“I’m super happy. It’s something that I wasn’t expecting, to be honest,” Estevez told CanPL.ca. “It’s something that really caught me off-guard, but it feels good to be able to make a little bit of history and leave my mark in the CPL, and show players that anything is possible — that if you work hard and put your mind to it that you can attract big teams in Europe.”
Estevez made York9 off an open tryout and that’s a truly inspirational story. York9 is managed by former Southampton, Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, and Toronto FC man Jimmy Brennan.
ADO Den Haag was like, “Emilio!” and the young gun bought into it.
As a refresher, there are Canadian professional teams in three separate leagues right now. The Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, and Toronto FC are in Major League Soccer, seven teams are slated to kick off the Canadian Premier League (CPL) in 2019, and the Ottawa Fury participate in the United Soccer League.
Or do they?
CONCACAF has informed the Fury that it will not be sanctioned for play in the USL this season, with the new CPL billed as a Tier 1 league that takes away the “exceptional circumstance” that allows Ottawa to participate in another nation’s league (the USL). Ottawa has played in the USL in 2017 and 2018 after playing its first three seasons in the on-hiatus NASL.
The main controversies from this ruling are serious concerns for both the CPL, USL, CONCACAF, FIFA, and the many staffers and players who work for the Ottawa Fury:
In a press release regarding the decision, Ottawa pointed out that CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani is “the former president of Canada Soccer, where he was the chief promoter of the new Canadian Premier League (CPL) that will start play in 2019.”
Per The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio, “The USL is in the final stages of scheduling for the 2019 season. In addition, Ottawa has sold more than 1,500 tickets in the midst of its renewal campaign, and has 12 players under contract, with several other deals pending according to (Ottawa CEO Mark) Goudie.”
So, yeah, not a great look. The Montagliani point alone scuttles the logical floor of CONCACAF’s argument.
As the Ottawa press release states, however, there was neither a protest from the Canadian Soccer Association nor the United States Soccer Federation, but this decision came from above: CONCACAF.
That’s tricky, especially since three Canadian teams play in Major League Soccer, and there has been talk that Liga MX teams could join with it to make a North American super league (though such a league could exist while its teams participate in domestic leagues, and goodness knows it couldn’t be called the NASL).
And what about Toronto FC II playing in USL League One, as well as several amateur teams in the newly-rebranded USL League Two (formerly the PDL).
Cans and cans of worms, potentially, yes?
It seems likely that this move isn’t about this season, and that the Fury will be strong-armed into joining the CPL for the 2020 season while being allowed to participate in the USL in 2019.
And let’s face it: As unjust as this ruling seems to be, the U.S. and Canada are among the only higher level leagues in the world where teams cross borders to play.
The biggest exceptions are Monaco playing in France’s Ligue 1; Cardiff City, Swansea City, and Newport County play in the Football League. That likely saves the MLS teams, at least until the CPL grows into newer, pricier boots. And can’t teams like the Fury make an argument about Welsh side Newport playing in England’s fourth tier (maybe the argument is tough to make without an open, promotion and relegation system).
North American soccer: Growing sport, growing leagues, just as much confusion.
So I rang up one of the top college coaches in U Sports — Canada’s NCAA — and he’s not worried at all. Why? Because the players are leaving school early, at least for now. They are allowed to stay in school.
Players will leave their colleges for the pro season, then return to school in the summer for their college seasons.
Back to the “at least for now” point: It will be interesting to see what happens when one of these kids are key contributors to their pro club and have to go back to school.
The college programs will improve and be more stable, kids will find college soccer more attractive, and the pro teams could catch the rights of top prospects at a younger age and play a role in their development (in turn developing the college game).
Here, of course, is where I could say that it would be amazing if the NCAA found a way to do this. But that would be disingenuous.
Maybe he’s just new on the job, but a conversation with Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan is like an imperial stout from one of Ontario’s many breweries: It gets you buzzing really quickly.
Sure, the man who knows how to politick, crediting NBC and EA Sports for the uptick in soccer popularity in North America, but it’s more than salesmanship for the former Tim Horton’s chief operating officer (Tim’s is an inescapable Canadian coffee chain).
But in discussing the construction of Canada’s new league, there’s an unavoidable energy that tracks from the ground up (and there’s little doubt their publicity and communications crew has won its mission). From the league’s very open trials in seven cities — announcing cut lists after Day One of each — to several other notable announcements, there’s an optimism in a new North American soccer league that hasn’t been felt in some time.
“You’d think in sports mad North American it should be easy to do, and many have tried but it hasn’t worked in Canada,” Clanachan says of trying to build a new league. “The bottom line is we took a very different approach. We’re building from the community level in everything we’ve done. You surround yourself with a group of storytellers who really know the game and how it shows that great passion. That’s driven by the movement and passion of the spectators. Soccer supporters are there whether their team is in third-last or first. They are all in.”
And so when the CPL started with teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Halifax, Langford, Winnipeg, and York, it made sure those fan bases got a different taste of pro sports.
Transparency is a big claim, but one the CPL has so far embraced in a big way.
“I talk about that incessantly with our people,” Clanachan said. “From everything when we announced the league and the league identity, people were blown away with us being very transparent. We believe that to really build it is to take people with you on the journey. It helps people understand who we are and what we want to do. Then it just became about continuing the momentum.”
Clanachan has said he dreams of a 2-3 division league with promotion and relegation one day, but is focused very much on keeping his seven teams strong at the start.
He credits club owners’ ownership of the league with helping idea sharing, saying the NBA is a good model for intra-league support.
And he thinks the relative lack of jobs for Canadians, especially in MLS, is only going to help his league start stronger.
“When you look at the entire MLS, there are only four Canadians that are playing meaningful minutes and only 28 total, and that’s the largest pro league close to this country,” Clanachan said.
“That’s what our guys are telling me.”
I expected him to be wrong, but there are only four Canadians in the Top 200 for minutes in MLS despite three teams playing North of the U.S. border. The number expands to eight over 300, but point well-taken.
And the open trials reflect that. NCAA college stars, MLS draft picks, and players from smaller European clubs dot the open tryout list, and these are just the names hungry to get on the radar of coaches who clearly have their own lists of players.
“Players from Singapore, Japan, South Korea are all getting attention, and they’ve paid their own way,” Clanachan raves. “Two nights ago Canada played Dominica. Our whole staff went. One of the starting forwards for Dominica was at our York trials last week. Dominica’s a very small country, let’s be honest, but a lot of people want to live in these countries, Canada and the U.S.”
And so, it follows that Canada is going to have fan enthusiasm and a decent level when it begins its way into the North American soccer landscape.
“What I took from Tim Horton’s is we built it community by community,” he said. “When you do it that way, you make a lot of deposits, and they’re with you when the withdrawal comes when you want support. And they are there in spades. Because they see you with them every day.
“When these owners came looking for me, I heard two words ‘legacy’ and ‘Canadians.’ And that to me was not the typical, ‘Well we gotta make money at this.’ Because people who go into sport to make money are going into it for the wrong reasons. They’ve gotta be into it for development of the sport. It rang a true bell. You look at why we’re having success: We’ve haven’t kicked a ball yet and people are over the moon. We’ve sold thousands of season tickets without announcing a roster. And it’s all calculated.”
The league kicks off in April. The league web site is canpl.ca.