The pathway to a professional career for Canadian soccer players has always been blurry. They often find themselves moving abroad to turn their dream into a reality.
That’s why the rumoured Canadian Premier League (CPL), a professional soccer league in Canada that would be sanctioned by world soccer body FIFA, could be a game changer.
In 2013, rumors surfaced of the Canadian Soccer Association looking into developing a professional league. However, it wasn’t until last year that the projected league’s first official employee was announced. After the hiring of project manager Paul Beirne, soccer fans started to believe in the Canadian Premier League. Beirne was also the first employee in 2006 of Major League Soccer professional team Toronto FC and served as vice-president of business operations.
Gianlucas Scorzafave, a first-year midfielder for the Humber Hawks, has personally experienced the drought of professional soccer opportunities in Canada, returning to his native Uruguay in 2012 for his opportunity.
“It was hard to leave my family, even though I was born in Uruguay. All of my family had immigrated to Canada and I was away for almost four years,” Scorzafave said.
Scorzafave would have liked the opportunity to pursue that same dream in Canada, which he proudly refers to as his home.
“Having a professional league here would be great, especially with the opportunity to stay locally,” he said
Currently, Canada doesn’t have a professional soccer league. The Canadian Soccer League used to be recognized as the top-flight league in the country, but the CSA was decertified due to match-fixing scandals. The league still runs and self-proclaims to offer the highest league level of soccer in Canada.
The CSA currently sanctions just two semi-pro leagues, League1Ontario (L1O) and Premiere Ligue de Soccer du Quebec (PLSQ). These two leagues are young, but are playing a vital role in youth development. L1O often draws comparisons to the Ontario Hockey League by focusing on a young demographic of players (ages 16-21) and providing players with a competitive environment to develop as athletes. These two leagues will likely become feeder leagues for the proposed Canadian Premier League.
“The structure of the league will demand a lot of Canadian players, some of them are going to be established professionals already, but a lot of them are going to be young,” said Duane Rollins, a reporter for Canadian Soccer News.
It is believed the intended league will have a strong Canadian player quota of between 70 per cent and 75 per cent, creating a possibility for college and university athletes to pick up a few spots in the high rankings of the sport.
Marcos Nunes, a third-year forward at Humber and 2016 OCAA Men’s Soccer Player of the Year, welcomes the idea of a professional league in Canada.
“I am always open to the opportunity to play professional soccer,” Nunes said. “It would be amazing. Players that maybe didn’t get the opportunity to play in the MLS (Major League Soccer) won’t have to look somewhere else to play, and they could stay in their country.”
The new league is projected to kick-off early in 2018, but the sense is that nobody should be surprised if the start date gets pushed back. There is a feeling among those involved that they want to get it right, and if it requires pushing back the kick-off time, they will.
The pathway to a professional soccer career in Canada may have been obstructed over the last decades, but those involved in the sport believe the CPL could fill the gaps for future generations. It has the potential to give Canadian soccer players more opportunities to compete in a professional environment, which will ultimately benefit the men’s national team.
“It will create more awareness for the sport itself, it will draw people in to follow the sport. Soccer is growing in Canada and it is the most popular sport worldwide,” Scorzafave said.