Opinion: The CPL Playoffs: Are they right?

Success.

That is one word that could sum up the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League. A league that started as a dream hit a lot of goals right from the beginning and was part of a historic year in the Canadian game. There have been many groundbreaking moments, but there were also some finer points where the league missed the mark. One of those points? Playoffs.

In York 9’s final match of the season, they fell to the HFX Wanderers of Halifax 2-0, a match which was HFX’s first road win of their entire CPL campaign.

The game was meaningless, other than the fact that it was the final match of the season. No points won meant a thing, and both teams scratched a number of their top players. This match highlighted the flaw that is the limited playoff structure.

This question has been a heated topic throughout the year, and the structure will likely be different in year two. The current structure has two teams who make the final, those teams being the champion of the spring season and the fall season, both of whom face off in a two-legged affair for the yet to be announced Canadian Premier League trophy.

While I am an advocate for the two-season structure, I believe that there are better ways to crown a champion. There are many people who would prefer to have the CPL revert to the traditional European style of giving the trophy to the best team through the entire season. However, this is frowned upon by many in the Canadian Soccer Industry as it will not encapsulate a north terminal fanbase which is a tune to end of year playoffs.

Between the Sticks was able to speak to both the managers of York and HFX after their final match, and each had different opinions on the current playoff structure and what they would like to see in future CPL campaigns.

“I like that we have a final with the two best teams, so we don’t have the fifth-place team coming in and walking away with the trophy,” Wanderers Head Coach, Stephen Hart

While his case is well stated, he did agree that there could be better ways to encapsulate the fanbases in larger cities, citing that Halifax gets more excited than Toronto due to the city’s lack on professional sports.

Jimmy Brennan of York 9 had a much different opinion than Hart, aligning himself more with my ideal playoff picture as I describe below.

“It would be nice if it could be the top four team in each half, that way we could have snuck in there.” The former Toronto FC defender said following his teams 2-0 loss to HFX.

Jimmy Brennan speaks to media

He does like the two-season structure, but also realizes that it is an oddity in North American sports. If the playoffs were more expanded, they would allow more fanbases to be engaged for a longer period of time and could have allowed York 9 to dodge some of their attendance problems.

There are a few ways to approach this conundrum, and it seems as though everyone in the community has their own idea. For me, my idea is as follows, and accounts for a 2020 season in which there would be an additional team bringing the league to eight.

I would have the top two in each season make it, and if a team secures both spots, then I would give the next best team a position in the bracket. For the tiebreaker, the full record over the two seasons would be put in place.

NOT Jimmy Brennan.

This would create a competitive atmosphere throughout the whole season, allowing meaningless games to be played only at the end. This would not have aided the final game for HFX, as they had already clinched their spot at the bottom of the CPL table.

This would mean that the fans of the middle table teams would have sustained interested for more of the year, and with the continuation of the two-season structure, they would have reason to be hopeful even after a dismal first half.

While this is only my idea, it is unlikely to happen as a large contingent of people is content with the small playoff field.

Jimmy Brennan and I have similar ideas when it comes to how the playoff structure should look in coming seasons, and we both expect that it will change in one way or another.

Whatever happens in the future, the first year of the Canadian premier league was a success, and in the words of York 9 FC forward Ryan Telfer, “ This year we made the Canadian Premier League, and now it’s here to stay.” There will be a champion crowned, and it will be one of the two teams who have been the most consistent top performers throughout the whole season. The winners deserve every bit of it, but the playoff table could have been more welcoming.

Cover Photo: CanPL.ca