Three Big Transfers In For Each CPL Side
With the 2023 Canadian Premier League season now just one week away, club rosters are more or less locked in. The roster decisions were made and put into action a long time ago now, and the squads have been assembled with signings and, of course, some pivoting as some transfer targets got away.
We wanted to take a look at who we feel as three huge transfers in for all eight Canadian Premier League teams. Some are well-known faces, some are prospects with high ceilings. All are expected to do big things.
Without further ado, here’s three big transfers in for each CPL team:
When a product from Le Havre’s academy agrees to join on a multi-year deal, it’s worth taking note – especially at the CPL level. That’s exactly the case with Aboubakary Sacko, Atletico Ottawa’s new twenty-year-old midfielder. The youngster has risen through the youth ranks of Ligue 2 side Le Havre to feature for the reserves last year, with Ottawa head coach Carlos Gonzalez describing him as a versatile addition with great potential.
Sacko, who plays box-to-box, will help replace Abdoul Sissoko in the middle of the park in terms of breaking up plays, but the youngster pushes forward more in the attack. A speedy addition who can filter down the left side, he could be in for a breakout year – or a flop. That’s the nature of international signings: nobody knows how they’ll adapt until they’re in the thick of it.
Atletico Ottawa’s first brand new player for the upcoming season was none other than veteran defender Karl Ouimette, a thirty-year-old veteran who effectively replaces the retired Drew Beckie in the line-up. A USL Championship veteran with more than a hundred appearances for Indy Eleven and 18 for Canada itself, he’s comfortable in both a back three and a back four.
Ouimette has a penchant for making history, too: he was CF Montreal’s first academy-to-first-team player, and a few years after that he scored the goal which send his hometown team into their first-ever postseason and, a few clubs later, also helped the San Francisco Deltas to an NASL title, too. Can he help Atletico Ottawa lift the North Star Shield? The shoe just might fit.
With Ballou Tabla and Brian Wright both leaving, the nation’s capital needed to secure itself a high chance of goals. The solution for that quickly became Samuel Salter, who scored eleven goals in league play last year with a Halifax Wanderers side that hadn’t mastered its attacking transitions like Ottawa had.
The Montreal native made league history as the first paid transfer between CPL sides, so there’ll be a high expectation that Salter continues his strong run of league form now that he’s traded east coast blue for capital city red-and-white.
With Karifa Yao no longer in the middle of defense, head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. had to aim high if someone was to fill those boots – and Callum Montgomery appears quite a good replacement. The former Minnesota United defender has long been on our list of MLS talents who could land in CPL, with the last two years seeing him loaned out to San Diego Loyal in 2021 and, last year, largely sidelined for MNUFC2 in the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season.
A left-sided centre-back will likely be tossed right into the mix, with his new Cavalry chapter actually representing the first time the former Canada U-23 prospect will play in his native country.
A surprise capture for Cavalry, Aussie midfielder Jesse Daley arrives after accruing some 54 appearances for hometown A-League side Brisbane Roar, though he also has North American experience through two years with the Seattle Sounders 2 which will help him hit the ground running.
The 25-year-old is expected to bring a burst of dynamism to the Cavalry midfield, offer something different for the perennial CPL title contenders. There were Brisbane Roar fans aplenty who voiced their displeasure that his former team let him go, and that should be indicative that Daley’s move to Cavalry is somewhat of a coup.
An understated arrival following two tough seasons with FC Edmonton – and technically arriving from Forge FC – is Shamit Shome, who also spent several years with CF Montreal and has made two appearances for the Canadian national team.
It’s easy to forget that Shome is arriving to Spruce Meadows at the age of 25, inking a multi-year deal with his prime years ahead of him. With an eye for a good pass and an environment more conducive to success, Shome arrives with the tools to help Cavalry up their game, and he certainly enough high-level experience that he’s a great asset in the locker room, too.
The Wanderers cleaned house between the sticks this offseason, releasing both Christian Oxner and Keiran Baskett. There were some big questions as to who would land the vacant spot, and veteran goalkeeper Yan Fillion is a great answer. The 26-year-old Canadian shot-stopper has gained plenty of experience in Finland through the likes of Ekenas IF, AC Oulu, and the most recently IFK Mariehamn, and had also plied his trade in Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway before landing out east.
Fillion brings some much-needed leadership at the back, especially given how much transformation has occured since the ousting of Stephen Hart. A confident player who will lend his voice to the defensive structure, Yan Fillion is set to play a key part for the Halifax Wanderers this year.
We’ve known that Massimo was someone who could make the jump to CPL heights, and the former League1 Ontario phenom was quick to capture the opportunity. The 23-year-old absolutely tore League1 Ontario last year, bagging an astounding 23 goals in 15 regular season games (good for 1.53 goals per game) before adding another one en route to winning both the Golden Boot and the League1 Ontario Championship.
The familiar face to new Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar will embark on his second professional opportunity this year, having made 21 appearances for USL Championship Loudoun United back in 2020 and featuring in a friendly for DC United. If he can hit the ground running, Halifax’s faith in the pathway to the pro level could see them secure heaps of goals in return.
I’m loath to put much pressure on a domestic U-21 signing, but Tiago Coimbra has a decent toolbox for a player of his age: the 18-year-old Brazilian-born striker had progressed well with Palmeiras, where he looked sharp at the U-17 and U-20 levels. Canadá, as he’s known in Brazil, is a Canada U-20 prospect and featured for the team in the Concacaf Men’s U-20 Championship last summer, facing Cuba, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Guatemala and showing his goalscoring vision.
It’s no secret that Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar will be committing players to attack, and we’re excited to see if Coimbra can light up the league as one of its youngest strikers. We’ve seen the likes of Lowell Wright and Woobens Pacius take to it, but we’ve also seen slower starts like Mamadou Kane. Which category will Coimbra fall into? Only time will tell.
One of the all-time Canadian Premier League greats is returning to the league with one objective: score goals. It’s something that Easton Ongaro sure knows how to do.
The six-foot-six forward had tallied 0.43 goals per game in three seasons with FC Edmonton (read: 25 goals in 57 appearances under difficult circumstances), and recently spent time abroad with UTA Arad and then in MLS NEXT Pro with Whitecaps FC 2 before securing a move to Pacific. There’s a lot of excitement around his return to the league, and rightly so.
Pacific paid the price for the mid-season sale of Alejandro Diaz, who still won the golden boot after being sold last August. If anyone can fill the boots he’s left behind, it’s one of the leading CPL goalscorers of all time.
The Tridents had another unenviable task in replacing the midfield energy brought in by Marco Bustos, and part of that solution is Adonijah Reid, a former MLS SuperDraft pick who brings USL Championship experience aplenty to the Isle. At just 23 years of age, he’s carved out nearly one hundred professional appearances and has the right skillset to become not just a playmaker in CPL circles, but someone who can can score goals too.
Reid can play on both sides of the flank or straight through the middle, with the former Canada U-20 baller looking like a great pickup on paper.
April brought the club a massive addition in Kekuta Manneh, who had spent a good five years with the Vancouver Whitecaps and, in MLS, has scored over thirty goals in 171 regular season appearances.
A left winger who can likely slot in anywhere in the Tridents’ attack, Manneh is a speedy addition withe nough high-level experience to prove a real coup at the CPL level. Described as the perfect signing for Pacific by none other than James Merriman, Manneh is poised to have a big season ahead of him.
Forge is on a roll for bringing in high profile national team veterans at the back. This year saw the club capture Manjrekar James to replace the outbound Daniel Krutzen, with the 29-year-old having made 17 appearances for the Canadian national team and countless more at the club level in Hungry and Denmark, where he even featured in the UEFA Champions League.
James – who has ties with head coach Bobby Smyrniotis through his Sigma FC academy days – most recently played in Ukraine, and is the type of signing seen as a coup for the league.
There’s Nobody Else.
Forge…Forge hasn’t signed anyone else just yet. Their roster has remained remarkably consistent from the previous year, which saw them take home a league-leading third North Star Shield. Why fix what isn’t broke?
York United got an absolute steal when it somehow picked up Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare, who had asked for the Wanderers not to pick up their club option on him so he could make the move.
With Isaiah Johnston leaving a big need for a tireless and physical presence in midfield, JGL is a proven talent ready to step into the role. He’s an aggressive player in the middle of the park who brings in a strong passing IQ with him, but he’s also got defensive capabilities which are expected to stifle counters before the Nine Stripes suffer from them.
Liberian international Brem Soumaoro isn’t just a big transfer in due to his sizable figure: the 26-year-old was a much-needed defensive signing following the departure of CPL stalwart Dominick Zator, and the Nine Stripes will be banking on him to be a consistent performer in the middle of their defensive unit.
Soumaoro is on a one-year deal with further club options, and comes off of a tough campaign that saw his Cypriot second division side PAEEK get relegated. His success in the CPL will go a long way in securing York United’s playoff run, especially given some of the injury issues past seasons have seen with Roger Thompson and Jonathan Grant.
Markiyan enters his rookie season as a new face that only League1 Ontario stalwarts will be familiar with, but that hasn’t stopped the 19-year-old from bagging in goal after goal in preseason camp.
The ball-playing midfielder turned plenty of heads while with the ProStars in League1 Ontario last year, making ten goal contribituions in 21 appearances before earning the league’s Young Player Of The Year Award. Born in Lviv, Ukraine and having once trained with the Shakhtar Donetsk academy, Voytsekhovskyy is expected to earn big domestic U-21 minutes for the team this year.
Make no mistake about it: Abdou Samake is a great pickup for Valour. The 26-year-old centre-back made 53 appearances for the Tridents since joining them in 2020, where he’s shown plenty of growth at the CPL level. His rookie season at The Island Games was followed by a breakout title-winning campaign in 2021, with Samake making 23 appearances for the side last year.
For our money, the only reason he left the Isle in the rearview was in a bit of playing time: stuck behind Amer Didic and Thomas Meilleur-Giguere out west, the Canadian-Malian isn’t in a part of his career where he can sit on the sidelines. If he can form a strong partnership with Andrew Jean-Baptiste, we expect this is a duo that can flourish.
One never knows how an international signing will settle in, but Burundian attacker Pacifique Niyongabire is quite an intriguing prospect: he arrives from A-League side Perth Glory FC, where he made 17 appearances last season and earn himself a spot on the Burundi national team. He showed great footwork for them as he scored on national team duty just last week.
With Valour’s attacking line seeing plenty of change, Niyongabire arrives as an international talent who has a good chance to acclimate comfortably to the CPL and, hopefully, contribute goals for the playoff-hungry side.
Former Cavalry FC and Forge FC striker Anthony Novak missed the last season through injury, but he’s once again fit and ready to help reignite a much-transformed Valour FC attack. The 29-year-old striker – who won two league titles with Forge FC in 2019 and 2020 – knows what it takes to win, and has never missed a playoff run in the four prior years of CPL action.
While we expect him to play as an out-and-out striker, his time abroad in Portugal with Clube Condeixa saw him adopt a number ten role and add to his wheelhouse in the final third. A fit Novak could be quite a scoop for Valour FC, especially given that club record goalscorers Moses Dyer and William Akio no longer call IG Field home.
Vancouver FC knew it had to nail it with signing number one, and the expansion side knocked it out of the park with Callum Irving. The veteran goalkeeper now comes home to a side he can help immediately compete from the ground up with: his three years with Pacific saw him pick up a league title in 2021, with Irving also donning the captain’s armband whenever called upon.
See Also: ‘There Was A Connection’ – How Home Called For Callum Irving
With 69 CPL experiences to his name, this is the kind of guy you can count on to save a young team from some inevitable miss-steps as they find their rhythm in year one.
Liga MX veteran Gael Sandoval is, on paper, perhaps one of the best players to grace the CPL: the 27-year-old winger is at a prime age of his career and has played for the likes of Santos Laguna, FC Juarez, Club Deportivo Guadalajara (Chivas) and Mazatlan FC, accruing some 119 appearances in Mexico’s top flight.
He was paraded by Mexican second division side Tepatitlan FC just one month before suddenly leaving for Vancouver FC, jilting a lot of fans back in his native country. At the CPL level, there’ll be high expectations for what the former Mexico U-18 prospect an do. Will we have another Francisco Acuna or Alejandro Diaz-type success on our hands? Only time will tell.
This time last season, Kadin Chung had made his first three of nine Major League Soccer appearances for Toronto FC, and he looked decent despite falling out of favour with Bob Bradley. The 2021 North Star Shield champion has been consistently one of the best full-backs to be found in the Canadian Premier League during his days with Pacific, and he’ll play a key role in keeping the defensive line organized while continuing his trademark tears down the flank.
There isn’t a CPL side who wouldn’t like to add Chung to their roster, but him coming to the new kids on the block – and the new rivals of his former team – is a statement move.
All of the players above can have a huge influence on their new team’s seasons depending on how they perform in their new surroundings. Some will take, and some won’t – that’s football.
Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll drop who we think are the three biggest departures for each CPL side.