They waited and waited and waited, all the while with their fingers crossed and their collective prayers whispered daily.
And so when the news became official Wednesday that the Canadian Premier League was heading to Prince Edward Island next month for a tournament-style season, it was Valour FC GM and head coach Rob Gale who perhaps best expressed the excitement swirling around the announcement in just four simple words.
“Let the games begin!”
Valour FC and the other seven CPL clubs will head to Charlottetown next week to begin preparations for a unique season which will see the first match played on August 13th featuring Forge FC and Cavalry FC in a rematch of last season’s championship.
The complete schedule will be announced soon, but each team will play seven matches in the opening round – one against each club – with the top four then advancing to the Group Stage before the single-match championship final.
“It feels great,” said Valour FC co-captain Dylan Carreiro in a conference call Wednesday. “All the work the staff and this club have put in during this pandemic, and all the work the players have done, we’ve found something we can enjoy and look forward to.
“We’ve done a lot of work on and off the field with many things and we’re just really excited to have the opportunity to get games in and show what Valour is about this year.”
Indeed, Valour was just four days into main training camp in March when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down so much globally. The squad has been back practising under strict protocols for weeks now and will return to full contact training on Thursday.
“Players, coaches, ownership, fans… it’s what we’ve been waiting for and looking forward to and hoping that everything could be organized,” said Gale. “Now we have a road map.”
Gale and Carreiro spoke with local media on Wednesday following a national media Zoom call with CPL commissioner David Clanachan. Here are the key takeaways about the tournament – dubbed ‘The Island Games’ – from those two sessions:
All matches will be held in Charlottetown in conjunction with the PEI provincial government, Canadian federal government and the City of Charlottetown.
Alumni Field on the University of Prince Edward Island campus was one of the venues for the 2009 Canada Summer Games and features a FIFA-certified artificial turf field which was resurfaced in 2016.
The other locales under consideration for the tournament were Langford, B.C. and Moncton, N.B.
“Part of what happened in our journey to get to here is a lot of chamber of commerces and other businesses specifically wrote many letters to MPPs and MPs from the island, as well as the Premier, encouraging the government to do this because they felt it was the right thing to do and it was good timing,” said Clanachan. “Obviously, when they all saw the protocols that were put in place they all felt very good about where we were at.
“This is not something that was done on the back of an envelope. This is something that was done over a few months. We’ve done everything you could imagine that could be done in order to do this properly.”
The CPL teams and staff will be housed in a bubble in Charlottetown. All teams, including Valour FC, are already under self-quarantine in their own markets and will be for two weeks. They have been tested for COVID-19 once – with no cases announced.
The teams will be tested again before departing to PEI on August 8th on chartered flights. Upon arrival they will be tested again twice in a five-day period before given the green light to play. The teams will then be tested weekly after that.
“There are lots of things that are going to be different from what we’re used to,” said Carreiro. “There are going to be a lot of things we’re not going to be able to do as if we were go to a World Cup tournament format, or a qualifying-tournament format where we’re able to leave the hotel and walk around and do some things.
“We’re in our hotels. We’re making sure we’re in our bubble and staying away from not only the people around us but the teams off the field. We have to make sure we stay in our bubble as Valour FC.
“It’s a bit difficult for some people that have kids, but we’re all looking forward to it. We’re all excited that there is a tournament and we’re able to play some games. There are times where we have to sacrifice things and this is a time where we sacrifice and make sure and we go there and make sure we’re not only playing for Valour FC, but to win games and come back with the trophy.”
THE TOURNAMENT FORMAT
The opening group stage will feature 28 matches, with each team playing each other once. The top four teams then advance to a second round-robin group where every team will play each other once, with the top two squads advancing to a winner-take-all, one-match finale for the North Star Shield.
The winner of the tournament will also qualify for the 2021 Concacaf League.
“It’s a great way of doing it,” said Gale of the Island Games format. “You get to play each team once, which is excellent, rather than doing a divisional (format) with less games. If you can get into that final four then you get to do it again. I think they’ve come up with a very interesting and exciting format that gives everybody a great chance.
“It will be a sprint because of the number of days it’s going to be covered in. But I think they’ve done really well with the format.”
Asked if Valour FC has a ‘big run in it’, Carreiro added this:
“I think we do. Many people from the outside have doubted us just because of how we were last year, but the amount of quality players the gaffer and the coaching staff have brought in is a big, big, big change in the environment, competitiveness and everything from last year.
“They’ve done a great job in the offseason of bringing in the right characters for this group. So, I think a lot of people will be surprised at the quality we bring and the results that we’re going to bring as well.”
HOW TO WATCH
All matches will be played without fans in Charlottetown but will be broadcast on the CPL’s media partner, OneSoccer. The commissioner did indicate negotiations are ongoing with another potential media partner.
The league is offering a package to fans called ‘The Collective’ the details of which are here: