With the MLS, NWSL, and USL seasons all coming to a close, the Canadian Premier League Playoffs may fly under the radar of North American soccer fans. But don’t sleep — the new format promises to have plenty of excitement.
For North American footy fans, it is that special time of year that separates us from the rest of the footballing world: the playoffs. MLS and the NWSL are in the closing stages with each league’s respective decision day looming, and the USL playoffs are just days away. But there’s another competition that’s already in progress that also has a CONCACAF Champions Cup spot up for grabs as well.
The Canadian Premier League playoffs will see the top five regular season teams duking it out for the North Star Cup. As with any new league, the Canadian Premier League has been iterating its regular season and playoff format, tweaking certain aspects to see what works best.
The new format, which is loosely based on something that the USL has used in the past, places an increased benefit to performing well in the regular season, as the top two finishers will have two opportunities to reach the Cup final. Let me explain:
As you can see in the bracket, Cavalry (league title winners) and Forge FC (league runners-up) face off, with the winning team moving on directly to the final. In contrast, the losing team has a “redemption” game against the winner of what I’m calling the “mid-table” section of the bracket.
Fourth-place finishers Pacific defeated fifth-place York 1-0 in the opening CPL Playoffs match, and will advance to a quarterfinal showdown against third-place Halifax to decide who makes it to the “redemption” game, which leads to the finals.
Now, this may seem complicated and unnecessary, but in a league with only eight teams, a long regular season can get boring if two or three teams are far and away better than the others. These additional wrinkles make a second- or third-place finish critical to increasing your odds of winning the postseason cup. This new change worked perfectly for the league and the marketing department, as second place was decided with the final whistle of the last matchday, as three teams could have theoretically earned the highly coveted league runners-up position.
What this intense closing stretch shows is how competitive the league is from top to bottom — even the teams who missed the playoffs showed stretches of excellence and challenged to win every game. The No. 5 seed could undoubtedly beat the top seed in a single-game elimination, and that goes for every team in the bracket. That level of parity in a playoff situation is so rare in sports.
The next reason you should watch the Canadian Premier League Playoffs is to see the next generation of Canadian men’s national team and MLS stars. Yes, I know, that is a big claim. But, year over year, the Canadian Premier League has improved. With its mandate of developing young players and giving them professional minutes at an early age, it is only a matter of time until one of the many bright young stars in the league breaks out and shows the world that Canada is starting to develop legitimate footballers.
In the playoffs, some Canadian names to watch for are Osaze De Rosario (son of Dwayne De Rosario), Sean Young, Daniel Nimick, Woobens Pacius, and William Akio. Outside of these young Canadian stars, there is talent aplenty, whether its hidden gems or players reviving their careers after failed attempts in Europe. Ultimately, it is providing such a raw, unpolished experience compared to the MLS that player potential is even more evident.
The Canadian Premier League is a league for people who love to see growth, not just a finished product. In a sense, it is a football hipster’s dream, as it gives them the opportunity to be fans of a player before anybody else knew their name.
I may be biased, and that is one of the reasons I can look past the occasional display of poor technical ability, but watching the league grow, evolve, and provide legitimate professional pathways for young Canadians is a beautiful sight.
Therein lies why you can be excited about the playoffs because this league is helping people fall in love with the game in a different way. A way that is far removed from the glitz and glamor of the English Premier League or the perfectly sterile image of MLS, with their PR statements and avoidance of controversy. The beauty and excitement comes from the imperfections in the game, and the quirkiness that comes with lower league football.
So, bring on the playoffs. Let there be insanity, drama and a few more eyes on a beautiful representation of lower-league football.