A Look At Possible MLS-To-CPL Moves, Part Two
Last month we identified six Canadian MLS players who could be en route to the Canadian Premier League, and a lot has happened since then. As the end-of-season roster updates have come, many interesting names will have turned heads in the scouting department of CPL sides.
Without further ado, here’s nine other MLS-To-CPL moves we could see taking shape for 2024:
Sean Rea (CF Montreal)
Sean Rea should get another opportunity at the MLS level, but in the event that he drops back down to the CPL he’d be a killer pickup for any of the league’s eight teams.
The 21-year-old midfielder had spent the 2021 and 2022 seasons on loan with Valour FC, where he tallied seven goals and thirteen(!) assists over 53 appearances. That amazing form led him to take home the league’s Best U-21 Canadian Player before returning to CF Montreal as a more-proven youth prospect this year.
Rea enjoyed a strong start at CF Montreal, but then fell out of favour with now-departed head coach Hernan Losada. With the MLS side letting him go, Canada’s top flight would love to welcome the eagle-eyed passer back…but other MLS sides might take a punt on him, too.
Karifa Yao (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Having proven to a league-leading CPL defender whilst on loan with Cavalry, Whitecaps centre-back Karifa Yao has now been loosed by two MLS sides. His time with the ‘Caps saw him procure only five appearances across all competitions, with MLS NEXT Pro stints heavily intertwining a lacklustre year out west.
With the CF Montreal product now 23, he’s at a time in his career where he needs consistent minutes to keep growing. He hasn’t had that since his back-to-back loan stints with Cavalry in 2021 and 2022, where he featured some 56 times in Canada’s top flight.
While he didn’t look quite up to the MLS level, the 23-year-old would certainly be a welcome addition back in the CPL.
James Pantemis (CF Montreal)
2023 was a rough year for who many assumed would be the number one keeper for CF Montreal: after picking up a shoulder injury in the season opener, Pantemis found his starting spot usurped by the hot form of former CPL loanee Jonathan Sirois. After riding the bench for 2023, James found his option declined by CF Montreal.
The 26-year-old is a sturdy hand who will have felt hard-done by to be a free agent today: he exploded onto the MLS scene following a fruitful Island Games campaign on loan to Valour, going on to record ten clean sheets through 40 appearances in Montreal.
He’s definitely MLS quality, but nobody was prying the starting spot away from Sirois amidst a record-setting season. Having showcased himself well in the CPL four seasons ago, Pantemis will be highly sought after…especially with several CPL sides having released some of their GK talent coming into this window.
O’Vonte Mullings (New York Red Bulls)
Why NYRBII declined its contract on O’Vonte Mullings is anyone’s guess: the 23-year-old Canadian featured in almost all of their matches, contributing an astounding four goals and six assists in the regular season and even tallying a postseason goal against Chicago. Given that the right-back also cracked two senior team appearances in MLS, we’d say 2023 was a largely successful season for him.
Whether he’s aging out of their MLS NEXT Pro demographic or perhaps was granted leave to move on elsewhere, we can think of several CPL sides who could use a fast-footed right-back with an eye for goal.
When we covered FC Durham product’s potential in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, his agent had said he was open to all professional opportunities, and that could leave a door open for the CPL to call Mullings home. He won’t be the only FCGU grad in the league, either…right, Nathan?
Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC)
This one is a little different as Ayo Akinola is under contract with Toronto FC through 2024 – but having been tossed out on loan to San Jose this year, it’s clear that the reds don’t see a future for the striker at BMO Field, so loaning him out to a CPL side could prove a good interim fit for both parties.
It was just a few short years ago that both the US and Canada were squabbling over the TFC forward, but his stock hasn’t kept pace in the time since. A rough season split between TFC and San Jose saw him finished goalless after 21 league appearances, making it hard to justify a base salary of $700k.
A loan to the CPL could get him more consistent starts and, perhaps more importantly, the confidence for a career turnaround at a pivotal moment. Perhaps a loan to the CPL should have happened last season, though.
Zachary Brault-Guillard (CF Montreal)
Once a youth prospect with fabled Ligue 1 giant Lyon, Canadian national team fringe right-back Zachary Brault-Guillard now departs Major League Soccer’s CF Montreal after four seasons in La Belle Province.
The two-time Voyageurs Cup winner featured frequently for the side this year, making thirty appearances throughout the season in a more advanced role on the right wing. He’d be a sterling addition at the CPL level, where other French-speakers like Clement Bayiha have settled well.
We wouldn’t be shocked to see ZBG land somewhere with a bigger paycheque, be it another MLS side or the USL Championship, but you have to imagine he started fielding several calls from CPL sides the moment he became a free agent.
Chrisnovic N’sa (Huntsville City SC)
The MLS NEXT Pro feeder club for Nashville cut all but four players from its inaugural roster, and one of those let go is none other than former York United footballer Chrisnovic N’sa.
The 24-year-old right-back featured in all but three matches for the MLS NEXT Pro side, though he only rode the bench once for Nashville itself. He’s a well-known product at the CPL level, where he proved to be a top performer after amassing some 88 appearances split fairly evenly between the Halifax Wanderers and York United.
He’s a consistent performer who knows the domestic league well: while Isaiah Johnston may by staying stateside, it’s open season for the return of Chrisnovic.
Jean-Aniel Assi (CF Montreal)
After back-to-back loans in the Canadian Premier League, 19-year-old winger Jean-Aniel Assi was made a free agent by CF Montreal. Thanks to an early start to a pro career that saw him become the youngest-ever player to debut for the club in a Champions League during a match against CD Olimpia in 2020, the teenager still has a lot of runway ahead of him.
Having already tallied 49 appearances for CPL sides split between Atletico Ottawa and Cavalry FC, the Adzope-born winger has shown great bursts of speed on the right and decent technical ability… but he needs to fine tune his tactical awareness on the pitch. With a couple seasons of domestic U-21 eligibility still in front of him, he’d be a low-risk, high-reward pickup for any of the league’s eight teams.
Russel Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps)
This one will sting the Whitecaps faithful who have rooted for Teibert at the club since 2010, but the fact of the matter is that Russel’s MLS days appear to be done: the 30-year-old grabbed just 146 minutes of MLS game-time in 2023, and while he captained the side through its run to the 2023 Canadian Championship, perhaps it’s best to end on a high note.
Teibert is now out-of-contract with his longtime club, though he remains in negotiations – we’re guessing a smaller contract could see him remain on roster, while off-pitch roles ought to be up for discussion. It’s rare to see a one-club man, and we couldn’t fault him for retiring with the ‘Caps…but if he wants to keep playing for a few more years, the CPL is a place where his experience and wisdom would be quite welcome, and it also happens to be the only place where he could get consistent minutes close to home.
All-told, that’s fifteen MLS-To-CPL moves we could all plausibly see happening, and even more could be cooking behind the scenes. With Canada’s top flight league offering professional opportunities abound for domestic talent, how MLS and CPL intertwine continues to be well worth a look – especially with the CPL hoping to add at least four more teams by 2026.