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The New Canadian Premier League

 

We are currently 33 years past the death of the Canadian Professional Soccer League. A league that couldn't stand on its own two feet. The CPSL crashed and burned after a mere 73 days in existence; a time that the North American Soccer League version 1.0 was going down the toilet as well.

Despite seemingly being in this position before, the Canadian Soccer Association has proposed an all-new Canadian soccer league to foster top-class players into its national team.

So, the biggest questions surrounding the Canadian Premier League is whether it will work out? And, will it attract fans, teams and owners, unlike its numerous predecessors?

According to the Province, The CSA is targeting a 2018 launch date for its new league. Despite being ambitious, the CSA could pull existing teams from existing leagues to make up its numbers. The new Canadian Premier League is expected to be anchored by a Hamilton, Ontario club headed by Bob Young.

It is also believed that current NASL – version 2.0 - franchises Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton would jump ship and join the new league. Interestingly, the Canadian Premier League(Abbreviated CPL from now on) has stated it is not interested in taking on any MLS reserve sides, like the United Soccer League in the U.S., rather it wants its own top-level teams.

The decision to resist the MLS reserve sides is a fantastic step from the league. Like the NASL, the CPL is looking to differentiate itself from what is considered to be the cream of the crop in soccer north of Mexico. MLS has its limitations and detractors; and like the NASL, the CPL could be seen as an alternative to MLS.

The CPL is in no way interested in being a bit part player to MLS. Canadian soccer blogger Anthony Tortera tweeted in late October that: "CPL will not serve as a reserve league, also no teams will be permitted to add '2' or 'B' after its name".

Perhaps the best part of the CPL's decision to not allow MLS reserve sides into the league is the fact the group are standing up to MLS. It is a bold move, the CPL is expected to avoid MLS markets.

Meaning Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are off limits for now. The league hopes it will have enough soccer fans outside these markets to draw interest from.

However, the CPL should take heart and lessons from teams south of the U.S.-Canadian border. Soccer has seen unprecedented growth in the continental 48 states.

Teams outside the reach of MLS are exploding, although most – if not all – have their eyes on joining the league at some point. This year, teams such as Cincinnati FC, Sacramento Republic, Detroit City FC, AFC Cleveland and Chattanooga FC have shown they can draw fans.

Working in Canada's favor is the sheer size of the country. Local teams give soccer fans in many cities the chance to see professional soccer. Something that is impossible with only three top-flight MLS sides from the country.

For the average fan in Ottawa or Winnipeg, it isn't easy to make a trip to see live soccer played by a MLS franchise.

Despite the CPL looking like a threat to MLS, the league's leaders have stated it isn't a competitor to the already established top-flight. It simply wants to be taken seriously and not looked at like a minor league. Hence the reasons for preventing MLS reserve sides' entry into the CPL.

As information continues to leak out about the CPL, it has been confirmed that the league's name has been trademarked and that the Hamilton team will be named either the Hamilton Steelers or Hamilton United.

Despite the news of the Hamilton franchise, the remaining six to eight teams is still under wraps. That is, if there are really six to eight other franchises ready to join.

In the attempts for the CPL to become a truly Canadian league, something that has been pushed for years, it must be asked whether the country has enough quality soccer players to fill out the teams. If Canadian teams have quotas on players, will the on-field product have enough quality to bring out fans?

The 1983 CPSL didn't, but that was 33 years ago. Fans of soccer in Canada have changed greatly in that more than three decade span.

The CPL also has the bonus of MLS commissioner Don Garber believing that Canada has no further cities to locate a team in currently. That slap in the face to cities like Ottawa, Edmonton and Winnipeg gives the CPL a leg up in attracting those towns to be a part of the fledgling Canadian league.

Waking The Red, a Toronto FC blog, suggests some great talking points about the possibilities of the CPL. If the league fails, it could take down one of Canada's non-MLS professional soccer teams.

That would be yet another setback in a lifetime of setbacks to Canadian soccer. However, if the league is successful, it could spawn the creation of further teams and strengthen soccer in the Great White North like never before.

Who knows, it could one day influence Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver to join them. That is something an fathomable right now, however.

Perhaps the CPL's best role model on how not to operate is the NASL version 2.0; who, like the original, may be going extinct due to financial mismanagement. The league looks to be in trouble, hence the reason Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton are looking to jump ship.

Ottawa is said to be angry over the league's politics and financial problems. Tampa Bay Rowdies are as well and would like to join MLS. Although that feeling isn't mutual after Tampa Bay was previously experimented with by the league.

NASL's model of keeping up with the New York Cosmos has hurt the league's teams. Just like in the NASL's original incarnation, the league is hurting thanks to its premier team.  

The CPL looks like a good thing, whether it will succeed or end up like the country's previous soccer leagues is unknown. Regardless, the country's 35 million-plus population seems hungry enough for soccer to back the league.

Like in the U.S., soccer will never be number one in Canada. Ice hockey's history is far too rich. However, it can compete as a close second. Having quality soccer players and a must-see product on the pitch is the only way the CPL will last.

By Drew Farmer, author of Soccer Travels


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