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State of the League: Clanachan on wrapping up Open Trials, CPL-U SPORTS Draft, and 2020 expansion
Canadian Premier League

CanPL.ca sat down with league commissioner David Clanachan for the third instalment of this exclusive bi-monthly series, asking for updates on the final results of the #GotGame Open Trials, the upcoming CPL-U SPORTS Draft, and expansion in 2020 and beyond.

QUESTION: You’re travelling to Belgrade, Serbia this month on behalf of the Canadian Premier League to speak at a conference organized by the league’s kit supplier, Macron. What insights are you planning to share with the federations and super clubs that are expected to be on hand and have requested the CPL’s attendance?

CLANACHAN: We were invited by Macron to a roundtable consisting of representatives from all of the federations and big clubs under their umbrella. They’ve asked me to present very specifically on the Canadian Premier League and the creation of a new league — the business model, the branding, the clubs and our goals and aspirations over the next 10 years. They’re hearing and seeing the rumblings and reports in the media. So they’ve requested we discuss the CPL with their clients. It has been a long time since anyone started a league. They’re interested in what we’re doing. It’s no secret we’ve benefitted from a time when media is so ubiquitous. We’ve benefitted from that media overload because the soccer world has seen the feedback from Canadians. Macron loves the fact we’re bringing them on this journey. Again, people are interested in knowing how you garner success and attention without kicking a ball. We’ve been unique and creative in the way we’ve designed the league and club identities. It’s all about keeping people interested. People outside Canada are seeing it and wondering how we’re doing it.

The #GotGame Open Trials will reach the final stop next week in Victoria, B.C. Where will some of these trialists end up?

We have compiled an Open Trials “Watch List” and “Futures List” – players who could be invited to preseason camps or have been identified as up-and-coming Canadians. In coordination with soccer operations, our coaches will meet next following the Van Isle trials to allocate the best of the best from our Open Trials to the clubs that want to see these trialists in a training camp situation. That’s a great result. It’s a great opportunity for these young men to attend preseason with a professional team. I’m rooting for them. Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising because the pipeline for players was so narrow before we came online. Now we’ve widened it.

We know CPL clubs have submitted an initial list of players to negotiate with. Keeping that in mind, how important is parity in the inaugural season? How involved has the league been in helping each club construct a roster?

At the end of the day the coaches are building their rosters because they each have a style of play they’re looking to implement and they are the experts at building their clubs. Jimmy Brennan has a very different style in mind for York 9 FC than Stephen Hart at HFX Wanderers FC or Tommy Wheeldon at Cavalry FC. They’re building their clubs themselves. That said, they have to work within an environment. They’re literally having to deal with the same types of players. We’re providing them with as much information we have — video, statistics, scouting — to introduce the best domestic or international players who might be available. We’re providing all of the tools. As the Commissioner, I want parity. There’s no doubt I want parity. But there’s no way of ensuring that. But, that’s what this sport is all about. You can’t fool people. If you do it properly, each team has an opportunity to be the best. You just don’t know until you start playing.

With roster building underway, when can we expect to see the league’s inaugural schedule?

We brag about being a “coast-to-coast” league, but we also have challenges because we’re a coast-to-coast league. For example, if you start too soon in April you could get a rogue snowstorm in one of our cities. We have teams in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary, all great places during the summer, but a challenge in the shoulder months. We have to deal with that. We also have to take FIFA breaks. We’re going to support that. We also have to factor in the Canadian Championship and stadium blackouts. Here’s something else to consider: Because we don’t have promotion-relegation, we have the added incentive of thinking about what we can do if we don’t have parity in the first season. Is there another model out there? We’re searching the globe right now and looking at what other leagues are doing. How do you keep everyone interested and involved throughout the year? We are working with some of the best scheduling companies available to produce an unbalanced schedule. We’re keeping all of these challenges in mind while keeping everything on the table. What I do know, though, is who’s playing the inaugural game and when those two teams are playing.

It wouldn’t be a Commissioner’s Q&A without an expansion update …

By 2020 I want to have 10 teams in the Canadian Premier League. From there, we’ve been talking about growing to 14 clubs by 2024 and 16 by 2026. We’re really working hard with 5-6 locations right now for three additional spots by 2020. The biggest issue right now is the lack of facilities. We’re not talking about soccer specific stadiums, what we need are all-event centres that are useable year-round and capable of hosting CPL matches. That’s what municipalities and the public want. I’m very interested in what we’re doing with modular stadiums with full seats and the amenities. They don’t take forever to build and they don’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s wonderful to have Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field and Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, but those world class stadiums don’t come along every day. You need to do what we’re doing at Pacific FC and Cavalry FC and in Halifax at Wanderers Grounds. Those venues are expandable, adaptable and affordable — the three keys.

Can you offer a few thoughts on the upcoming CPL-U SPORTS Draft?

I think it’s fantastic that U SPORTS has agreed to allow undergraduates to maintain their university eligibility in Canada while developing at the professional level. It keeps two career paths open for them — one they’re studying for and the other is the game they love. In addition to the underclassmen who could be selected in next week’s draft, we are giving U SPORTS grads who have exhausted their university eligibility the opportunity to be drafted. If we handle it right and do all the right things it’s a great incubator for U SPORTS players and a defined pathway for graduates.

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