Canadian Premier League kicks off, marking new era for soccer in Canada


Forge FC's Emery Welshman, left, carries the ball past York 9 midfielder Wataru Murofushi during Saturday's game. (Aaron Lynett/CP)

• York 9 FC 1 (Telfer 3’), Forge FC 1 (Thomas 78’)
• Canadian Premier League opener ends in draw
• TFC loanee Ryan Telfer scores 1st goal in league history

HAMILTON, Ont. – It’s a moment that was 27 years in the making.

Not since the Canadian Soccer League folded in 1992 has Canada had a soccer league to call its own. But that all changed on Saturday afternoon when the Canadian Premier League officially kicked off its inaugural season with a matinee match between Forge FC and York 9 FC at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field.

Specific game details aren’t terribly important given the historic nature of what took place on Saturday – it’s not every day a new, all-Canadian sports league is launched – but they still must be told.

Hamilton-based Forge FC came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against York 9 FC, with Ryan Telfer writing his name in the history books by scoring the league’s first goal. A sloppy match at times, it was also pretty entertaining, with both sides committed to playing attacking soccer in an end-to-end contest before an appreciative crowd that was announced as 17, 611 fans on a sunny and crisp afternoon in Steeltown.

It took the visitors three minutes to open the scoring, the play beginning when Manny Aparicio pulled off a quick spin move in midfield and then delivered a fabulous through ball for Telfer. The York 9 midfielder, who is on loan from MLS club Toronto FC, kept his cool as a Forge defender tried to close him down and fired past goalkeeper Triston Henry. Kadell Thomas levelled the score for Forge FC, curling a shot into the far corner from in close off a feed from Emery Welshman. Aparicio was expelled during second-half injury time after earning his second yellow card.

Telfer received a slew of text messages from friends and family after the game, including his father. That’s when the reality of what he accomplished set in.

“Just to be known as the first goal scorer in this new league, it’s something special to me. Honestly, it didn’t hit me until after the game [that I] realized that this one is going into the history books,” Telfer told reporters after the game.

In the end, the final result doesn’t matter. Saturday’s match wasn’t about which team won or lost, or who scored. This was a landmark day for the sport in Canada, marking the birth of a new soccer league “for Canadians, by Canadians” after many years of hard work behind the scenes.

Canada has been down this road before with plenty of soccer leagues and teams, some already forgotten and some fondly remembered, that launched to great fanfare only to eventually fold.

This feels different, though. Sanctioned as Canada’s first division, the CPL was founded by a small group of investors, most notable among them being computer software millionaire Bob Young (who also owns the CFL’s Tiger-Cats), working in conjunction with Canada Soccer. With a 10-year broadcast deal in place, high-profile owners such as Young, and a title sponsor in Volkswagen, the CPL is on firm financial footing, and looks certain to succeed.

The genuine sense of optimism surrounding this new league was underscored by the party-like atmosphere inside Tim Hortons Field courtesy of the boisterous Forge FC supporters, and the several busloads of York 9 fans who made the hour-long trek down the highway to attend the game.

“It’s a great festival for the game [of soccer], it’s a great starting point of what we’re going to build for the future,” Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis said of the league’s curtain raiser.

His counterpart concurred.

“Once that whistle blew, we knew the game was on and the Canadian Premier League had arrived. It was such a great game for both teams. All the players have been waiting for this moment for a long time, to walk out and have both sets of fans there. It was a true derby game today,” York 9 FC coach Jim Brennan stated.

Saturday’s CPL opener was especially emotional for the York 9 coach, who earned 49 caps for Canada’s national team. Brennan spent the majority of his playing days in England before coming home to finish out his pro career with Toronto FC. Only a few short years ago, Brennan could not have dreamed of taking charge of a club competing in an all-Canadian league, with seven teams from coast to coast. Today, that dream is a reality.

It fully hit Brennan that he was part of history in the making during the playing of “O Canada.”

“Once we started singing the national anthem, we knew this isn’t an American league – this is a Canadian league. … We all looked at each other and said this is it guys. This is our pro league, and we’re finally making a statement here,” Brennan offered.

Adding to the sense of occasion was the fact that the “who’s who” of Canadian soccer were in attendance for the Saturday’s match, including men’s national team coach John Herdman and Canada Soccer president Steve Reed.

CPL commissioner David Clanachan was beaming when speaking to reporters at halftime, lauding the no-nonsense standard of play on the pitch.

“I’m seeing a tough, hard-fought, let ‘em play [brand of soccer]. No diving, no rolling around, no embellishment, none of that stuff. This is the kind of game this country wants, and I think Canadians will respect that. The players are all in. There’s nobody loafing on this field,” Clanachan enthused.

He later added: “For the league opener, pretty damn good.”

NOTES: The first weekend of CPL action concludes on Sunday when Pacific FC hosts HFX Wanderers… The CPL boasts seven teams from coast to coast: Forge FC (Hamilton), York 9 FC (Toronto area), FC Edmonton, HFX Wanderers (Halifax), Valour FC (Winnipeg), Cavalry FC (Calgary) and Pacific FC (Vancouver Island).


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