Hart: CPL Is ‘Opening Eyes’ Of More High Pedigree Players
Last year saw the inaugural Canadian Premier League season catch many eyes by surprise with its quality of play on the pitch, and that’s something that only grew at The Island Games: the average technical ability was higher, the teams were more organized, and the overall quality on the pitch was evidently higher than the year prior.
While Hart touched on the quality of the CPL in the midst of the inaugural campaign, he broached the subject of its continual upwards trend during a media call following his coach of the year award. He says that when the league was first mentioned, the general consensus he had heard was that many said they’d believe it when they saw it. When the inaugural match was finally due to kick off, many were still unsure what the quality of the pitch would be.
As we now know, the baseline quality shown by the original seven CPL sides impressed, none moreso than Forge FC. The Hamilton-based side made history by becoming the first team to hoist the North Star Shield, and surpassed expectations in continental action with a largely Canadian roster.
Then Forge comes along, they’ve got a nice program and a nice club. They’ve gone in to the Concacaf League. They’ve done well. Then the second year rolls around, they look better because of the experience. I think a lot of eyes are opened.Stephen Hart
The two-time Canadian Premier League champions have had ‘a bit of a fairytale‘ start, as Kyle Bekker puts it, with the club presently one match away from qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League and one Canadian Championship match away from being the first CPL team to hoist the Voyageurs Cup.
The Hamilton-based team bested Hart’s Wanderers side in this year’s CPL Final, but that doesn’t mean the coach of the year won’t give them credit where it’s due: he says his reception of the award was a flattering surprise given the tough competition, and offered high words of praise to the reigning champions:
It’s no secret that Forge is the standard bearer. They have the quality coaching and some players with a lot of experience that have played in the Premiership, Europe, and MLS. That goes a long way, because at the end of the day you can’t coach experience. They are, under pressure, an extremely calm team. They’ve been there before and they know how a football game is mere moments within ninety minutes.Stephen Hart
While Hart himself has tried to lure former Premiership players into the fold out east, this year saw the coach conduct a major overhaul of his inaugural roster, bringing in no less than fifteen fresh faces ahead of the club’s second campaign.
These faces saw the Halifax Wanderers rise to their first-ever CPL Final appearance, where Forge FC sunk them two-nil to claim back-to-back CPL titles. As the bubble broke at the final whistle, however, Hart says that he knows many high caliber players that tuned in who were impressed with what they saw:
Just talking to some ex-national team players and some players who have been in MLS and Europe, the product was much better than they expected. They were quite impressed with some of the games at The Island Games. So, of course it’s opening eyes. It just goes to show that we do have the talent in this country, it just needs the exposure, the experience, and the support. Right now, Forge is the club sort of showing that.Stephen Hart
While all eight Canadian Premier League clubs are planning their season ticket membership options on the idea that fans will once again be allowed into home grounds for a regular-length regular season, league commissioner David Clanachan has assured fans that the league has a ‘Plan B, and a Plan C’ in place if the COVID-19 pandemic forces structural changes next year, too.
The Island Games proved that the Canadian Premier League could oversee a bubble tournament without any positive COVID-19 cases, and Hart has faith that if a repeat bubble tournament is required that the clubs will be in good hands next year, too:
With the success of the Island Games, they have that under their belt and they know how to do it, be it if it has to be in a bubble or whatever, or some sort of hybrid version of it. I trust that the brain trust of the league will get it right again.Stephen Hart
The Halifax Wanderers have already released an official roster update, revealing that core players like Christian Oxner, Peter Schaale, and Andre Rampersad have signed multi-year deals. Golden boot winner Akeem Garcia will also return, with key Island Games additions like Joao Morelli, Jems Geffrard, and Cory Bent also listed amid the returning players.
Header Image Credit: Canadian Premier League / Chant Photography