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Opinion: Only three of seven CPL clubs eligible for 2019 Concacaf League, but decision adds to growing CPL story

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Last week, many Canadian soccer fans were disappointed to learn only three of the seven Canadian Premier League (CPL) teams will compete for a place in the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf League, a preliminary tournament for the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.

The Canada Soccer announcement did go on to state that from 2020 onward the CPL’s Concacaf League berth will go to the CPL champion. 

But home and away matches between FC Edmonton, Forge FC and Valour FC in the early stages of the 2019 Canadian Premier League season will determine the CPL’s 2019 representative.

Canada Soccer, Canada’s governing body for soccer, said only these three CPL clubs are eligible Concacaf League qualification by virtue of their entry to Canada Soccer as Professional Clubs in Membership in 2017.

Cavalry FC, HFX Wanderers, Pacific FC and York9 FC gained membership later, in 2018, and will not be eligible for the 2019 Concacaf League. This criteria was also used to determine the draw of the 2019 Canadian Championship, which is operated by Canada Soccer.

While some fans welcomed the news and are excited the CPL has a been provided route into the continental competition, others are angry that more than half the CPL teams were not eligible from day one.

“Our date of birth does not define our worth as a club,” said Foot Soldiers Supporters Group, a Cavalry FC supporters group, via Twitter.

Even a CPL player publicly questioned the allocation process.

“This is great news for (Canadian Premier League), but how about sending the club that tops the league after X-number of games?” asked Pacific FC player Ben Fisk, via Twitter. “(Canadian Premier League) should be represented by its best team, not limited to the three who signed some papers first.”

Cavalry FC’s head coach responded with an air of diplomacy when asked about the allocation last week.

“In all fairness, it’s a Canada Soccer decision,” said Tommy Wheeldon Jr, Cavalry FC head coach and general manager, Tuesday. “We have to respect it. They’ve got their reasons behind it.”

Difficult and complicated process

No doubt, determining the allocation process was always going to be a difficult task given the time constraints involved – the CPL season begins in April and the Concacaf League begins in July. The fact that Canada Soccer, Concacaf and the CPL have managed to arrange allocations and formats across three (technically four) separate competitions in such a short time is commendable. It’s no small accomplishment.

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However, immediately eliminating four CPL clubs from 2019 Concacaf League contention feels like a major misstep. It’s not the end of the world and it’s a one-time deal, but the backlash against Canada Soccer’s announcement is justified. It didn’t need to be this way.

The decision essentially declares that three of the CPL clubs are more important than the other four. That’s tough to accept, despite the reasoning.

However, there may be a positive, if intangible, knock-on effect. One that may benefit the new league in the long run.

Part of the league’s history now

The Canadian Premier League has gone big on trying to tell a new story about soccer in Canada in an effort to promote itself. In interviews, CPL commissioner David Clanachan has been a big proponent of building a new soccer narrative and history.

The league has been working hard to write that story itself. The impressive quantity of online media it currently pushes out is testament to that. It’s particularly notable for a league that hasn’t even kicked a ball yet.

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But then there are the unexpected story arcs – the narratives that occur without production meetings or planning sessions but still manage to garner interest and drive passion.

This could be such a moment.

The Concacaf League allocation is now part of the new narrative, the new history.

This recent decision has placed a large chip on the collective shoulders of those four clubs and their fans. Resentment and animosity have already begun to be expressed from various supporters. 

But animosity can breed passion. And passion can breed atmosphere and intensity. With the CPL, many Canadian soccer fans finally have their first local conduit through which to direct their passion. This recent announcment will only add to the furor.

Harness the passion

In a league short on history, this is the kind of moment that will be remembered and could cultivate intensity for years to come. “You don’t think much of us, do you? Right, we’ll show you,” could be a resulting attitude from fans, players and staff alike.

It’s doubtful the Canadian Premier League will directly stoke such sentiment with a public statement on behalf of the league and its clubs. Any such statement could come across as antagonistic and may not be of any benefit to the CPL. The young league doesn’t need to start any fights right now. Building relationships is what’s important. And the burgeoning relationship between Canada Soccer and the CPL is still developing and appears relatively healthy, for the most part.

Canada Soccer will move on. And hopefully the one-time-only ruling hasn’t caused any irreparable damage. Things will feel better in 2020 when the 2019 CPL champion earns the Concacaf League spot.

But the CPL, its clubs and its fans will not likely forget this moment. It stings right now, but all involved should embrace the passion that this decision has evoked.

Rather than wallow in the wake of the recent decision, Cavalry FC’s head coach, Tommy Wheeldon Jr., has suggested a plan to use the ruling as motivation.

“We’ll just focus on getting there the good old-fashioned way by trying to win the 2019 (CPL) championship and then we’ll go into it as the CPL champions,” said Cavalry FC’s coach, about Concacaf League qualification. “That’s the carrot that’s being dangled for us. We’re looking forward to proving our worth on the pitch.”

It’s a good attitude to take. Not that there’s any recourse.

The Canadian Premier League is a new professional soccer league set to kick off in April 2019. Calgary’s club is Cavalry FC and will play its home games at Spruce Meadows.



About Author

Stuart Gradon

Editor of Total Soccer News | Photographer and Writer | Stuart Gradon is soccer journalist and multimedia professional, having worked at 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada. He covers Cavalry FC and Canadian Premier League. Stuart is available for media appearances, including podcasts, television, and radio. Email to inquire.

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