The Canadian Premier League has enjoyed a wonderful season in its existence with several quality players shining. MLS teams should not ignore it.
As Major League Soccer has grown, the level of play in the USA has developed as well. With more talent coming into the league, and the development of academies across the country, the game has never been stronger in the United States.
While the league has benefited the American national teams, the same cannot be said for the Canadian game. On American franchises until 2016, the American players were the only ones in MLS to be granted domestic status. The only chance for Canadians to have that status was on one of the three Canadian MLS clubs, the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
In 2016, the league changed that rule to allow Canadians to be counted as domestic players across the league, but by that point, the American sides had already committed to American academy products. That early ruling limited the number of opportunities young Canadians have been able to get in the league.
Realizing this problem, the Canadian Soccer Association, along with private investors, formed the Canadian Premier League. This new league, which kicked off in 2019, gives young Canadian players a professional place to play and develop, with hopes of growing soccer north of the border to the point of qualifying for the World Cup.
For those who don’t know about the Canadian League, it is a smaller league with only seven teams spreading across the large Canadian landmass. The season is split into two halves, with the winner of each half playing each other in a championship final. The clubs also compete against the MLS clubs in the Canadian Championship.
In its first few months, the CPL has proven that the expectations of the league were underestimated. The level of play is much higher than many anticipated and the support has been fantastic. With the player performances and team chemistry, the league has taken the country by storm. The biggest statement came recently in the Canadian Championship, which presented the first CPL versus MLS matchups. Cavalry FC of Calgary dominated MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps and knocked them out of the cup competition. With the gap in quality obviously close and the quick ascension of the league, there are some players who could make the step up to MLS in the here and now — As Canadian players are more likely to sign with Canadian teams, I will only be looking at what Canadian players are most likely to slot into one of Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver.
The teams that most likely have a spot for a CPL star would be Toronto FC or the Vancouver Whitecaps. Toronto need a forward, especially out wide, while, and Vancouver are looking for anything but a goalkeeper.
Toronto FC already have their foot in the door with one of the CPL’s best strikers. Ryan Telfer, who is on loan at York 9 from TFC, has been a crucial cog in Y9’s attack, scoring four goals this season. The chance to play week in week out has been very important for Telfer, who was stapled to the bench at TFC behind what was then one of the best forward groups in the league. Earlier this season, Telfer was recalled from Y9 to fill in for TFC when injuries hit and he got himself an assist in his brief MLS cameo.
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The CPL rates all of their players with a combined scoring system, much like the Audi Player Index that MLS uses. In this system, Telfer ranks fifth in the league with an average of 75.36 points per match. But in my mind, he is the only one in the top five of that ranking who is ready for the jump to MLS.
With Toronto’s recent release of American international Terrence Boyd and the ageing Jozy Altidore, their attack is beginning to show holes. Telfer’s growth this year, and the development he will continue to have through the end of the CanPL season, could spur him onto becoming Toronto FC’s striker in the near future.
Moving west, the Vancouver Whitecaps have been bad. As I mentioned before, they became the first MLS side to lose to a CPL team in the Canadian Championship. They were simply outplayed by Calgary over the two-legged affair and deserved to love.
Following the loss, Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos was asked whether any of the Cavalry FC players would have a place in his team: ‘Yes, I won’t tell you who but I like their players.’ Of course, this led to much speculation in the Whitecaps community as to what players he may be talking about. The name that kept popping up was that of attacking midfielder Sergio Camargo.
Camargo also has MLS connections, having come through the TFC program. However, he was never able to crack the first team in Toronto. At 24 years old, many had given up on the Chilean-Canadian when it comes to becoming an MLS talent. However, it looks as though he might be a late bloomer. After being released by TFC 2, Camargo joined the Calgary Foothills of the American third division where he won the national championship. Following that successful season, he made the jump to the CPL, where he has been a crucial fixture in the league-best Cavalry FC.
With the black hole that is the Vancouver Whitecaps midfield, the addition of Camargo could add a low-budget, domestic option to the club. It is unlikely the Cavalry man would be a game-changer for Vancouver, but adding another body to the position would be no bad thing. Vancouver’s midfield has been terrible this year, with every position being filled by replacement-level players at best. If the Whitecaps were able to bring in Camargo they would be adding a much cheaper player who has shown that he might be capable of starting semi-regularly in MLS.
There are more players in the CPL who could theoretically make the jump, and there are some players who have been playing well but are too raw for the next level. Nonetheless, the Canadian Premier League is a great development for the Canadian game and will certainly bear fruit for the Canadian national team in the near and far future. It might be time for MLS to start paying attention.