July 14, 2024
  • July 14, 2024
Forge FC Tristan Borges

How the CPL Can Help Build on Canada’s Success

By on July 11, 2024 0 651 Views

Despite the final result, Canada made history on Tuesday by playing a Copa America semi-final in their first tournament run. It was a memorable achievement for this group of players, but it left them wanting more. After a match where Canada were second-best, Porto midfielder Stephen Eustaquio challenged those watching at home to view this a new standard for the country, rather than a once-in-a-lifetime result.

“I think its very important for the people back home to understand that its possible to be here more times,” said Eustaquio. “We have the team for it.”

Surprisingly, he then went on to call upon the nation’s fledgling domestic league, the Canadian Premier League, to also help for this level can become the new normal, by pushing more Canadian players into the spotlight.

“I just wish the CPL starts pushing more, so we can grow more Canadian players that can support us,” exclaimed Eustaqiuo. “2026 is just around the corner, but we still need more Canadians to come around and be better.”

“If everyone is professional, we can have [even] better teams in the future.”

Those comments left many inspired as one of Canada’s brightest stars name-dropped Canada’s only Men’s domestic pro league on one of the nations biggest sports broadcasters. It quickly dominated social media circles, sparking discussions about why the CPL is an important piece of Canadian soccer, not only for its current growth but its future potential as well.

Now, there should be no doubt that the CPL can and should be an important cog for the future success of Men’s soccer in Canada. You look at all the top nations in the world and anywhere you look, you find, reflected in their international success, a strong domestic league. Most have multiple pro leagues that create pyramids of growth, stability, and ambition. It is where many of their local young talents are educated, developed, and primed for the next level of football. You can look at Spain, Argentina, and Germany to name a few. Those countries’ leagues are the roots that have grown deep within their earth, deep enough to hold up the towering growth that each nation has undergone to blossom into the footballing powerhouses we see today.

For Canada, the problem is that their roots are just coming in.

Halifax Wanderers Andre Rampersad
Photo Credit: Trevor MacMillan

That is not to say there there is not a deep soccer history in Canada, as there is. One need only look at the history in British Columbia with the Vancouver Whitecaps to see how far back soccer goes in this country. It is rather that soccer has not had a consistent, stable or established home for it to be at the level of the countries that it has faced in this Copa America. Many domestic leagues have come and gone over the years, with lapsing gaps in between them, causing any momentum the program has had to dwindle and stale. The CPL is now the latest iteration, and with it comes opportunity to buck that trend and establish itself as the catalyst for Canada’s future success as a footballing nation.

The league’s importance is undeniable. The question now is how. How can the CPL take Canadian soccer to the next level?

When asked by this reporter at this morning’s virtual availability, Jesse Marsch had a clear vision: to challenge the youth to rise to the level of their international peers.

“Too many of these players’ development arcs have launched at too late an age,” began Marsch. “At the youth level, we’ve got to demand more out of the players. Demand more physically, mentally, we’ve got to have more personalities in our players, too many of the players here are too quiet… we’ve got to find a way to develop these players faster.”

Vancovuer FC TJ Tahid Juan Cordova
Photo Credit: John Jacques

Enter the CPL, who has structures in place to try to promote the inclusion and development of young Canadian players with their 2,000 U-21 minutes requirement paired with the minimum amount of Canadian players starting in each game (6). While those structures have done well so far to allow young Canadian players to shine through, Marsch’s vision is one where even more is demanded.

“They [the CPL] should be playing as many young players as they possibly can” remarked Marsch when asked about the CPL’s role to develop the youth faster. “For me, there should be rules about how many young players are on the pitch, and again, I don’t mean 22 year-olds, I mean 17, 18, 19 year-olds.”

“There needs to be a way to put more responsibility on young players to challenge them for what the highest standards of games are.”

Lucky for Marsch, while the CPL does not have a rule about how many U-21 players must start in a match, the league has already made strides to get younger players even more involved with these professional settings. The ‘Exceptional Young Talent’ rule has allowed teams to sign players under the age of 18 to a developmental contract, thus giving them the opportunity to not only train with seasoned pros, but to be able to play against them. We have already seen the breakthrough stories around players like TJ Tahid, James Cameron, Kevaughn Tavernier and more in the past year. These youths have been able to rub shoulders with players over 10 years their senior and have been able to showcase their raw talents on bigger stages than any available in any academy camps and youth teams.

Meet The CPL’s First Six Exceptional Young Talent Players

These are the players that can set the standard for what the player pathway can become for Canadian soccer. They are the examples for younger players to be able to follow in the footsteps. Already we are seeing the seeds being sown for that future that Eustaquio and Marsch are demanding. Now its about sustaining it, and ensuring that we are cultivating the right environment for their continued success.

The fact that the CPL has developed structures for young players to thrive does not mean the job is done. Far from it. There can be so much more done to be able to foster those fruitful environments, including more expansions clubs for players to play for, more resources for players to use, and more opportunities across the board. What the league has done so far is good, but there is potential for so much more, especially around youth players.

“I’m going to the Forge match on Sunday night,” announced Marsch towards the end of his impassioned speech. “I’m gonna get a chance, live, to see what the games look like, what the level is like, and what the playing style is like, and then I’ll be able to evaluate things and try to find ways to help push what I think the expectations of high level football are.”

Photo Credit: Jojo Yanjiao Qian

It goes to show the importance of this league when the Head Coach of one of Canada’s most successful Men’s sides in recent history, that is so determined for the nation’s footballing growth, is going to personally take himself to CPL matches as part of his plan for growing the game in Canada. Him, like many of us, are past seeing this competition in the same light as its predecessors, as a league doomed to implode or fade into obscurity.

Rather, Marsch wants to see the CPL for what it is not only now, but what it can be: The stable and growing roots for Canada’s future successes.

Header Image Photo Credit: John Jacques

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