Canadian Premier League kickoff set for April 27 in Hamilton but questions remain

By The Canadian Press
January 29, 2019 - 1:00pm

TORONTO — The Canadian Premier League added another player, showcased a foundation sponsor and announced its official kickoff date Tuesday.

In order, Kwame Awuah, Volkswagen and April 27, when Hamilton's Forge FC hosts north Toronto's York 9 FC at Tim Hortons Field.

"The countdown's on. Less than 100 days until we kick off," commissioner David Clanachan told a media event.

Make that 88 days. And there is plenty still to be confirmed by the new Canadian pro soccer league, including the full schedule, broadcast information and salary cap details.

But the fledgling league continues to make progress, if not groundbreaking news. The 23-year-old Awuah, a former New York City FC first-round MLS draft choice, became the 59th player to sign with the seven-team league.

In joining the Hamilton team, he is reunited with Forge FC head coach and technical director Bobby Smyrniotis. Awuah, like most of the Forge FC players signed to date, grew up playing for Smyrniotis at Sigma FC.

The CPL offers Awuah a chance to play consistent minutes.

"I think the most important thing for me right how is to get the maximum amount of games I can get," said Awuah, who appeared in 10 games in his two years with NYCFC.

"I don't look at the difficulties that happened in the past. I'm just focused on trying to get myself in the best position moving forward and I thought this was the best decision ... I hope to just bring my experience from NYCFC back here."

Awuah, who attended two Canadian camps under former coach Octavio Zambrano but has yet to win a senior cap, has no regrets about his time in MLS.

"My two years at NYCFC were a great experience," he said. "I played with some legends. I've been coached by a legend in Patrick Vieira ... A team that's owned by City Football Group (which also owns Manchester City)."

For veteran striker Marcus Haber, the CPL represents a chance to come back to B.C. after nine years in the United Kingdom. The 30-year-old from Vancouver will lead the Pacific FC attack in Victoria.

"It's where I'm from as well so it kind of chose itself at the end of the day," he said. "I'm very proud of where I'm from — the West Coast. It's beautiful and it's a big part of who I am."

Forge FC midfielder Kyle Bekker, a former Toronto FC first-round draft pick who also played for the Montreal Impact and FC Dallas in MLS, can't wait for the season to begin.

"I'm counting the days," he said.

Teams are selling 15-game season ticket packages. The league is looking at 14 home and 14 away league games plus at least one Canadian Championship home contest.

The league has released its roster rules, if not its salary cap.

Team rosters will include 20 to 23 players with a maximum of seven international players. A minimum of three domestic players on each roster must be under 21 and those players must play a minimum of 1,000 minutes a season.

Active U Sports players who sign with the league will be considered domestic players no matter their citizenship. They'll get paid to play in the CPL during the summer via their player developmental contact, but will not lose their university eligibility.

Come game day, teams will have to start at least six Canadians. That is the only proviso, allowing coaches to make their normal substitutions without concern over citizenship.

The league opener will, a little surprisingly, be played the same day Toronto FC hosts the Portland Timbers at BMO Field.

But for fans like 35-year-old Allan Gorman, the soccer spotlight will be squarely on Hamilton that day. The Scottish-born Gorman is a member of the Barton Street Battalion, Forge FC's supporters' group.

"We went from two or three people in a pub three years ago to now we have over 400 season tickets sold in our standing section — which for a team with only six players right now is insane. To think of how it's grown. And it's only going to get bigger."

Gorman, who plans to take his eight-year-old son to Forge FC games, says he welcomes the chance to support a team where he lives rather than having to make the trip to Toronto.

"It's more for my son to be able to have what I had growing up — watch his local heroes, watch his home town (team). Half the time, I can't take him to a game at TFC because we're not back in Hamilton 'til midnight."

Clanachan promises to release more details on the league in the next two weeks.

 

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Canadian Pat Onstad named technical director at Columbus Crew SC