The Canadian Premier League is the unknown newborn in the Canadian sporting scene. It spans from coast to coast, more so than any other league in North America. With teams as far as Vancouver Island and all the way to Halifax- the span of the league is continent-wide.
In April, I was able to attend the second-ever CanPL game in Victoria, which pitted Pacific FC against their east coast counterparts HFX Wanderers. The game was an almost surreal experience for me, as Pacific took home all 3 points in an entertaining affair.
It was in the summer of 2017 did I first learned about the potential of a Canadian Premier League. It was at a Whitecaps 2 game, while I was sitting in the stands talking to some of the most diehard Whitecaps supporters.
The small group of fans who travelled to see the now-defunct Whitecaps farm team were on the topic of a Canadian domestic soccer league. Something that would give a breeding ground to young Canadians looking to further their footballing futures.
To a 14-year-old who had only known MLS, this idea was distant. I am not old enough to remember the former renditions of a Canadian top flight, nor the NASL which captured the hearts of west coast soccer fans in the late 1970s.
I am now 18, and I live in a world where a Canadian top-flight exists. The Canadian Premier League. When I experienced the league, crowd and fans for the first time at Pacific’s Westhills Stadium, I was caught in awe. There it was. The CanPL. The league that was only a dream a few years prior was now a reality and was playing right in front of me.
While the inaugural experience was special, it was only a small sliver of what the league had to offer. It was only the west coast which I had seen, until Sunday- where I was able to take in my second CanPL venue, attending the match between York 9 and Winnipeg’s Valour FC.
Walking up to York Lions stadium, I had a surreal realization. I thought to myself, “This is the same league.” Seeing this was a weird thought, as it could not feel any more different than my pre-game experience on Vancouver Island. There was not much buzz as I approached the stadium, and it took a long time to get out there from downtown Toronto where I currently reside.
First of all, the stadium is too big for York 9- who have yet to encapture the spirit of the York region. That, combined with the far from ideal outdoor sport weather conditions created an atmosphere which is unfair for comparison to a sun-soaked BC afternoon.
The crowd was sparse for the York club, although they have become known across the league for lesser attendance numbers. The people who were there clearly cared about the game and were not just at the ground for social purposes.
The stadium is very spread out, meaning that the atmosphere is not condensed, which makes it feel empty- despite the number of passionate fans.
In terms of the actual sporting experience- the fans are very far from the field. At Pacific FC games, the stands are right on top of the field, and the first row is nearly on the grass. At York Lions, on the other hand, a track separates the stands and crowd- while the stand is also a mild angle, not on top of the action. The spacing between the field and the stands creates a distant relationship to the game, not allowing fans to feel as though they are a part of the match.
Half time brings an unfortunate treat of its own. York 9 FC is planning to build their own stadium, and if half time is anything to go by- they need it and they need it fast.
In the main concourse level, there is only one concession, meaning the entire stand congregates in a condensed area for 15 minutes to get their stadium treats. However, despite waiting all the time to get their hands on some York 9 grub, there is nothing special about it. While some clubs may offer unique dining opportunities, York’s stadium offers nothing more exciting than a gas station hot dog. The only other option for food was a few food trucks two levels below- clearly not enough to make an impression on an already oversaturated GTA Sports market.
Overall my experience at York 9 FC did not blow me away, nor was it disappointing- it only confirmed what I had expected. A temporary stadium, with a small fanbase who are very dedicated.
The Canadian Premier League was once only something a young teenager heard in the crowd at UBC’s thunderbird stadium, and four years have given Canadians something to be excited about with the beautiful game in the north. For myself, I feel a sense of ownership in the league, something I’ve never felt with any other sporting endeavour. Although I have no financial commitment- the love and welcoming I have given and received from the CanPL is unparalleled.
The motto of the league is “We are many, We are one” and that could not be truer.