It’s one of the more interesting and pressing questions surrounding the Canadian Premier League.
Just what, exactly, will the standard of play be like?
It’s a difficult question to answer considering a ball has yet to be even kicked in the CPL, a new professional soccer league that is expected to kick off its inaugural season next April with seven teams from coast to coast.
Last week, the CPL unveiled its first player signings, a list of 10 Canadians highlighted by veterans Nik Ledgerwood, Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Kyle Bekker with national team experience. The group of 10 also featured Sergio Camargo and Skylar Thomas (who were recently with Toronto FC, but never played for the senior team), former D.C. United forward Kyle Porter, and young prospects who previously cut their teeth in lower leagues such as the NASL and USL.
More players will be added in the coming months from both abroad (York 9 FC announced the addition of Swedish striker Simon Karlsson Adjei on Monday) and here at home, including draft picks from Canadian universities.
By all accounts, the Canadian Premier League will not be able to measure up with Major League Soccer when it comes to the on-field product. But that’s not the CPL’s goal. Instead, its focus will be on developing young talent and providing opportunities for other Canadian players.
Still, one can’t help but wonder what the standard of play in the CPL will be like, say, in comparison to the second-tier USL Championship (featuring the Ottawa Fury) and the third-tier USL League One (with Toronto FC II).
Defender Daniel Gogarty, a U SPORTS draft pick of York 9 FC, is pretty confident that the CPL will hit the ground running from Day 1.
“It’s going to be high-quality professional football from the jump, right from the start. It’ll be top quality football in Canada. Some players are already coming from abroad, some have played in Canada before, so it’s going to be the cream of the crop of young players in this country,” Gogarty proclaimed in an interview with Sportsnet.
Others have high hopes, too. Camargo, a 24-year-old native of Newmarket, Ont., spent last season with Calgary Foothills FC in the USL’s developmental league. Prior to that, he played for Toronto FC’s USL farm team, Toronto FC II, so he has first-hand knowledge of the quality of play in the USL.
“If this [first group of 10 players] is any indication of what the standard will be like, then I’m very excited to be a part of it. Nik, Kyle and Randy have played for the national team and are experienced… It will be a young league with young players, but that doesn’t mean the level will be any lower than the USL or MLS when it first started out,” promised Camargo, who has signed with Calgary-based Cavalry FC in the CPL.
Camargo later added: “Nobody knows where it can go, but we’re hopeful and optimistic that it can blossom into a big league, like Major League Soccer, and that in a few years it can compete with other leagues.”
Others are taking a more cautious stance with regards to what the CPL will be like in terms of the quality of its on-field product.
Ledgerwood, who like Camargo has signed with Cavalry FC, has played professionally in Europe and in Canada, most recently with FC Edmonton in the NASL and Calgary Foothills FC in the USL’s developmental league.
The veteran defender points out that the CPL is starting from scratch, and warns that patience will be required, as he believes the league will be a work in progress in the early seasons. Expectations from fans and media will have to be kept in check.
“It’s hard to compare [the CPL to other leagues] or to have expectations from the get-go, because people have to realize that starting a new league like this means pulling players from anywhere they’re available. There’s going to be a lot of players who play at a high level elsewhere who are leery of the unknown, which is the CPL. The first couple of years will be trial and error, and some experiments,” Ledgerwood warned.
While cautious about making bold proclamations about how the CPL will compare with other well-established soccer leagues in Canada and the U.S, he is bullish on the league’s future and how it will immediately capture the fans’ attention.
“I think you’re going to get talented players, the level of play will be very attractive for fans, and the rivalries within the league will help that. The more you see players sign for teams, the more the identity of teams will emerge and take shape,” Ledgerwood said.
“So, I’m going to be very optimistic in that I believe the product that will be put on the field will surprise a lot of people in a positive way.”