At a time when Canadian soccer seemed to be growing, a sudden rise in talent and commitment has taken the nation to an entirely new level.
The Canadian game has hit new heights and with such growth, major expansion has evolved simultaneously.
The recently developed Canadian Premier League proves that Canadians are continuously growing as a soccer nation.
Young talent are now able to dream of playing professionally with access to opportunities that other players may not have had in recent past.
“There wasn’t a league so you knew you had to go abroad, but school was more of the route kids would go back then, chasing a scholarship,” said York United winger, Michael Petrasso. “I believe the CPL has created routes for young players to showcase their talent in a first division league for MLS and European countries to see.”
Petrasso, a product of the Queens Park Rangers academy in England, has been part of the CPL since it’s inaugural season in 2019.
As a player who has played in England, the MLS, and now the CPL, Petrasso has the experience to reflect on the impact that the Canadian Premier League could have in years to come.
“The creation of the CPL will definitely help produce Canadian talent that will move on some day and represent our national team,” he said. “There is a lot of Canadian talent coming through the ranks and helping the league grow every year.”
As a former player in both England and Canada myself at youth level, it was easy to see the dramatic difference in player development and quality coaching between Canada and other proven soccer nations.
“I think more as a young kid, I was just playing for fun because I enjoyed playing,” said the former Montreal Impact player. “I enjoyed the competition aspect of the game growing up and playing with teammates that I was friends with.”
Grooming players key
It is pretty obvious to say that children in every country start off playing for this reason, to have fun, but the grooming of players during these years is key to their development as soccer players.
In the past, the approach to developing talent hasn’t been a priority in the Canadian youth game.
Most of the blame can be put on the lack of opportunity and therefore lack of focus on the sport itself.
With the CPL beginning to thrive so early on in its existence, young Canadian players finally have a realistic option to strive for without the complexity of trying to find a route to another country.
“The CPL has given opportunities to young players coming up that can’t go overseas because they have no heritage outside of Canada,” said Peterborough native, Jordan Haynes, who currently plays for Pacific FC.
Haynes emphasized that one thing the youth system brought him was a growth for the love of playing. A great first step to creating talented players.
But it’s the steps after that which are of most importance. In England where there are hundreds of teams with professional academies recruiting and developing players as young as six, the time for letting young players just go out and enjoy themselves is changing in Canada.
To play professionally, the only realistic option for players used to be to go overseas and leave Canada as soon as possible in order to grow.
“I was actually quite naive as a kid, because I wasn’t even thinking about playing in Canada at first when I was young,” said Haynes. “So it didn’t even occur to me at the time that the lack of opportunities could hinder my career.”
The creation of a professional league has abolished the lack of opportunity and has given young players a chance to become more serious about the sport at a very young age.
Not to mention the growth in interest that a home-grown league will produce, creating a larger pool of players who could become talented enough to pursue soccer as a career.
You can easily compare this situation to the rise of the Toronto Raptors, the interest level and participation of basketball in Canada being at an all-time high due to the excitement and success of the professional team in their city, and in this case, country.
The comparison may be a bit of a stretch when the Raptors have been an established organization for many years, but although the CPL is new, the level of play is substantially higher than you would think for a new-born soccer league in Canada.
“Having played in the USL (United Soccer League), I would compare the two to be pretty close on level, and after a few years as a league, not as far off of the MLS as most think,” said Haynes in an online interview. “For example, my team, Pacific FC beat the Vancouver whitecaps in the Canadian Championship this year.”
This league has the ability to be very successful and is gaining tremendous respect as the games go by.
Players are being spotted for their performances and are being given opportunities in more established and proven leagues elsewhere.
“I think the talent is growing and new players every year are having break out seasons and getting there names out there into the media which is good,” said Petrasso when speaking on what the CPL has done for Canadian players.
With the Canadians reaching top-50 in the FIFA world rankings, it will make it a lot easier for Canadian players to travel and play overseas, and now that the CPL is established and known, players will be showcased and exposed at a higher rate.
“The CPL has provided a legitimate stepping stone for young players aspiring to be professional footballers,” said Canadian youth coach Joe Colangelo in a recent interview. “It has created and hopefully will continue to create opportunities for players and coaches to bring the game to new heights in Canada, where we are producing top players that can consistently compete with other countries.”