Each CPL Team’s New Year’s Resolutions
New Year’s is always a time for reflection and for growth. Sometimes you look back at the goals you accomplished in the last year, and sometimes you look at the goals you failed to deliver on. Either way, you use them to build on for the next year.
For the CPL clubs, many will want to improve on 2023 ahead of 2024, but with some needing it more than others. Here are one New Year’s resolution that every team will have ahead of the 2024 CPL season.
Atletico Ottawa: Reset the Mentality
To lose in added time once can be a fluke. Twice can be a coincidence. But to do it four (almost five!) times is a serious concern, because that does not primarily point to a problem in tactics or personnel: rather, it points primarily to a problem in mentality.
Carlos Gonzalez needs to reset the minds of his players and get them to not just forget the dreadful last run of games, but to refresh them for the season ahead. The head coach got his new deal for a reason. The club clearly believe in him. But to be a great coach is not just what you do on the training ground or on the sidelines, it’s what you can do pull out of your players when the times get tough and the tide starts turning away from you. That will do greater wonders for his Ottawa side than any signing could arguably do in 2024.
Cavalry FC: Don’t Let Complacency In
Cavalry, on all counts, had a fantastic 2023 season. Barring a pair of magisterial goals in extra-time of the CanPL Final, not much could have gone better for Tommy Wheeldon Jr’s men. However, that does not mean the team can now think themselves untouchable.
Many a time you see a league champion fail to evolve or shake things up because they feel like they’ve figured out the winning formula. Many a time, they see their competitors start to sneakily get ahead of them and before long, they find themselves losing their grasp on their coveted crown. That is what Cavalry FC need to avoid in this off-season.
Wheeldon Jr showed last season that he is willing to adapt his game to not fall behind by getting exciting and flashy players like Ali Musse and Goteh Ntignee to pair alongside his more traditional hard-working, physical players. Now it’s time for him to find an even higher level for Cavalry in 2024, to not only keep up with the quickly-growing league, but to contend on all fronts – including the elite Concacaf Champions Cup.
Forge FC: Stick To Your Principles
It’s just before the New Year, and the winds of change seem to be blowing in Hamilton’s direction. Manjrekar James’ fresh exit has put a cloud of uncertainty over Forge right now. Key players’ future’s also seem uncertain, like that of Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson and Rezart Rama. Woobens Pacius has played his final game for the famous orange and steel grey. Add to it the fact that he whispers of Bobby Smyrniotis’ leaving for greener pastures has been intensifying, and things are looking tense over at Tim Hortons Field.
Of course, Forge have been here before. They’ve had obstacles thrown at them. They know how to roll with the punches, and just when you think they’re down and out, they pull it out of the bag and crown themselves champions once again. However, if Bobby, the figurehead of it all leaves, things become quite different – because it’s hard to think of Forge without thinking of the man who birthed its dynasty. But as Erik Ten Hag famously stated: eras come to an end. That’s why, regardless of who comes in and out of Forge this winter, Forge need to stick to their principles and stay true to who they are…or risk their era of dominance slipping through their fingers.
Halifax Wanderers: Capture That Lightning In A Bottle
There were many special performances put up by Patrice Ghesiar’s team in his first year in charge of the Wanderers. Many games and goals that were filled with electric passing patterns, stunning team goals and wonderful individual performances. But there were also many games where the team fell flat, especially away from home.
It is no bold statement to say that Halifax are cooking up something special with Gheisar at the helm. In just his first year, Patrice has made Halifax play some of the best football the Maritimes have ever seen and achieve their highest league finish outside the Island Games in 2020 – but the question always is: can it be sustainable? Can you be consistent? Can you apply your methods and tactics to different situations, in different conditions, across a 28-game season? That is what Patrice Gheisar and his team of coaches must try to prove in this coming season.
Step one was to instill the philosophy into the team. He seems to have managed to achieve that in just his first year. Step two is to now solidify that style of play so as to be consistently at that top level for as long as you can. Much easier said than done of course, but if there is anyone who can achieve it right now, it’s Patrice Gheisar.
Pacific FC: Get Back to Basics
By July of 2023, James Merriman’s side were the favourites to win the league. Come the end of the regular season, and they’ve finished fourth in the table. For all that might have been going on with certain individuals throughout the season, it seemed that overall, it was just not clicking over on the Island after that hot start. And while you can give a hundred different explanations and analyses as to what happened to the squad, one of the biggest issues as that it was all just getting too complicated.
Having too many great players might be classed as a ‘problem that any manager would want’. While you might laugh at anyone complaining of being in such a luxurious position to be in, unless you go by the name of Pep Guardiola, those problems can often cost teams greatly – especially if it’s muddying the team’s identity.
There were plenty of games this season where Pacific looked like they were simply trying too hard. Their attack was overcomplicating the play, while their defense languished under the pressure. Sometimes, you just need get back to basics and play in a simpler style when the chips are down. Of course, that is hard to do when you have so much quality both on and off the bench that all need and, at times demand, a certain style of play to thrive in. That is why Merriman and his team need to strike a balance in how they want to play and how they have to play given their situation – even if that means letting some of that quality go.
York United: Time To Set a Precedent
Having new owners come in can always be both an exciting and nervewracking position to be in. The hope is that they provide a clean slate and an opportunity to grow into a championship-winning organization. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t always go to plan.
The Pasquel brothers of Ricardo, Eduardo and Miguel need to try to set things in place now to ensure their best chance to build something special. They’ve already made the smart choice in not rocking the boat too much, keeping on Martin Nash and his coaching team after their best-ever league finish, but now they need to set a precedent for what is to expected of this York United team. Smiles and promises do well when you first arrive, but that only lasts until the first whistle.
Both the new owners and Nash need to prove to their loyal fanbase that this is truly a new page they’re turning, rather than another sideways step. Establish an identity, establish a standard, and start strong from the off. Football has become a sport with little patience and high demand, so the clock is already ticking ahead of the new year for York United…and football waits for no one.
Valour FC: Give Faith to the Fans
The bleak streak continued for Valour in 2023, with the club failing to make yet another playoff picture for the fifth year in a row. Despite harbouring some great talent like U-21 POTY Matteo de Brienne and captain Diego Gutierrez, Valour could not find that winning formula to be able to compete with six other teams that were fighting for the playoffs. And now they must try to turn their fortunes around without the likes of de Brienne and Gutierrez, who have left for different opportunities.
Valour have made early and determined moves, signing five new players before 2023 is even out. But in the end, its not necessarily about the players that leave nor the players that go. It’s about the project itself, and it’s identity. For a long time, Valour fans have been frustratingly questioning the direction of the club. They want to be reassured that the club has a vision that can match their fans ambition. 2023 did no favours on that front, with the side finishing last in the table.
But, with a high turnover already in the works for Phil Dos Santos’ side, the opportunity to give faith to the fans is now. Take a page out of Halifax and set a clear message about who you are and what you stand for, something that the fans can get behind. The last thing the fans want is to worry over whether the club will soon be heading in the same direction as the now-defunct FC Edmonton. Valour need rise above the challenge and prove why they deserve to compete in the league – or suffer yet another wave of disappointment from the fans.
Vancouver FC: Establish Yourself As A Competitor
Your first year is always going to be a learning year. That is what Afshin Ghotbi and company learned quite quickly in 2023.
The squad construction, like much else with the club at the start, was rushed, and there were a lot of hard lessons learned in Vancouver FC’s maiden season. However, the team showed growth and potential by the end of it. With a stronger squad and a clearer identity, Afshin Ghotbi has the opportunity to not only continue to grow this new BC side, but to put it truly on the map.
He has a plethora of talented players at his disposal, and can bring even more reliable talent in thanks to all the potential free agents available. What Vancouver need now is to take what they have learned and use it towards truly competing in the league in 2024. That in itself will likely need more than just a few new signings. Everyone will need to pull together in that team to get them competing with the likes of Forge, Pacific, and Cavalry – but if there is a will in Vancouver, there will be a way.
Header Image Photo Credit: Trevor MacMillan