BECAUSE WE ARE A DEVELOPMENT LEAGUE! And that has only become possible in Season Five because this new season format has been adopted making every game vitally important. (Ya hear that Zator, Loturi, Pepple, Abzi, Farsi, Rea, et al? You played no meaningful games to allow you to get moves up. I may be hanging on to grudges too much, d’ya think? Me neither).
Ok, so now I think we all get the way this all works. The real champions are the new regular season ones. The playoff Champion North Star Shield winners will be just glorified cup champions (who get a plate) and it won’t seem weird that the league made such a big deal about it before at all in previous years. Cool.
So in the end what will this mean for Forge’s Legacy?
Well that’s easy. If they win the regular season everyone around the league will simply say, “Forge are truly the best, as we always kind of knew in our hearts.” Joking. It will cause all former regular season league “winners” to stake their claims as the real champions of years gone by with even more vigour, and perhaps a retroactive parade or two.
So then, what if Forge doesn’t win the regular season? Well then any haters around the league (there can’t be many honestly, can there?) will gleefully point to Forge as a tournament team and unworthy champion and proclaim this new championship team as the first ever “true” champion in a very Highlander kind of way (“There can only be one!”).
But truthfully it won’t do anything to the legacy. The league has been different every year in its history. Formats have changed, players have moved on and up, coaches have been fired. (Your next Wheeldon, tick-tock!)
But the past is set. The North Star Shield resides in the Hammer as always. (My mind refuses to believe in that darkest timeline season with Pacific). Nothing can diminish the dynasty created by Bobby and Bob (and Costa, and Kyle and…etc)
To be honest Bobby has always looked at what was needed to wear the crown, then coached accordingly. And Pacific did their job too, that one, single, off-putting time. And this year we will all set out with the same goal in mind. Making Valour FC finish sixth.
Can’t wait for season 5 to start. Finally, Football that matters.
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