A Christmas Wish For Each CPL Club
The sixth Canadian Premier League season is just a few months away, and all eight clubs are toiling away in an effort to make it a successful one for all of their fans.
As the level of play continues to grow on the pitch and club offices grow to match that evolution, we pondered what would be top of the Christmas wishlist for each CPL club.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at each of the league’s hopefuls:
Atletico Ottawa: Bounce Back Into Playoffs
After finishing as regular season champions in 2022, this year was a veritable rollercoaster that ended on a low note for Atletico Ottawa: despite a mid-season bump in form, they went on a brutal run of conceding late-game goals to bow out of playoff contention entirely in 2023.
Head coach Carlos Gonzalez will be given a chance to make that right, but the fast-growing fanbase will want to see equally fast solutions in the nation’s capital.
Delivering playoffs next season? That’s top of the list for an ambitious club backed by the standards of Atletico Madrid. Anything less and it’s time to rinse out the issues.
Cavalry FC: Unsettle The Dynasty
By all accounts, this was a year of success for Cavalry: they became the first club to hoist the new regular season trophy, qualifying for continental action while ensuring a tidy prize money package lands under their tree.
However, the postseason curse remained: rival side Forge procured two incredulous goals to come from behind in extra time of the CPL Final, leaving Cavalry one step removed from toppling Forge’s domination of the playoff championship.
For a club that has proven itself a worthy and absolute contender in each and every CPL season, Cavalry has a trophy cabinet needs a North Star Cup to sparkle within it. It’s the missing note for Tommy Wheeldon Jr’s otherwise extremely successful kickstart to their CPL adventure.
Forge FC: Keep Its Standards
What do you wish for when you’re the club who seemingly has it all? Forge secured its fourth league title from the league’s opening five years, securing continental action (again) before confirming they’ve retained an astounding fifteen players through guaranteed contracts alone – and it’s worth noting they’ve never had to endure a roster shuffle of significant size.
Head coach Bobby Smyrniotis said it best: when Forge wins, it’s because ‘of course they did’. That is the expectation for the flagbearers of the league. Heading in to 2024, the club will wish to avoid complacency, especially with some players on the roster amassing a treasure trove of medals since the club’s launch.
You’ve got to keep the standards high to stay at the top, and so far Forge has done that in spades. With Bobby Smynriotis open to jobs at higher levels, however, one big question will be how the culture might continue past him – but for now that looks a problem for another day.
Halifax Wanderers: Patrice’s Permanence
This year saw Patrice Gheisar step up into the professional game and assuage the doubts of cautious fans aplenty: the former Vaughan Azzurri boss completed a successful squad revamp while instilling not only a fun-to-watch attacking mentality, but a very successful one at that.
With Patrice having now earned a contract extension, the next item on the Halifax Wanderers wishlist will be to ensure Patrice Gheisar’s strong start wasn’t just a fluke. That’s something a strong follow-up campaign can deliver on, a task easier said than done.
It sounds silly now, but we’ve seen Jim Brennan get sacked after taking York United to playoffs and Rob Gale depart after Valour after opening the 2021 season with six wins in seven games. We think Patrice is the right guy for Halifax, but the club’s top wishlist item will be for the Gheisar era to keep delivering beyond year one.
Pacific FC: Retaining Or Replacing The Stars At Starlight
Pacific has established both a clear identity on the pitch and a reputation as favourable playoff contenders over the last few years.
They’ve managed to do this with some hefty roster rotations, which include players like Marco Bustos, Alejandro Diaz, and Lukas MacNaughton having been moved on – but importantly, they’ve had players ready to step in.
Heading in to 2024, we’ve heard that there are other clubs moving in to grab key players like Amer Didic and Manny Aparicio, who would both leave big shoes to fill – and would prove big assets for other teams competing for the same trophies.
Pacific will be hoping of retain the highly-touted players and, should they fail, will then pivot towards their historical ability to bring in worthy successors. It’s going to be an interesting off-season for the Tridents.
York United: A Plan For The Future
After undergoing both a total rebrand and a change of ownership in its first five years of play, York United still has some big question marks left unanswered: where will its permanent stadium be? How will the club engrain itself meaningfully in the community? How does the club reach playoffs consistently?
New owners Game Plan Sports Group vie to have the answers for all of this, touting a community-first approach during their introductory press conference while also stating that they’ll be looking into a stadium plan while the clubs fights ‘year-in and year-out’ for championships.
It’s a tall order, especially in the shadow of neighbouring side Forge FC – a club which new Nine Stripes President And General Manager Ricardo Pasquel says will have less joy in the years to come. If that comes to fruition, Game Plan Sports Group will be the gift that keeps on giving for the York United faithful, but there’s a lot of complications to sort out first.
Valour FC: Replacing The Big Names
It’d be easy to say Valour’s biggest wish is simply making playoffs, but that’s low-hanging fruit… that we already said last year.
This season saw the club march into 2023 without having secured big replacements for the likes of William Akio, Moses Dyer, and Sean Rea, who contributed plenty of goals in the season prior. A subsequent lack of goals this year was a painful experience for Valour, but perhaps a learning one too.
Phillip Dos Santos must now pivot to replace key players like Matteo de Brienne and club captain Diego Gutierrez, who both rejected ‘significant financial offers’ from Valour to complete intra-league moves elsewhere.
Has Valour learned their lesson from previously? Well, they’re the lead club to potentially snatch Jose Escalante, but Dos Santos and his recruitment team still have plenty to do…and they’ll want to get it right, lest they have more lumps of coal in the stocking than they have fans renewing season tickets.
Vancouver FC: Keeping Their Late-Season Momentum Going
Expansion side Vancouver FC put together it’s inaugural roster with haste, and it’s fair to say that it showed in 2023.
However, the new kids on the block weren’t afraid to make adjustments: six players were shipped away before the season’s end as the club brought in replacements to instill more consistency and a competitive culture under head coach Afshin Ghotbi.
The result was a remarkably strong finish to their first season: Vancouver rose to four wins in their final six games, and will be keen to carry that momentum into 2023. With a an attack that that truly clicked late on, the club seems to be an improved defense away from being a real dark horse in 2024.
The 2024 Canadian Premier League season is sure to provide twists and turns aplenty, especially with the overall level of parity we’ve seen in the top half of league play.
While each club has their own wishlist to complete, we hope you’re able to take some time and enjoy the company of loved ones this holiday season.