CPL targets season kickoff on Victoria Day Weekend, providing authorities agree

·4 min read

TORONTO — The Canadian Premier League is targeting the Victoria Day long weekend in May as the kickoff for its third season.

However, the league acknowledges that will ultimately depend on local government and health authorities.

"Our plans call for the start of play this spring — while recognizing that a major factor will be our nation's progress against this pandemic," commissioner David Clanachan said in a letter to fans.

"Based on where we are right now, if health authorities say it is safe to do so, we are focused on targeting a start date of the Victoria Day long weekend (May 22, 2021) — Canada’s 'unofficial start of summer.' To that end, we will remain flexible but also adaptable in our planning. To be clear, our ultimate goal is to see our supporters in the stands as we take to the field."

The league acknowledges opening the doors to any number of spectators again is a decision that will be made by others.

"It feels like we need to preface everything with at the end of the day the government and health authorities rule here. As they should, for all the right reasons," Clanachan said in an interview.

Clanachan holds out the hope that Canada — and the world — "will look a lot different than it does today" because of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He says the CPL board has discussed what might happen if fans remain barred but has made no decision.

"As you can imagine there's concerns on both side of the equation," he said,

While gate revenue is "huge" for the CPL, Clanachan said league owners are committed to getting the season in. "They understand how important it is that we play."

"We're still an infant league. although we tend to want to punch above our weight"

The hope is to have each of the eight teams play a normal 28-game season with the league currently looking at a number of scheduling models. Options include sticking to shorter trips earlier in the season to reduce travel and to package away games to be efficient.

A schedule could be released in a month or so, he said.

The 2020 season was originally slated to run from April 11 to Oct. 4. The pandemic shelved that plan with the league eventually playing the Island Games, a truncated tournament in Charlottetown, from Aug. 13 to Sept. 6.

The 2019 inaugural regular season ran April 27 to Oct. 19, divided into spring and fall campaigns.

Hamilton's Forge FC won the league title both years.

Clanachan said the league continues to talk with "a number of groups" interested in expansion despite the pandemic. But he says the time is not right given the pandemic.

The CPL has also announced that young Canadians will see more action in 2021 with clubs now required to give at least 1,500 minutes of combined playing time to domestic players under the age of 21.

The requirement previously for U-21 players was 1,000 minutes (pro-rated to 250 minutes at the Island Games). As before, CPL clubs must have at least three U-21 Canadian players signed on their rosters. The rule covers player born Jan. 1, 2000 or later.

The league says the U-21 minutes requirement was met or exceeded by all clubs. In 2020, Winnipeg's Valour FC led the way with a total of1,532 minutes. In 2019, Pacific FC recorded 13,532 minutes.

The league says it provided 43,000 minutes of playing time to young Canadians across its first two seasons.

“Part of the mission of the Canadian Premier League is to foster the growth of young Canadian soccer players," James Easton, the league's vice-president of football operations, said in a statement.

"The success to date of our under-21 player minutes is a testament to the quality that exists across Canada, which is now being served in a meaningful way by the opportunities provided by the CPL and is why we have decided to increase the minutes for young Canadian players.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press