Doneil Henry on CPL: ‘It’s An Attractive League’
Suwon Bluewings defender Doneil Henry has seen a lot throughout his career: a breakout success with Toronto FC, the 27-year-old was transferred to Cyprus, spent a few years with West Ham in which he was loaned out twice, signed for the Whitecaps, and is now in South Korea trying to help the Suwon Bluewings improve their position in the K-League.
Throughout that time, he’s appeared for the Canadian national team no less than 31 times, so it’s fair to say that Henry knows a fair bit about the growth of the game in his country. When he made his debut under Stephen Hart in 2012, after all, there were still some unattached players travelling with the national team – something that is no longer a familiar sight for a Les Rouges squad on the rise.
While Henry was able to jump straight from the Toronto FC Academy into a role with the first team, that isn’t the case for a lot of Canadian talent – and so perhaps it should come as no surprise when Henry had high words of praise for the CPL when it came time to reflect on his country’s own domestic league during a chat with Thomas Nef of the World Football Index.
It’s an attractive league. I think it’s really important for a young player’s development that they can go and play 20-30 games. Starting their professional careers I think those games are important, even get some of the young TFC, Vancouver, and Montreal players on loan so they can play 20-30 games. It’s very important to play games at this time. I’m happy that it finally started. I think it’s a big move for Canada.Doneil Henry
Last season saw Toronto FC loanee Ryan Telfer impress his parent club while on loan with York9 FC, and this year both Robert Boskovic and Gianfranco Facchineri will be hoping that an impressive campaign in the shortened CPL season will help jumpstart their own MLS careers.
The league also provides an alternative for young MLS Academy products who believe getting first team action in the CPL will benefit them more than reserve or academy action: Shaan Hundal said as much when he signed with Valour FC, while this year York9 FC recruited two TFC Academy products in Ijah Halley and Julian Altobelli.
With the CPL requiring clubs to have at least three domestic U-21 players on each roster and coaches needing to field a majority-Canadian playing squad in league action, local players get a much higher chance of playing time than they might have received in the MLS. Those U-21 products need to receive an accumulative 1,000 minutes of playing time each year, too.
While the league has proven to be a great place to develop young Canadian talent so far, league commissioner David Clanachan has made it clear that the top flight of the Canadian game won’t be a reserve league for MLS sides: there’s a limit to the number of players a CPL side can have on loan, and the league will never host MLS reserve teams.
Instead, expansion clubs like Atletico Ottawa pay an expansion fee and become a part of the CSB business model. With the CPL planning to have a second division in the future, owners recognize that the clubs they help grow may one day get relegated – but as an investor in CSB, they still reap the financial rewards when the Canadian game sees success.
There are plenty of Canadians with ties to MLS clubs in the league, and Henry himself has played with several of them throughout his days with Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps. There’s also an unexpected connection through West Ham United, where he collected an U-21 Premier League Cup alongside Ottawa’s Vashon Neufville, with both Jordan Brown and Malyk Hamilton having developed through the academy system there, too.
I grew up playing with a lot of the guys. And the league, I won’t say I watch it too much, but I’ve played against the Calgary team [which is] well run.Donel Henry
That well-run Cavalry FC side saw its 2019 roster prove that many athletes who had been playing semi-professional action were ready to make the jump to the professional level, with head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side winning both the spring and fall seasons before falling short of a North Star Shield in the first-ever CPL Finals.
While the Canadian Premier League still has yet to announce a return-to-play plan for the 2020 season, clubs are still operating with the expectation of competitive game time in the near future: Forge FC just brought in former Impact defender Maxim Tissot, while York9 FC has reportedly signed a European player who developed at a top-tier La Liga academy. With the league establishing a high quality of play last season, fans and players alike will be hoping to keep the action (and player development) rolling while the summer weather remains.