CPL Opening Weekend: Match Previews
With the 2023 Canadian Premier League season kicking off this weekend (what a long offseason it was), we wanted to run through a quick preview for each of the four opening fixtures.
Without further ado, here’s what’s on the menu for Week One:
Atletico Ottawa vs. Halifax Wanderers – April 15 at 1:00PM EST
Two clubs coming out on the back of astoundingly different seasons will kick off the new season’s action on the ground where the hosts lost out on the CPL Final last year.
The Halifax Wanderers have a significantly transformed team to kickstart the Patrice Gheisar era with, with the highly successful League1 Ontario coach bringing in plenty of fresh faces with him to instill the attacking mentality he wants the new-look Wanderers to embrace.
With a flurry of departures and arrivals – including a complete goalkeeper change-out and the inklings that Joao Morelli may not be coming back – what remains to be seen is where Patrice’s team truly land on the rankings. There’s a lot of moving parts, but that’s probably a good thing.
On the other side of the coin is coach of the year Carlos Gonzalez, who’s first season with Ottawa saw him transform them from worst-to-first in the span of one regular season. He’s seen a few big departures as well, but he retained star man Ollie Bassett while bringing in some interesting replacements – including last year’s top goalscorer for Halifax, Samuel Salter, whom Ottawa purchased the services of this offseason.
With Atletico Ottawa looking to secure its status as a club on the upper ranks of the CPL table whilst the Wanderers look for evidence that sacking Stephen Hart was the right move, both teams enter the season looking to secure their passage to postseason for just the second time. Both need to make statements, but who’s going to get the last word?
Forge FC vs Cavalry FC – April 15 at 4:00PM EST
One of the league’s biggest rivalries – and one between two perennial title contenders, with Forge getting the glory thus far – should be sure to produce heat on the pitch with Forge hosting their biggest rivals right off the bat.
Forge enter the match as reigning champions, having knocked out Cavalry in last year’s semi-final stage before besting Ottawa in the final. Head coach Bobby Smyrniotis has kept the bulk of his title-winning roster untouched, with Daniel Krutzen the big highlight departure – though he did well to bring in Manjrekar James as his replacement.
That said, Forge tend to start the season slowly, and they’ll be without team captain Kyle Bekker as he serves the last match of a suspension picked up at the tail end of the previous season.
For the visiting Cavalry FC, head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has modified his roster to a moderate extent, and he enters the season knowing that fans want silverware, not plaudits on reaching playoffs every year.
He’s done well to replace Karifa Yao with Callum Montgomery at the back, but the big question will be how his side will score consistently in 2023, with his midfielder structure seeing some big changes too. We’ll see a glimpse of his solutions today!
Pacific FC vs Vancouver FC – April 15 at 7:00PM EST
The CPL’s newest club has boarded the ferry to the isle and will introduce themselves in a fiery match against neighbouring side Pacific FC, from whom they poached their new team captain Callum Irving.
That’s a beautiful way to start some ill will between neighbouring sides, isn’t it?
James Merriman has had a busy offseason with Pacific, and he needed to: with the likes of Marco Bustos, Alejandro Diaz, and Callum Irving all needing replacing, the Tridents have come up big with signings like Easton Ongaro, Kekuta Manneh, and Adonijah Reid.
It looks like a potent attacking force once again, with defenders Amer Didic and Thomas Meilleur-Giguere providing sturdy support at the back. The big question mark for Pacific lies behind them, though.
Merriman has banked on two young goalkeepers this season, with 19-year-old Emil Gazdov set to take a crack at the number one spot. The club signed him to a two-year extension, so let’s see if that show of faith pays off.
Vancouver, meanwhile, march into year one with highly-touted head coach Afshin Ghotbi having put the team through a long-but-promising offseason. There are plenty of first year professionals in the ranks, so he’ll be banking on the more-seasoned influence of players like Irving, Chung, and Sandoval to help his team prove playoff contenders in year one – something he’s confident they can do.
As a brand new team, there’s a lot of unknowns, but the year one roster that Ghotbi has build is quite an intriguing one. Of course, on paper is one thing. We’ll see how it all unfolds on the pitch today and, of course, over the full stretch of the season too.
York United vs Valour FC – April 16 at 2:00PM EST
Just about everyone in the above photo isn’t there one season on. The lone Sunday match is one between two sides which saw a hefty player exodus precede a campaign which both hope will see them launch themselves upwards from mid-table status.
With the bulk of Valour’s squad now fresh faces, Phillip Dos Santos knows it’s a make or break year for playoffs. He marches into 2023 without club top goalscorers Moses Dyer and William Akio, while team captain Daryl Fordyce has transitioned to the technical staff. With thunder-in-a-bottle midfielder Sean Rea also gone, this is a new era for the club, and that might be a good thing – but the verdict is out on the club’s flurry of intra-league and relatively unknown signings thus far.
Reportedly on one of the league’s smaller operation budgets, it’s been a tough go for Valour to make big waves – especially with club ownership say it’s hard to make the club a ‘viable entity’.
York United, meanwhile, enters the campaign with a roster that leans much more mature than it did in 2022. That’s by design, and head coach Martin Nash will be banking on the experience shared within the group to get them into playoffs. The acquisitions have looked good thus far, and there’s a near-total clean bill of health on the roster, so it’s time to let Nash cook.
With the 2023 Canadian Premier League season finally here, one of the world’s longest offseasons is finally in the rearview – and it’s one which saw one club fold with another coming in to replace it. A lot has happened.