After months and months of uncertainty the Canadian Premier League – along with Valour FC – are now full speed ahead on a 2021 season.
The CPL announced Saturday night the details of the start of the ’21 campaign — a 32-game launch beginning inside a bubble here in Winnipeg at IG Field as part of a commitment to a full season.
The remainder of a 28-match regular schedule would be played, hopefully, in each team’s home venue.
‘The Kickoff Presented by Volkswagen’ will start with a doubleheader on Saturday June 26th and be followed by another twin-bill on Sunday, June 27th.
FC Edmonton and Atlético Ottawa will open the event at 1 p.m. on the 26th, followed by Pacific FC vs. HFX Wanderers at 4 p.m.
Valour FC will play its first match on Sunday against two-time defending CPL champion Forge FC at 1 p.m., with Cavalry FC and York United FC scheduled for 4 p.m.
“It’s awesome,” began Valour FC GM and head coach Rob Gale. “We have a date, a start, a venue and an opposing team – it just makes everything real now. It’s like when we learned about the bubble last year – now there’s no more rumours, no more discussion.
“We’ve got three weeks to get ready for battle and we’ve got the two-time champions, the benchmark in our league, to start. What a great way to kick off your tournament. Brilliant.”
‘THE KICKOFF PRESENTED BY VOLKSWAGEN’
Dates: June 26-July 24
Venue: All 32 games will be played at IG Field.
Season Format: All eight CPL clubs – Valour FC, HFX Wanderers, Atlético Ottawa, York United FC, Forge FC, FC Edmonton, Cavalry FC and Pacific FC – will play eight matches.
FYI: all of the matches will be played without fans in a ‘sequestered environment’. As the games unfold the CPL will be monitoring the situations across the country to determine the potential of clubs returning home to play in front of supporters.
Media: All of the matches will be broadcast exclusively on OneSoccer.
Health protocols: All the guidelines have been approved by Manitoba Public Health and are in place for team testing before travel, during the first seven days and weekly thereafter. Players and team staff will be cohorted and only interact with other teams during matches. The specific site hotel has not yet been announced.
Costs: The tournament has the backing of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Winnipeg through a provincial long-term recovery fund.
The event will translate into more than 5,500 booked hotel room nights and generate an estimated $4.9 million in economic spinoffs.
“We’ve been so looking forward to this and now we know where and when we will start, so it gives us something specific to focus on,” said Valour forward Masta Kacher. “We’ve been waiting eight-nine months to get back at it, to get back to playing and doing what we love. That’s a long time. We’re all very excited.
“We have to see it as we are playing at home every day. We have to play with pride every second we’re on the pitch. That’s an extra motivation. This is for pride. This is our home field and we have to protect it.
“We’ve been (in a bubble) before, so there will be no more excuses for us – or for any of the teams.”
That part is true: the CPL does have extensive experience in staging a season and living in a bubble environment, having held the ‘Island Games’ last August-September in Charlottetown, PEI.
That shortened season guaranteed each team just seven matches, which teams advancing through various stages through to a championship final.
This year’s format is part of a lead-in to a full season.
“That’s massive. It’s absolutely huge,” said Gale. “For us, we’re going to have (Rafael) Galhardo and Arnold (Bouka Moutou) arriving late, in the next few weeks, and we’ve still got one possibly one or two more pieces to add. If this was last year when we were adding players late… we had seven games to try and define ourselves and then we were done.
“Now we’ve got more continuity and we want to hit the ground running as quickly as possible, but we know at least that by the end of a full season we’ll have a truer reflection of who we are.
“We’ve got time to get our people in and used to each other. It’s a shortened season in terms of time, but at least it’s a chance to get a true sense of where we stack up.”