Three Big Player Transfers Out For Each CPL Team
Following our piece on three big additions for each Canadian Premier League team, it only made sense to see the other side of the coin: three players each team lost that leave big shoes to fill.
Aside from Forge FC, each team dealt with a fair amount of roster exodus, and how will they navigate the offseason roster rebuild will likely go a long way in determining their success on the pitch this year.
Without further ado, here’s three players who will take some replacing in 2023:
Perhaps an undersung component of Atletico Ottawa’s tireless midfield engine, former Ligue 1 talent Abdoul Sissoko was a midfield mainstay last season, but has returned to Kuwait after being released by the club.
Sissoko appeared in 29 of 32 matches for Atletico Ottawa last season, forming a strong partnership with Ben McKendry as he covered big gaps of space on the pitch and broke up plays en route to the club’s first-ever CPL Final appearance.
The former France U-20 international was an extremely solid performer at the CPL level, so it’ll be interesting to see how the midfield (and transition phase) of the club performs without him.
Former Barcelona prospect Ballou Tabla is the type of player who can turn a match on its head in an instant, and he did so for nation’s capital on numerous occasions. He tallied seven goals and five assists in his first of three expected seasons with Ottawa before his surprise offseason sale to Turkish second division side Manisa FK, something which came to fruition in a matter of weeks not long ago.
The club recognized that it had lost an important player with Tabla’s sale, which sources close to the club said made it one of the highest-value transfers seen in the CPL thus far – but how fans react to it in 2023 will depend on how big his absence is felt.
With Atletico Ottawa team captain Drew Beckie retiring and joining the team in a staff role, the veteran defender left after accruing some two hundred club appearances in North America.
Carlos Gonzalez brought in Karl Ouimette to fill in a backline that otherwise saw a fairly minimal turnover, but when Beckie was fit there was a noticeable uptick in the team’s organization at the back – he’s a tough one to replace, especially in a league that skews young.
Cavalry enjoyed two seasons of Karifa Yao through consecutive loans from CF Montreal. He was quick to establish himself as a top defensive talent in Canada’s top flight, tallying up a staggering 56 appearances in two seasons, both of which saw the club reach playoffs.
The 22-year-old was never expected to return for a third loan spell, but what did catch fans by surprise was when CF Montreal let him go. The Whitecaps were quick to snatch him up, and soon after that he made his debut in the Concacaf Champions League.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. had offered Simmons a new multi-year deal that came with a raise, but Simmons simply wanted to go.
The in-demand defensive midfielder is one of the best in the league, accruing 65 appearances for Cavalry after joining from the Halifax Wanderers. He led the side in recoveries last season, but will now ply his trade for Vancouver FC instead.
The Luton, England-born midfielder is a great talent and one whom leaves big shoes to fill at Spruce Meadows.
It’s fare to say that most Cavalry fans though Dutch left-back Bradley Vliet would have his option picked up by Cavalry: he made 23 appearances for his first season in red, fitting in superbly at the CPL level and offering a left-footed presence along the flank.
Instead, Pacific FC scooped him up on a two-year deal. Tommy wheeldon Jr. had said that his departure was due to clearing up an international roster spot, so the verdict on how that pans out for Cavalry remains to be seen.
The Halifax Wanderers had a twin-engine setup in midfield between Andre Rampersad and Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare, the latter of whom connected both ends of the pitch through aggressive, strong, and consistent performances.
While the club had an option on him for 2023, he requested to be let go do he could move to York United, and this was granted by club brass. After establishing himself as a top central midfielder in his 47 appearances out east, JGL will now suit up against them this year. Make no mistake, this is one of the biggest and most surprising intra-league moves to happen in the offseason.
Samuel Salter was the club’s top goalscorer last year, breaking double-digits to score eleven goals in league play – just two shy of a golden boot – and all that while his team was underperforming.
The Montreal native made history as the first paid transfer between CPL sides and will suit up in Atletico Ottawa’s red-and-white this year. With fifteen goal contributions over his first two CPL seasons, fans will be hoping that the new attacking mentality set to be instilled by head coach Patrice Gheisar finds others capable of finding the back of the net.
21-year-old goalkeeper Kieran Baskett’s transition away from his hometown team will probably be undersung, but he comes as quite a loss: he accrued five clean sheets from nine appearances last year, and likely would have seen much more game time if he didn’t undergo a spat with the coaching team.
He headed west to join Pacific on a free transfer, wrapping up his time out east with 21 appearance. All-told, he’s been a solid option for a Wanderers team that now doesn’t have any pro experience behind new goalkeeper Yann Fillion.
After three years out on the Isle as Pacific FC’s number one goalkeeper, Callum Irving left the club to join neighbouring side Vancouver FC. With the veteran goalkeeper having helped Pacific to a league title in 2021 and having donned the armband whenever needed in his 69 appearances for them, it’s a move that stung the PFC faithful.
Pacific will now lean on young goalkeepers Emil Gazdov and Keiran Baskett, but it remains to be seen if the youthful approach can fill the big gloves left behind by Irving. He earned two golden glove nominations in his three seasons on the Isle, and seeing him hop across a ferry to call a neighbouring team home can’t feel good.
Marco Bustos can count himself amongst the upper echelon of all-time CPL talents.
The midfield talisman was an absolute force in the CPL over the last four seasons, contributing 23 goals and 20 assists during that time. His three seasons in purple saw him help the team to its first-ever North Star Shield, with Bustos dazzling crowds with his fast-feet, eye for goal, and ability to draw in multiple defenders before breaking down the opposition anyway.
He now finds himself with Swedish top flight side IFK Varnamo following a trial with Toronto FC. Suffice to say, replacing Marco Bustos is a tall, tall order for the Tridents.
Pacific FC Captain Jamar Dixon hung up his boots at the end of the 2022 CPL season, calling curtains on a storied playing career that concluded with three seasons and 62 appearances for Pacific FC.
The veteran midfielder was a big leadership presence for the west coast team, donning the captain’s armband through both their first North Star Shield win and first foray into the continental action which followed, too.
While Josh Heard is a strong replacement for the armband, Dixon will leaves big shoes to fill in terms of his presence both on and off the pitch.
Club original and three-time CPL champion Daniel Krutzen is, without a doubt, Forge’s big departure of the offseason.
The Dutch defender had made eighty appearances for Forge FC over the last four years, coming back from injury last season to captain the side en route to their third North Star Shield.
A big centre-back who’s been a solid rock for Bobby Smyrniotis at the back and a huge aerial threat at the other end of the pitch, he’s now in the USL Championship with Phoenix Rising.
He left big shoes to fill during his injury last year, but leave it Forge to have their replacement for him end up winning the league’s new defender of the year award, with this year’s centre-back successor being none other than Manjrekar James.
Forge original Jonathan Grant had made 55 appearances for Bobby Smyrniotis throughout the last four seasons, establishing himself as one of the most versatile utility players in the league: whether you needed him on the right defensive flank, midfield, or left-sided forward, he was your guy.
The last season saw Grant’s influence diminish to just 77 minutes of game time, so a fresh start elsewhere was warranted. With Guyana recently calling him up, however, it goes to show that the versatile CPL veteran still has plenty to offer.
We’ve making an assumption here given that Nanco has been out-of-contract for several months and, truthfully, Forge don’t really have that many departures. Outside of these three, there’s just Emery Welshman. Forge’s roster is more consistent than night following day.
The 28-year-old club original made 72 appearances for Forge over the last four seasons, contributing nine goals and two assists as he plied his trade on the wing. After only carving out 337 minutes of game time last year, however, it was another case where moving on is likely the best option.
One of the toughest CPL defenders of all-time, Dominick Zator has been an absolute rock at the back for both Cavalry FC and York United. He made 105 total appearances for each, enjoying one national team call up during his CPL era.
Hungry to re-establish himself on John Herdman’s radar, Zator dove straight into a relegation battle with Polish top flight side Korona Kielce this year. Impressing overseas, his move seems to have paid off with Zator joining the Canadian national team in March.
The six-foot-two centre-back was a leader for the Nine Stripes both on and off the pitch, and he’ll be a big miss for the 2023 CPL season. He’s now replaced by Liberian international Brem Soumaoro, but we never know how the internationals truly fit in until the season is under way.
Nine Stripes midfield bulldog and fast-footed youngster Isaiah Johnston big gains with every season he spent at York Lions Stadium: he started as a fairly quiet teenager in 2020, established himself as a starter in 2021, and then absolutely bossed the position in 2022.
Wowing crowds with numerous spins and having eyes for both goal or an audacious pass, the scrappy 21-year-old was sold Huntsville City FC as the club’s inaugural signing.
The Nine Stripes moved quickly to secure Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare as a strong midfield presence, but he’s certainly not a like-for-like replacement to Johnston. It’ll be interesting to see how the transformed Nine Stripes midfield takes to 2023.
The last four seasons saw Chrisnovic N’sa establish himself as one of the best right-backs to be seen in the CPL level. He made 88 appearances in the league split between Halifax Wanderers and York United, and entered free agency in the offseason.
While York United would have liked to retain him, the 24-year-old followed Isaiah Johnston to Huntsville City FC, making his debut in the club’s inaugural match. He left a big hole on the club’s right flank which it seems Paris Gee and Jonathan Grant will deputize.
Nobody likes having to replace their club record goalscorer, but that’s what’s on the menu for Valour FC following the departure of Moses Dyer.
The New Zealand international had bagged nineteen goals and seven assists over the last three years in Winnipeg, where he underwent a successful transformation from a central attacking midfielder to direct striker.
To make things even tougher, the club’s second-highest goalscorer – William Akio – was sold to Ross County midway through last season. Valour needs to lean on some new faces big time up front.
There’s no denying it: CF Montreal loanee Sean Rea was a cut above the CPL level for all of last season.
Rea’s second season on loan with Valour saw him contribute five goals and nine assists, with the eagle-eyed midfield creator landing the league’s Best U-21 Canadian Player award for his efforts.
There was no third loan forthcoming, however, with Sean Rea rightfully staying to fight for a first team spot with Montreal in 2023. The club’s other two-year CF Montreal loanee, Jonathan Sirois, also landed a first team gig in La Belle province.
Saskatoon’s own Brett Levis was a great addition on the left flank for Valour FC, with the full-back racking up 45 appearances over the last three seasons in Winnipeg.
Levis – who featured as both a defender and midfielder on the left – is a versatile athlete and a consistent performer for Valour. His influence is surely to be missed, with the 29-year-old now joining Moses Dyer down at FC Tulsa.
The Canadian Premier League sees a ton of roster movement each offseason, and this one was no different. Still, each of the above players pose a tricky situation for the clubs they’ve left: they’re hard to replace, and how well each club navigates those losses will go a long way in determing which five teams reach playoffs this year.