CanPL.ca Virtual Newsroom pours over the recently-announced CPL 2020 season and what we can expect from The Island Games. Watch in full here.
The Canadian Premier League is finally headed back onto the pitch next month.
The CPL announced on Wednesday the launch of the “The Island Games,” a multi-stage competition to be held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, that involves all eight teams, and kicks off on Aug. 13 and concludes in September (full schedule announcement to come at a later date). The Island Games will serve as the CPL’s 2020 regular season, with the winner crowned league champions and awarded the North Star Shield. The winner of The Island Games will also qualify for the 2021 Concacaf League.
All matches will be played behind closed doors in a sequestered environment at UPEI Alumni Field in Charlottetown with the five-substitute rule in effect. The opening game will be a rematch of Finals 2019 with Forge FC facing Cavalry FC on Aug. 13. Every match from The Island Games will air live on OneSoccer.
The format of The Island Games breaks down like this:
An opening group stage (28 games) where every team will play each other once. The top four teams advance to a second round-robin group.
A second group stage (six games) where every team will play each other once. The top two teams advance to the finals.
A winner-take-all, one-match finale with the North Star Shield at stake.
“The players are excited. Our club (owners) are excited. Our league office is excited. It’s a great day. We’ve been planning this for a while, and certainly the time is right,” CPL Commissioner David Clanachan said during a media conference call on Wednesday.
Teams will start landing in P.E.I. on Aug. 8 for The Island Games. International players arriving in Canada before The Island Games will first travel to their home market, follow a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, and be tested for COVID-19 before they leave for P.E.I.
The Canadian Premier League and all participants will follow all federal, regional, and provincial public health and safety protocols during The Island Games. The CPL has developed health and safety protocols that have been approved by the P.E.I. Chief Public Health Office, and that have been developed in consultation with the World Health Organization’s “Return to Gathering for Sport” protocols. Every CPL player and coach has been tested (all the tests have come back negative), and they will be tested again before leaving for P.E.I. Testing will continue throughout the tournament.
The 2020 CPL campaign was originally slated to kick off of April 11, but the league has been in a holding pattern since March 13 when pre-season training camps were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After such a lengthy layover, CPL teams now have a chance to put their best foot forward at The Island Games, and showcase the league’s crop of talented Canadian prospects. The Island Games also gives the CPL an opportunity to build upon the momentum it gained from a successful inaugural season in 2019.
“It can’t be lost on any of us that we’re still selling a league. We’re gaining traction after a phenomenal Year 1 with some great games and moments, and look at the supporters’ sections that have grown. This pandemic has come at a tough time but what we can do in 2020 is make (the 2020 CPL season) an exciting one,” Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. told CanPL.ca.
“We need to take the positives and showcase Canadian football and the media marketing aspect and get to more eyeballs across the country, and put on one hell of a tournament.”
It’ll be interesting to see how CPL clubs adapt to the format of The Island Games, where the matches will come fast and furious. Each team’s depth will surely be tested, as will the tactical acumen and squad rotation policy of the coaches during the competition.
“The number of games in a short period of time, I think suits us really well as a team, because I’ve got two strikers in Tomi Ameobi and Easton Ongaro that I can always keep fresh,” FC Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus told CanPL.ca.
“We’ve got a central midfield of Allan Zebie, Erik Zetterberg, and Edem Mortotsi that we can rotate. We think we can rotate them enough to keep them fresh … The fact that we’ve got, now, the signing of so many left-footed players, we know that we’ve got players that can step in now, and replace the ones that are starting. So we like our chances in an event like this. I imagine every manager’s saying that, as they should be, but we think we’ll be ready for it, I have to say.”
Valour FC goalkeeper James Pantemis, on loan from the Montreal Impact, is anxious to get back on the field and help the Winnipeg-based club put things right after it finished second-last in the overall standings last season.
“We’re underdogs, and I think one of the best things is to be the underdog because there’s not as much pressure. People might think there would be pressure because the team is not expected to do well. But for the team it’s an extra boost, it’s an extra sense of wanting to show not just the rest of the league but ourselves that we’re capable of doing it. We’re thriving on that right now. It’s going to be a good year. I have a good feeling about it,” Pantemis told CanPL.ca.
Like coaches and players, soccer fans are also looking forward to the CPL being back on the pitch. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HFX Wanderers FC supporter James Covey hasn’t been able to sit in his usual spot in the East stands of Wanderers Grounds, affectionately dubbed “the Kitchen,” since last October for the club’s final home game of the CPL season.
Covey has taken notice of other leagues around the world that have recently come back to play behind closed doors, and is anxiously awaiting the CPL’s return.
“A lot of us were very skeptical about what soccer would look like without supporters, but after the last couple of months it’s clear that it’s so much better than having none at all, so now we’re just chomping at the bit to get on with that. I feel that Wanderers supporters might be the most eager of all, with the most massively reconstructed squad. I really want to see what this team looks like on the pitch,” Covey told CanPL.ca.
The Island Games explained.
All matches from The Island Games will take place at Alumni Field on the campus of the University of Prince Edward Island, which was one of the venues that hosted events during the 2009 Canada Summer Games. Alumni Field features a FIFA-certified artificial turf field and was resurfaced in August 2016.
Langford, B.C., home of Pacific FC, and Moncton, New Brunswick were also considered as host cities. All three cities didn’t hide the fact that they wanted to serve as the hub city for the CPL’s 2020 regular season, with Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown going so far as to extend a public invitation to the league last month.
“Charlottetown is open for business,” Mayor Brown said in a media release. “I’m excited to be able to extend an invitation to the CPL and its eight members to play their modified single-city season in the birthplace of Confederation – it doesn’t get any more Canadian than right here in Charlottetown.”
The CPL confirmed that the year-end player and coach awards will still be handed out, including the Golden Boot which goes to the league’s top scorer, with the date and location of the ceremony to be determined at later time.