That’s all it took for the Canadian Premier League to begin living up to the promise of its mission statement: To prevent Canadian players from falling through the cracks by giving them opportunities in their own domestic league that they might not receive elsewhere.
Two homegrown players hooked up for the first goal in Canadian Premier League history three minutes into Saturday’s league curtain raiser at Tim Hortons Field, a 1-1 draw contested between Forge FC and York 9 FC before an announced crowd of 17,611 fans.
Ryan Telfer wasted little time writing himself into the history books by scoring the first-ever CPL goal. The lankly midfielder, on loan from MLS club Toronto FC, latched onto a perfect through ball played to him by Manny Aparicio, and then held off a Forge defender before hitting a right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area past goalkeeper Triston Henry. It was a composed finished by Telfer, but an even better setup from Aparicio, who quickly spun away from his marker in the middle of the pitch before delivering a perfectly-weighted pass for his teammate to run onto.
Like York’s opener, Forge’s equalizer in the 78th minute was created and finished off by a pair of young Canadians. Emery Welshman sent a cross from the byline into the penalty box to Ladell Thomas, who controlled the ball before curling an exquisite shot high into the far corner.
All four players – Telfer, Aparicio, Welshman and Thomas – took centre stage in the CPL curtain-raiser, but they arrived there through very different paths.
Telfer, a 25-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont., enjoyed a respectable rookie season in MLS last year, scoring one goal in 15 appearances (nine as a starter) for Toronto FC. But a series of off-season moves made him the odd-man out with TFC, and he was sent on loan to York 9 for the 2019 CPL season.
Aside from scoring the opening goal on Saturday, Telfer was praised by York 9 coach Jim Brennan for his bright attacking play and solid defensive work, giving a glimpse of the type of form that could lead to a return to MLS with TFC.
“Just to be known as the first goal scorer in this new league, it’s something special to me,” Telfer said after the game. “Honestly, it didn’t hit me until after the game [that I] realized that this one is going into the history books.”
Saturday marked Thomas’s professional debut, and he made the most of it, scoring the equalizer after entering the game as a second-half substitute.
A 22-year-old from Brampton, Ont., Thomas played junior college soccer for Broward College in Florida and Cloud County Community College in Kansas. He also spent three seasons in League 1 Ontario where he played under current Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis.
Thomas is exactly the type of youngster who likely wouldn’t get a chance elsewhere — a player the CPL was designed to help. As this inaugural season progresses, Smyrniotis is confident more players such as Thomas, with similar stories and backgrounds, will emerge and come to the forefront.
“He’s a young man who’s been with me for a long time. But I think the great story that comes out of that [is] he’s one of those players that we don’t know about without the Canadian Premier League. … I think there’ll be many Kadell Thomases on Forge FC, and most importantly all across the league,” Smyrniotis offered.
The sense of occasion and the difficult road he took to get this point wasn’t lost on Thomas when speaking to reporters after Saturday’s game.
“It’s been a journey,” Thomas admitted. “Even two, three years ago, I couldn’t imagine something like this [the CPL]— being in Canada.”
Both Aparico and Welshman were originally signed by Toronto FC, but find themselves given a second chance to make a name for themselves after things didn’t work out in MLS.
Aparcio, 23, signed with TFC in 2013 after graduating from the team’s youth academy. After spending time out on loan and with the team’s farm club, he was let go by TFC in 2015 after failing to play a single MLS game. Since then, he’s bounced around teams in Spain’s lower divisions before joining York 9 in January. Brennan named him team captain, so certain he was of the youngster’s quality and character.
Welshman, 27, was a first-round draft pick of TFC in 2013, but was released the following year after appearing in a single MLS game.
Since then, he turned out for several lower-league teams before enjoying a standout 2018 campaign in the USL with FC Cincinnati. That earned him a contract for 2019 when the Ohio-based club entered MLS as an expansion club, but he was then sent on loan to Forge FC.
Welshman hinted time might be running out for him to play the game at a higher level, whether MLS or another league. But as someone who’s spent a great deal of time plying his trade in the lower leagues, he’s taking his role as one of the CPL’s elder statesmen seriously.
“For some of us, it might be a little too late to have bigger dreams, but we’re the pioneers of this, and hopefully we can set the right example for a lot of [youngsters] in this league and help move the sport forward in this country,” Welshman offered.