Be sure to circle April 27, 2019 on your calendars.
That’s when the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League will kick off at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field with a game between Forge FC and York 9 at 1:00 p.m. ET.
The CPL made the announcement of its opening match during a gala press event on Tuesday morning in Toronto.
Dubbed the “905 Derby” by the CPL, the first game of the 2019 season pits local rivals against one another – Forge FC is based in Hamilton, while York 9 is based in York region. The remainder of the schedule will be released at a later date. Also during the media event, the CPL announced Volkswagen as a founding partner in a multi-year deal.
The CPL is a new professional soccer league with seven teams from coast to coast: Forge FC, York 9, FC Edmonton, HFX Wanderers (Halifax), Valour FC (Winnipeg), Cavalry FC (Calgary), FC Edmonton and Pacific FC (Vancouver Island).
Sanctioned as Canada’s first division, the CPL features high-profile owners such as Canadian businessman Bob Young (who also owns the Hamilton Tiger-Cats), and is designed to develop Canadian players and give them a chance that they otherwise might not receive.
Even though the season is still three months away from kicking off, Young said there is a healthy and growing buzz about Forge FC in Hamilton.
“We’re very excited and proud about hosting the first game in the CPL… There’s a lot of enthusiasm and awareness about the team in Hamilton,” Young told Sportsnet.
To that point, a number of supporters groups for CPL teams have already been formed, long before a ball has been kicked. The first was the Barton St. Battalion, launched in February of 2016, in support of Forge FC.
Mark Hinkley is a member of the Barton St. Battalion, and used to attend Hamilton Steelers games at Brian Timmis Stadium in the now defunct Canadian Soccer League. A lifelong soccer fan, he’s ecstatic about professional soccer returning to his hometown.
“I’m beyond excited. I’ve been waiting for this game for a very long time… I used to go to Steelers games as a kid and when they left, I was stunned. Now that there’s another professional team in Hamilton, I can’t wait for this,” Hinkley told Sportsnet.
York 9 fans are just excited, and have also formed supporters groups, including Generation IX. They might soon welcome a new member in Toronto native Tim Drodge, who found out about Generation IX’s existence during Tuesday’s press event.
“It’s a long time in coming. I’m really excited there’s going to be a national soccer league with local representation in [the Greater Toronto Area],” Drodge told Sportsnet.
Drodge has been a season ticket holder for Toronto FC since Day 1. He will continue to buy season’s seats for the MLS club, as well as for York 9 going forward.
“I’m a real believer in the game of soccer, and in the growth of the game in Canada. I wanted to be a Year One season ticket holder for the CPL,” Drodge said.
“I’ll be at York 9 games and making the same level of noise in the stands the way that I do at BMO Field for TFC.”
The opening match of the inaugural season of the CPL season coincides with a Toronto FC home game. The MLS outfit is scheduled to play the Portland Timbers on the same day at BMO Field at 3:00 p.m. ET, which means local soccer fans can’t go to both games – they’ll have to pick one over the other.
CPL commissioner David Clanachan was aware that the opening game conflicted with TFC’s home date, but believes there’s enough soccer fans in Canada to go around for every team.
“Did you ever think you’d see the day when we’d be playing professional [soccer] on a Saturday afternoon in a Canadian league in Canada? For me it’s a big deal,” Clanachan told reporters.
He later added: “It’s not easy [to build a schedule], especially when you have multi-use facilities, two facilities have CFL teams … [We’ve] not really looked at outside leagues, other than what affects us at our own stadiums.”
In an interview with Sportsnet last week, Clanachan confirmed it’ll be a 28-game season running from April to October, and that each team must field six Canadian players at the start of every match. Rosters for each team will be made up of at least 50 per cent Canadians (plus one), and teams will be limited to seven international players.
CPL teams are still filling out their respective rosters ahead of the season. Notable Canadian players who have signed with CPL clubs include Kyle Porter (York 9), Kyle Bekker (Forge FC), Nik Ledgerwood (Cavalry FC), Randy Edwini-Bonsu (FC Edmonton) and Marcus Haber (Pacific FC).