Friday 21 February 2020, 21:31

Canadian Premier League contributes to roadmap to the 2026 FIFA World Cup 

  • With the support of the FIFA Forward Programme and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League (CPL) concludes with great success and a promising future

  • This brand-new professional league has a clear football development approach, and will be an important contributor to the overall expansion of a suitable player base for the Canadian Men’s National Team

  • Designed to provide fans with exciting live soccer from coast to coast, the new CPL has built a base of economic support (such as the FIFA Forward Programme) for the upcoming years, and plans to be self-sustaining in the short-term

  • From 2019 to 2025, the CPL will be a key part of the Canadian soccer player pathway to contribute to the country’s best competitive performance during the FIFA World Cup to be held in Canada in 2026

During the last decade, Canada went through different attempts to establish a sustainable and professional national league. Unfortunately, previous efforts failed to get a critical mass to be self-sustaining. Canada is a very large nation, with a broadly distributed population, which creates challenges for nationwide competitions in a number of ways. Additionally, a recent study by Canada Soccer showed that the structure at the top of Canada’s men’s football pyramid needed to be reorganised, in order to promote significant growth and improve the results of the men's national teams.

Positively embracing opportunities and challenges, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) decided that the best long-term approach to achieve its ambitions was for the country to develop its own domestic professional league. With this goal in mind, the CSA strongly encouraged the creation of the Canadian Premier League (CPL), and in 2019 the CPL was launched with the support of the FIFA Forward Programme. The Canadian Soccer Association is now seizing the moment after having recently won the bid to co-host the aforementioned FIFA World Cup™ in 2026, jointly with Mexico and the United States. No doubt, this brings immeasurable hype and exposure to football in its host countries and will represent a golden opportunity for this nation to build its own league once and for all.

This nationwide league was designed as a brand new fully professional league, aimed at raising the level of Canadian domestic professional football while providing fans with a high level of competition. The league’s regulations are clearly oriented to promote national player growth and League development. An example of this, is the requirement to start each match with a minimum of six domestic players on teams’ starting line-ups. Furthermore, a team’s domestic players, 21 years old or younger must play a combined minimum of 1,000 minutes over the course of the season. These measures provide young players with a clear pathway to follow. Before the new competition was launched, most of the players chasing their dream of becoming professionals had to travel abroad. However, the CPL now gives them the roadmap and motivation to become a professional football player in their own country.

With the World Cup still a number of years away, the current startup and growth phase is seen as a great opportunity to ensure that the league will develop a market suitable to leverage the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Although travelling across multiple time zones (most matches require commercial air travel and overnight stays) and climatic conditions undoubtedly present challenges, Canadian football fans finally have a domestic coast-to-coast competition. The first CPL season kicked off with seven teams from different cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Halifax, Langford, Winnipeg and York Region). This promoted a sense of kinship and belonging amongst fans with their respective teams while also contributing to regional rivalries.

The existence of the Canadian Premier League is also an important motivational factor for referees. The possibility of refereeing at the highest level in this new domestic league is a great objective which motivates them to continue their training and improvement. In this regard, the CSA expanded its capacity building activities, and during 2019, more than 900 men and 300 women had the opportunity to participate in workshops and training activities all across the country.

The Canadian men's national team will certainly be another great beneficiary of the flourishing new league. The CPL will not only inspire a new generation of players, but also provide a first-class environment to develop their skills and to get on-field experience. To pay special attention to the development of domestic and young players will definitely help to produce and grow the suitable player base for the Canadian men's national team. This approach is expected to have positive results in the upcoming international competitions, and the CSA’s men's national team is especially looking forward to having an impactful performance “at home” in 2026.

In summary, the league expected there to be challenges in its first year of operation. However, a solid foundation has been established from which to build upon in 2020 and beyond. Here to stay, the Canadian Premier League, and of course the 2026 FIFA World Cup, will definitely help to further establish Canada as a football nation.