TORONTO — The Canadian Premier League will be Canada’s first division when it kicks off in April 2019, but no one knows quite what to expect when the first whistle is blown.
Thursday’s announcement of the CPL’s first wave of player signings strongly hints at what the league’s talent level will be, as several Canadian senior and former youth internationals were included among the names released to the public.
The players themselves, the first of hundreds who will take a leap of faith in committing to a fledgling league, are confident that the quality will be high when the games get underway next year.
“I think we’re going to surprise people from Day 1,” Forge FC midfielder Kyle Bekker told Sporting News. “I can’t speak to everyone, but I have a feeling people think it’s going to be pretty rough around the edges. At the end of the day, it’s a brand new league, but there is quality in Canada. I think it’s just a matter of putting everyone on the field and kind of getting it going.”
Bekker’s career has taken him through the North American pyramid, with stops in MLS, USL and the now-defunct NASL. The 28-year-old was named to the USL All-League Second Team after notching seven goals and 13 assists with North Carolina FC this year. With 18 international caps to his name, Bekker knows that he’ll be relied upon to help raise the standard of the league from within his own team.
He says he’s up to the challenge.
“It’s professional sports at the end of the day, so there will be pressure because I’m gonna have to deliver but I’m excited about the responsibility to be a leader in this team,” Bekker said. “I think we are gonna have a younger group [at Forge FC] and I’m looking to instill a little bit of my experiences on them.”
While Bekker’s confidence in the CPL was assured from the start, other players admitted to a having a more reserved outlook before they found out more information about the league.
“To be honest, at the beginning I really had no idea what I was getting myself into,” HFX Wanderers’ Zachary Sukunda told Sporting News. “I see guys [among the first signings] who have played in the MLS, I see guys who have played at very good levels overseas. So to be honest I think the first year, I think it’s going to be a really good level. I really do.”
Sukunda added that the CPL is “going to grow massively” in years to come as the league gains a foothold throughout the country, something that FC Edmonton defender Allan Zebie feels can be helped along by having teams in close proximity aiming to topple one another.
“I think it’s definitely going to be a good level,” Zebie told Sporting News. “Having the rivalries, like us playing against Calgary, is gonna add some intensity. It’s going to elevate the competition, for sure.”
One of Zebie’s on-field rivals will be veteran midfielder Nik Ledgerwood, who joined Cavalry FC after more than a decade in Germany and a pair of seasons playing alongside Zebie in Edmonton. Ledgerwood, a stalwart on the Canadian national team, looks at the CPL as a much-needed avenue for Canada’s players to hone their craft but also notes that the plan is for the league to be better at the end of the first season than it is on Matchday 1.
With that in mind, Ledgerwood still believes the CPL will showcase a good product out of the gate.
“I think fans have to be patient because it’ll be a learning experience,” Ledgerwood told Sporting News. “There will be growing pains. But I think it’s for the better for Canadians. You’re trying to promote Canadian youth, you’re trying to get them into professional environments to help play and prosper, so I do think it’ll be a good professional level but I also think it’ll also need its time to grow and take shape.”