Nik Ledgerwood is evangelical when speaking about the Canadian Premier League in terms of what it will mean for soccer in this country.
“I’m excited. I’m excited to finally get it going. It’s been a long time of talking about the unknown with the CPL, so I’m excited to finally get it going. Let’s not just talk about it. Let’s do it,” Ledgerwood told Sportsnet.
The CPL is a new professional soccer league that is expected to kick off its inaugural season next April with seven teams from coast to coast, including Calgary-based Cavalry FC, for whom Ledgerwood has signed. The veteran defender was among a group of 10 Canadians who were unveiled as the CPL’s first player signings last week.
For Ledgerwood, this represents a homecoming of sorts. The 33-year-old native of Alberta began his pro career with the Calgary Storm in the old A-League in 2002 before going over to Europe. Now he’s ready to play for his hometown club Cavalry FC in the CPL.
Ledgerwood admits there is bound to be growing pains with the Canadian Premier League, but he passionately believes in the CPL’s “A league for Canadians by Canadians” mantra, and is imploring soccer fans in this country to invest their time in the upstart league.
“You’re starting from scratch and it’s hard to build fan bases, and a sustained culture, so it’s going to take time. The fans need to be patient with it, but they need to be passionate about it, too. More kids play soccer than any other sport in Canada, so if people love the sport why not come out and support your local team? That’s what’s going to grow soccer in this country,” Legderwood stated.
“Go out and support your local team. Be a part of that community that helps push soccer in this country to where it should be, instead of sitting at home and complaining about it. Why not be a part of this huge movement of building a league from scratch? This is an opportunity for fans to start their own traditions. You’re never going to get this opportunity again. Grab hold of it, be passionate about it and help build something amazing.”
As much as the CPL is an opportunity for Canadian soccer fans, it’s also an opportunity for Ledgerwood. After a brief stint with the Calgary Storm, Ledgerwood moved to Europe where he played with a number of German clubs, including 1860 Munich and Energie Cottbus, for the bulk of his pro career. He returned to Canada in 2016 when he signed with FC Edmonton of the North American Soccer League, but the team ceased operations following the 2017 season.
Ledgerwood spent this past year with Calgary Foothills FC in the USL developmental league, so the CPL presents him with a chance to get his pro career back on track. It’s also a chance for him to catch the eye of Canadian national team coach John Herdman.
Ledgerwood was a mainstay for Canada from 2007 to 2016, scoring one goal and tallying an assist in 50 appearances (44 as a starter). He was also a part of three World Cup qualifying cycles, and played in three Concacaf Gold Cups. But the call-ups to the national team stopped during his second season with FC Edmonton, with his last appearance coming in friendly against Scotland on March 22, 2017. His one season in the USL developmental league essentially ruled him out for international duty. The CPL gives him a shot at playing for Canada again.
“For me, I want to get back into the national team. I’ve been out of it for a year and been itching to get back involved with it. With the CPL coming around, I’m here to prove myself again. I have things to prove like anybody else. I want to get back into the fold and prove to John [Herdman] that I deserve a chance, but I also want to prove to myself that I gave many good years to go,” Ledgerwood offered.
If the idea of Ledgerwood or any CPL player turning out for Canada sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. True, Herdman has a wealth of quality options to choose from at the moment – players not only plying their trade in MLS, but also in clubs across Europe.
But Herdman has publicly professed his support of the CPL, and feels the league has an important role to play in helping to develop young players into future national team members.
“John has the biggest role in Canadian men’s soccer right now, so to have his support of the league is huge. At the end of the day this is going to be a player pool that down the road he’ll be able to pick from. If this helps develop Canadian players, it’s going to be his advantage for him come the 2026 World Cup. Hopefully, there’ll be a handful of CPL players who can make that team,” Ledgerwood said.
He later added: “You look at Canada’s three MLS teams [Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps]. You can probably name only a few Canadians that get consistent playing minutes on those teams. As a Canadian player, that’s hard to swallow. I hope this league helps change that and provides a pathway to the national team.”