Gale on Developing Canadian Players: ‘We Need Multiple Pathways’
Valour FC is a club home to Canadian players that have developed in a lot of different ways: some come from professional academies, some plied their trade outside of the professional game before arriving at the club, and others like Tyler Attardo have impressed during the Got Game Open Trials that opened up a short professional trial to the masses.
For head coach Rob Gale, seeing these different walks of life is nothing new: he’s been helping nurture Canadian talent at the national youth level since 2010. Before that, he was the technical director of the Manitoba Soccer Association. He’s seen it all.
Now that he’s coaching for a club in the Canadian Premier League, he’s got a front row seat to the shifting soccer landscape in Canada: domestic players who may not have had professional opportunities in 2019 have now racked up about 94,000 minutes on the pitch from CPL League action alone. Many of them haven’t come from the traditional pathways like the full-time academies one sees in Europe.
When asked by Chesterfield Sports‘ own Ben Steiner about these different pathways, Rob Gale had a lot to say about the future of Canadian development:
I think what it shows is that you have to have multiple pathways in any development platform. As we build, as football clubs, a structure I’m trying to put in behind the scenes, all the work you never see, is to provide environments and pathways. Look, we’re going to have a massive problem in the offseason where we all go away for six months, so good luck being the U-20 coach who tries to qualify against Mexico when your players haven’t played for five months. I’ve lived that twice.
With the inaugural CPL season set to conclude in just about a month’s time, Canada’s only professional league will be in for a five month long offseason. Pacific FC is building British Columbia’s largest fieldhouse to help players train year round, but it’s not known have every CPL club plans to keep players who are still adjusting to life as professional athletes fit and sharp for the second season.
Canada has long-struggled to find ways to nurture its talent, with the oft-shifting form of the Vancouver Whitecaps being a good example: the club retired its USL team, affiliated with Fresno for a single year before abandoning that idea, and now has an oft-travelling Whitecaps U-23 side that was recently playing against CPL hopefuls in Saskatoon. That’s a lot of shifting structure, and it’s not good for player development – which is why MLS commissioner Don Garber recently took a shot at the CSA:
I am excited about the development of the CPL, but we do need to work together to figure [things] out. The Canadian Soccer Association needs to figure out how they’re going to engage with Major League Soccer teams that are investing millions and millions and millions of dollars per team, not including what they’ve invested in their academies and in their infrastructure, to ensure that that investment is going to help develop the Canadian player, and help justify the investment that they are making, otherwise that investment is going to go away, because right now, it’s not making that much sense.Don Garber
While there are a few MLS players like Ryan Telfer, David Norman Jr, and Blake Smith that are currently on loan with CPL clubs, the league has stressed that it will never become a reserve team league for MLS. While some like York9 FC assistant coach Carmine Isacco believe the CPL would better serve young Canadian MLS talent, many fans don’t want to see ‘affiliations’ develop, such as what the Ottawa Fury is to the Montreal Impact. It is a top flight league, after all, even if the budgets and squad sizes are much smaller than those of the three Canadian MLS clubs.
For Gale, he simply wants to see the CPL utilize every avenue it can, including the CPL-U SPORTS partnership that allowed the likes of Jace Kotsopoulos and Peter Schaale to play for a few months at the professional level while preserving their university team eligibility.
We’ve got to continue to build pathways, partnerships, development programming, work with U SPORTS, work with the NCAA, work with youth environments, build regional development in clubs, make those stronger, coaching education, I could go on. I’ve been in Canadian soccer for the last fifteen years, sometimes it’s a challenge. It’s frustration and hard work, but you’re in it for the long-term and the long game, and I know that probably better than most, so you’ve got to continue to build those environments, and patience, and find pathways and more opportunities, increased opportunities, so that you can see we’re inspiring.
Despite the fact that Valour FC hasn’t quite found the right formula to put together consistent results on the pitch, the club has averaged about 5,495 fans for each game at IG Field. Suffice to say, the club is certainly making an impact on a soccer-hungry community – and that plays a big role in helping the future of Canadian football, too.
Come to our home games, I spend 45 minutes before a game with all the local kids and the clubs, they’re coming out and they’re wearing Attardo shirts now, or Bustos shirts, and that’s what it’s about: having local Canadian heroes, and that’s how we’re going to develop the game. That’s why [Alphonso Davies] is so important. That’s why Arfield and all these guys, Teibert, who never got the credit he deserved, but it’s hard work and we need everybody behind it from on and off the field, to continue to grow this league to what it could become, and if we do that and we continue to build, then it’s going to be exciting for all of us come 2026.Rob Gale
For Gale’s Winnipeg-based Canadian club, the inaugural Canadian Premier League season hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride: struggling with injuries, Valour FC finished dead last in the spring season. The fall season has seen the side put together some impressive performances, though Valour still finds itself in the bottom half of the fall season table.
You know, sometimes you take results that you don’t enjoy, sometimes player’s performances are a little bit up and down, but if you’re in it for the right reasons and the development of the game and the players, you have to remain persistent and continue to believe in these guys, because days like this [4-2 win over York9] when they reward you and get the accolades that they deserve, are very enjoyable.Rob Gale
For Gale, it’s clear that his sights are set on the long-term development of Canadian football, though his busy fall season transfer window shows that he’s ready to take immediate action to help impact his club, too.
While clubs like Forge FC and Cavalry FC have dipped heavily into developmental leagues like League1 Ontario and USL2 to form their 23-man rosters, fans will see different approaches employed by each CPL club: the Eddies have a full-time academy that has already helped develop first-team players, while Pacific FC has heavily relied on youngsters who fell through the cracks at MLS developmental programs.
It’s clear that Canada certainly has a lot of pathways to the professional game. It’s figuring out how to best employ them, nurture them, and get the best out of them that will ultimately determine how many Canadian professional athletes the CPL will produce. Not all of them will make it, but the important thing is that young Canadians finally have a concrete opportunity to make it at the professional level in their own backyard.
Sources: AFTN, Leonard FC (via Twitter)