If you’re a soccer fan in Canada, you’ll likely be focused on Tim Hortons Field on Saturday when Hamilton’s Forge FC hosts York9 in the first ever Canadian Premier League (CPL) regular season match.
It’s been a long road for Bob Young, owner of the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who planted the seeds for the country’s first top-tier pro soccer league.
It was first reported in 2013 that Young, along with a core group of investors working with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), had plans for a FIFA-sanctioned six-team league.
Things were mostly quiet for a few years, until May 6, 2017, when the creation of the CPL was unanimously approved and sanctioned by the CSA. At the same time, ownership groups in Winnipeg and Hamilton were also approved.
One year later, the Canadian Soccer Association accepted club memberships for Halifax, York Region, Calgary, and an undisclosed location in British Columbia (days later, it was revealed the club would be based in Vancouver Island).
On June 8, 2018, rebranded FC Edmonton (formerly of the North American Soccer League) was unveiled.
The Canadian Premier League season will run from April to October with each team scheduled to play 28 games, split into two seasons. The Apertura and Clausura (Spanish for “opening” and “closing”) system is used in several other soccer leagues around the world as a method to keep fans interested in the second half of the campaign, even if their club is struggling.
The respective winners of the spring and fall season will then play in a 2-game home and away series for the CPL Championship.
Canadian Premier League teams will also compete in the Canadian Championship against Canadian teams in Major League Soccer, the USL Championship, and Tier 3 league champions for Canada’s spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
One Canadian Premier League team will compete in the expanded CONCACAF League against teams from Central America and the Caribbean for one of six spots in the CONCACAF Champions League. As part of the expanded format for 2019, the CPL club will enter the tournament in the preliminary round, to be played in July.
For the 2019 edition, this slot will be granted to one of the league’s “inaugural teams” (FC Edmonton, Forge FC or Valour FC) based on their home and away matches in the 2019 spring season.
For future editions, the CPL champion will qualify for the following year’s CONCACAF League.
The Canadian Premier League will have several rules to give national players more opportunities. This includes a minimum of six Canadian starters per game, a requirement that 50 per cent +1 of players on team rosters must be Canadian, and a limit of seven foreign nationals per team.
Additionally, three of the domestic players must be under the age of 21 and play at least 1,000 combined minutes per season.
The CPL and U Sports will also hold a yearly draft for Canadian university players. Selected student-athletes will be able to play for CPL teams in the spring and summer, and return to their university team to preserve their eligibility.
On Feb. 20, 2019, it was announced that Mediapro had acquired the broadcast rights to the league.
A new streaming service, OneSoccer, will carry all of the league’s matches, including the Canadian Championship.
Twenty games throughout the season will also be available through CBC Sports, 10 of which will be broadcast on television.