New Canadian soccer has plenty of CFL connections

The Canadian Premier Soccer League announced this week that its inaugural season will kick off in the spring of 2019 – and it will have plenty of CFL connections.

The new coast-to-coast professional league — with one of its founding teams in Hamilton — has also scored a coup in appointing David Clanachan as its first commissioner.

The 55-year-old Clanachan is the chair of Restaurant Brands International which owns, among other assets, Tim Hortons Inc. He was formerly president of Tim Hortons.

“It’s a huge relief to finally solidify some of those details we’ve put so much work into,” said CPL executive Paul Beirne, who became the league’s first official employee in November 2016.

“And I’m equally excited about more announcements coming down the pipe in the next few weeks.”

The CPL will open sometime in April 2019, likely with 10 teams, and continue to play through October while wearing its maple leaf on its sleeve, and just about everywhere else.

“The driving principle is developing Canadian players, coaches and administrators; building a Canadian soccer economy,” said Scott Mitchell, one of the major movers in establishing the league, and also the CEO of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who will own the CPL’s Hamilton team.

Mitchell said the Hamilton organization is currently working on a partnership “with a soccer entity, and building a great ecosystem in Hamilton soccer.”

Other locales likely to have teams ready for 2019 include Winnipeg, owned by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL; the Ottawa Fury (owned by OSEG, which also owns the Redblacks); Halifax (which is angling for a CFL team), the lower B.C. mainland and Saskatoon.

The list of serious candidates also includes Kitchener-Waterloo, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Quebec City, Moncton, Mississauga and a second GTA franchise in either Vaughan or York.
The CPL will be a Tier I, or “premier” league, making it officially the top league in the country in the eyes of the Federation Internationale de Football (FIFA) even though the three biggest Canadian cities (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) will continue to have their teams in Major League Soccer, the U.S.’s Tier I league.

Teams are generally required to play in their own country’s Tier I league if there is one, but there are exceptions around the world, such as in Wales where teams have played in English leagues for decades because Wales didn’t have its own Premier League until 25 years ago. Those teams, like the MSL teams here, were allowed to continue their existing league memberships.

The CPL will have a salary cap and, while some players will make six figures for the season, the average salary is likely to land somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 per season.

There will also be an “import limit,” restricting each team to an as-yet-unannounced number of non-domestic players.

“Most of our players will be Canadians,” Beirne told The Spectator, “It’s a league by Canadians for Canadians. And it’s also a league of supporters for supporters.”

Since, and even before, the CPL was ratified as a member of the Canadian Soccer Association (also known as Soccer Canada) last spring, local supporters’ groups (SGs), including Hamilton’s Barton Street Battalion, have been established in 16 different Canadian locations. Soccer SGs tend to be more involved in, and financially supportive of, their favourite franchise than most fan clubs in other sports. They will be key factors in helping publicize and market their respective CPL teams.

The CPL is in partnership with the Canadian Soccer Association, which views a domestic pro league as the top of its men’s development pathway.

At least three provinces, including Ontario with League1, have pro-am leagues for elite players after their age-class eligibility is done, and those leagues will likely provide some players for the 2019 CPL launch.

When it ratified the CPL membership last May, the CSA also granted the Hamilton and Winnipeg franchises membership, making them the first two teams in the new league.

– the Hamilton Spectator

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