This is massive news in the soccer world, and it should be just as impactful in the CFL world.
On Saturday in Whistler, Alta., Soccer Canada — also referred to as the Canadian Soccer Association — unanimously ratified the new Canadian Premier League for membership. And it also accepted the first two CPL teams — in Hamilton and Winnipeg — for full membership in the national governing body for soccer.
That means there likely will be a professional men’s soccer team playing games in its own league at Tim Hortons Field as early as late summer of 2018.
“It was a hugely significant day,” Hamilton Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell told The Spectator. “I don’t think there is any question that it will accelerate things. It puts everything in motion.”
With the membership vote, the CPL officially becomes Canada’s Tier I league in Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the world governing body of soccer.
That, in turn, sends a strong message to prospective team owners, players and municipalities that this league has changed adjectivesfrom “proposed” to “very real.”
“It puts us at the same table as all the other great premier soccer leagues in the world,” Mitchell added.
The first two official teams in the CPL are essentially owned by Canadian Football League teams.
The Hamilton soccer team will be owned by Bob Young, who owns the Tiger-Cats.
The Winnipeg Football Club, which owns the Blue Bombers, will also own the soccer team and play out of Investor’s Group Field, where the Bombers play.
Why were only two teams named Saturday?
“Winnipeg and Hamilton represent exactly what we’re after in this league,” Mitchell said. “Great ownership, great management, phenomenal facilities and an operation ready to go.”
Other teams could be announced within the next couple of months.
Paul Beirne, the league’s project manager and the first official employee of the CPL, was also the first employee of Toronto FC which is, and will remain, a member of Major League Soccer, the Tier I league in the United States.
“It feels like the early days of Toronto FC where the demand and excitement are sincerely there,” Beirne told The Spectator. “It feels like Day One, like the momentum is just starting and will only go in one direction from here: Up.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store right now. It’s exciting.
“We got 10 expressions (including Hamilton and Winnipeg) of interest from across the country. And there are definitely more in the pipeline. We’ve got more demand than supply. We will continue the process of assessing potential members: looking at ownership, and facilities and markets.
“We get one shot at this, and we want to do it right, which is why we haven’t said too much before this.”
Speculation in soccer cyberspace had the league starting next summer or fall, with six teams: Winnipeg and Hamilton, plus Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax and Ottawa. But that might not be the exact opening lineup.
Some of the other four might not be operational in the first year, and others not mentioned in public could be in. And there could be more than six, especially after Saturday’s vote formalized the league’s existence.
Mitchell said that since that vote, there have been calls and emails from other potential owners, former players and municipalities wondering how they can get involved. The league is looking for financial strength of ownership, long-term commitment and marketplace sustainability.
Young, who was a minority owner of the United Soccer League’s Carolina Railhawks, sent out a long message to Hamilton fans on social media that read in part, “The CPL will fill the existing void in the national Canadian soccer development platform by operating a top-level professional league, both on and off the field. The CSA and the CPL’s shared commitment is to foster the development of Canadian players.”
From the beginning of discussions on forming a national premier league, the focus has been on developing Canada’s senior men’s national team, which has slipped into virtual irrelevance on the international scene, and on increasing the number of people playing soccer in Canada.
Because the CPL, like the CFL, will have some form of Canadians-must-play ratio it’s expected to develop more Canadian talent, more quickly, than Major League Soccer, which doesn’t have a similar leaguewide rule.
“The success of the CPL is totally intertwined with the success of the men’s national team,” Mitchell said. “The CSA is absolutely a partner in this venture. Canada needs to be a top-30 team in the world of men’s soccer and a top three or four team in CONCACAF.”
CONCACAF is the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Soccer Canada president Victor Montagliani who is now the president of CONCACAF — making him arguably the most powerful Canadian in world sport — stepped down from his Soccer Canada post Saturday. Mitchell praised Montagliani’s commitment and work toward establishing the CPL.
The Hamilton team does not yet have a nickname but Mitchell says, “We’re looking forward to engaging with the Hamilton soccer community on picking a name.”
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