Usually, when you do this kind of thing, you’re looking for an even number of winners as losers, but this season in the Canadian Premier League, there have been far more disappointments than there have positive things happening. You’ll notice Vancouver FC has been omitted from this list entirely, and that’s mostly because their launch was successful, but their play on the field hasn’t been so far, so they get this honourable mention.
The season is still young, and hopefully, there will be more things to be excited about as the year goes on, but here’s what can be scrounged up so far this year.
Winner – Shaan Hundal
We’re starting with the biggest individual winner in the entire league this season: Vancouver FC’s Shaan Hundal. Not only did Hundal score the first-ever goal in Vancouver’s history, he has quickly become one of the CPL’s most feared strikers. In his now eight league appearances, he has found goal four times, currently good for the lead in the golden boot competition.
This isn’t Hundal’s first foray into the Canadian Premier League, having previously spent time with Valour in 2020, but only saw action in six games, where he couldn’t manage a goal. Otherwise, he has spent time in USL Championship, and USL League One while with Toronto FC 2, but in 2022, he scored six goals in 21 appearances in MLS Next Pro with Inter Miami.
On the season, Vancouver has just seven goals to their name, and Hundal has been involved more often than not. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to bring the league’s newest franchise to many points, but hey, a golden boot winner in your first season as a team isn’t a bad result, right?
Loser – Atlético Ottawa
It goes without saying that 2023 has been an absolute unmitigated disaster for Atlético Ottawa thus far, and if they can’t soon pick up the pieces, they’ll be left without a seat at the dance. It’s too early to be thinking about that just yet, but in the back of Carlos Gonzalez’s mind, he’s probably wondering what the heck happened to his table-topping team from a season ago.
Sure, they lost key players like Drew Beckie, Ballou Tabla, and others, but they brought in talent that they thought would fill those boots (more on that in a second). A team that prided itself on keeping the ball out of their own goal a season ago has suddenly turned into one of the worst defensive teams in the league this season, allowing 10 goals in eight matches. On the attacking half of the pitch, they have been equally dismal, save for their five-goal outburst in Vancouver. Excluding that match, they have only scored five goals in the other seven matches.
Right now, Ottawa looks completely lost at times. They’ll put together a couple of impressive performances, including the aforementioned meeting with Vancouver, and their Canadian Championship clash with Forge, where they fell in penalties, but those great showings will be sandwiched with the footballing equivalent of vomit. As it stands, Ottawa toils near the bottom of the table, far below their expectations when they started the season.
What’s the solution? Right now, unless there is some super secret sauce that Gonzalez is waiting for the perfect moment to pull out, it seems like it won’t come before the transfer window this summer opens up. In the nation’s capital, this wasn’t what anyone was hoping for.
Loser – Sam Salter
After a 2022 season where Sam Salter scored 11 goals with the Halifax Wanderers, Atlético made history with the first in-league transfer, bringing him to Ottawa, where he was expected to lead the attack. To say that has gotten off to a rocky start would be an understatement, as Salter has struggled, scoring just one goal, and finding himself listed as a sub on a handful of occasions on the young campaign.
Salter’s lone goal of the season came in Ottawa’s romp over Vancouver FC, and while at the time it was an insurance marker early in the contest, in hindsight, it wasn’t the stiffest of competition. The concern right now in Ottawa is also causing many people to look at Salter’s time with the Wanderers through the lens of hindsight, noticing that more than half of his goals came courtesy of spot kicks.
It’s not to say that Salter can’t or won’t ever become the player he’s expected to be, after all, he’s still a really young 22 years old, but clearly, he’s not off to the start in Ottawa he would have hoped for.
Winner – Pacific FC
Many wondered what Pacific FC would look like this season after losing many of their key pieces over the course of last season, and into the winter months. No Alejandro Diaz, no Gianni Dos Santos, and no Callum Irving. Many thought they would plummet down the standings, with some going as far as handing them the wooden spoon before the year even began, but James Merriman once again has his side looking like title contenders early on.
In the league, Pacific stands second in the table, and in the Canadian Championship, they reached the semi-final, where they fell to the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0, but the tale of the game was much closer. Perhaps it’s just the championship pedigree within the club, or maybe it’s a compliment to their team’s success at sharing the load, but once more, the Vancouver Islanders are in the title fight.
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Six players have scored multiple goals this season, with Manny Aparicio, Amer Didic, Ayman Sellouf, Josh Heard, Easton Ongaro, and Sean Young leading the charge, and three more have a marker on the season. In goal, Emil Gazdov has sufficed, but could stand with some fine-tuning as he becomes more experienced. He’s still only 19, and to his credit, has been strong more often than not. So far, Pacific has to be one of the favourites for the title at season’s end.
Loser – The Officiating
Let’s start this section by noting that the officiating across the board hasn’t been great this CPL season. Some fan bases will likely feel their club has been wronged the most, while other fans may even believe the league is out to get them, but make no mistake, that’s not the claim here. Rather, this is something plaguing the entire league, and it’s certainly not intentional. Things reached a boiling point with Cavalry FC, where Tommy Wheeldon Jr. spoke out.
“It’s happening every single week with some contentious calls, like I said it’s tough for me to keep talking to these young men about believing in yourself and the system we’re trying to play, they [the calls] will eventually go our way. That’s the hard thing, and I know I’ll probably get in trouble for saying it but it keeps happening and this is their league, this is our system, we should have six more points on the board from it; it’s decisions every single week.”
No one is ever satisfied with the level of officiating at any level of any sport, but in the past, people have been more accepting that many of the CPL’s referees hadn’t worked high levels of football before. Now, five years into the league’s existence, experience should no longer be an issue, but yet, in the eyes of many, things haven’t improved.
This issue is heightened by the lack of VAR in Canada, and while it’s obviously too expensive for the league right now, there’s no reason video replay can’t be used. We see it in junior hockey in this country, and there’s no reason why the CPL can’t hire a video referee who does the same job as VAR, by using just the video replay readily available right now in each stadium. This would go a long way to making fans happier.
Loser – Osaze De Rosario
Last season, Osaze De Rosario was one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise disappointing York United squad, scoring 13 goals across all competitions. This season, the 21-year-old was a popular choice to win the golden boot, but thus far, he’s stumbled about as hard as possible out of the gate. De Rosario is now 10 games into 2023, and still, he’s yet to register a single goal.
It’s to the point right now where fans are having legitimate conversations about whether or not De Rosario should see time in League 1 Ontario. It’s hard to think of why this has happened, especially with the quality of talent surrounding him improving compared to last season. No matter what it is, football is cruel, and despite being the young phenom heading into 2023, De Rosario is now starting to be questioned.
If he can turn things around, the chance for the golden boot is still there, largely thanks to the league’s inability to do much more than draw 1-1 every second game, but it’s going to take a severe effort and sudden turnaround. Who knows, maybe some time in League 1 is what’s needed.
A Mixed Bag – York United
After York United’s four recent matches, calling them a loser would be incredibly harsh. Wins over the Halifax Wanderers, Cavalry, and most impressively, Forge, have the Nine Stripes playing up to their potential, a moving up the table, where they now stand third. It took some time, but on the field, York has taken the step forward that they have so desperately desired since ditching the York9 identity.
So why isn’t York one of the big winners in the CPL right now? It’s rather simple. A team without an owner isn’t a stable franchise, and a team with attendance figures as low as the Nine Stripes have seen is one to be worried about. In late April, York United was sold to CSB, as the Baldassarra called it quits.
Mark Noonan claims that the move is positive, saying “we didn’t have the right equation in this market,” but this probably wasn’t option number one. Complicating matters is the attendance, of course, which routinely rubs right around 1,000 spectators, with some games coming lower, which is obviously concerning.
Ultimately, York’s play on the field isn’t going to save them from being a talking point in a negative light, and until things change in the region, it doesn’t seem like anything will change. Who knows, maybe the fallout of the Toronto FC drama will result in York’s attendance driving up. CPL fans can only hope.
Winner – Bobby Smyrniotis and Forge FC
Forge haters look away, because the best team in the CPL will stay that way for some time. It’s mostly a foregone conclusion that when the weather starts to cool down, Forge is going to be right there battling for a title, and that’s largely thanks to the work that Bobby Smyrniotis has done.
Once again, Forge tops the table at this point in the year, but even scarier is the promise that they will be able to keep this up for years to come. Smyrniotis signed a contract extension with the club earlier this season, which included an increased role, much to the dismay of the seven other clubs around the league. Forge is here for the long haul, and looks poised to be the ones who finally flip the script, and bring the Canadian Championship to the CPL.
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