Island Invitation: The Canadian Premier League announces 2020 return with ‘Island Games’ return-to-play plan

The Canadian Premier League announced it’s 2020 return-to-play plan on Wednesday, by revealing the ‘Island Games’, their special tournament that will be held in Charlottetown, P.E.I starting on August 13th. Here is a breakdown of the tournament, including some comments from CPL commissioner David Clanachan, after the league made its big announcement earlier on Wednesday. 

Canada’s top domestic men’s soccer circuit has finally announced its return. 

In a much-awaited announcement, the Canadian Premier League communicated its 2020 return-to-play plan on Wednesday, as they revealed that they will hold its 2020 season in Charlottetown, P.E.I, starting on August 13th. 

After months of speculation and waiting, the CPL officially outlined its plan to complete a 2020 season, albeit in an abridged fashion, out in Charlottetown, finally giving Canadian soccer fans something to look forward to. 

It wasn’t easy to come to a hub city consensus, as Moncton, New Brunswick and Langford, Victoria were also in the race to host this tournament, but Charlottetown eventually won out, giving spawn to the ‘Island Games’, the official moniker of this tournament. 

And without a doubt, this is an exciting venture for the CPL to engage in, especially considering how the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged their plans for a big 2nd season, after they’d done so well to build momentum in year 1. 

This won’t replace the value that the lost season could’ve had, both from a financial but also from an ‘interest’ and a brand-boosting perspective, but this is a good chance to drum up some interest once again, giving fans a taste of what the CPL has to offer ahead of what is hoped to be a normal return in 2021. 

So for that reason, it should be an exciting time for the league, who has just put the timer on a sprint of a next 2 months, as they look to hit the ground running on August 13th, and continue that momentum into late-September, when this tournament is expected to wrap up. 

The format: 

For this tournament, all 8 CPL teams will convene in Charlottetown, where they’ll all play a minimum of 7 games, all coming against each of the other sides in the league. 

To start things off, there will be the first round, done round-robin style, in which the 8 teams will play each other once, with the results being put in a single table. 

After that, the top 4 teams after that first round will advance to the next round, in which they’ll repeat that round-robin process, but this time with this time each team playing 3 matches. 

It’s important to note that the results from the first round don’t carry over, so the 4-team table will be only based on the 3 games that each team plays in the 2nd round. 

And then to finish things off, the top 2 teams after the 2nd round will move onto the Championship final, in which they’ll play a one-game knockout final, with the winner hoisting the ‘North Star Shield’ and earning a berth in the 2021 CONCACAF League as a reward for their efforts. 

For those who prefer a visual explanation, here are a chart and video provided by the CPL to help explain the tournament format in simpler terms. 

Takeaways:

After the announcement, CPL commissioner, David Clanachan, took the time to answer questions from media surrounding the announcement. Here is some of what stood out from that presser. 

Health and safety the big priority:

The one big hold up that the league had was that they wanted to be 100% committed to keeping a safe plan, one that would put the health and safety of its participants at the very front of the priority list. 

So even though that meant waiting longer than they would’ve hoped for this announcement, they’re hopeful that their patience results in a safe tournament, one that goes off without any hitch. 

Nobody expected the CPL to wait this long to make an announcement, the CPL themselves included, but if they can deliver on their plan to keep this tournament safe, it’ll have been worth the trouble. 

We spent a lot of time on our health and safety protocols, not only with the provincial (government) folks there, but also with our own people and working together with them to put this through,” Clanachan said. “It’s one of the reasons people would say: ‘what took so long?’ This is one of the things that we did and we wanted to make sure we did it exactly right.”

Now, their plan is to self-isolate, which all players, coaches and other staff have been doing for nearly a week already, for 2 weeks total, in which they’ll be tested twice for COVID-19. 

If both of those tests come back negative, confirming that the players and staff are virus-free, they’ll travel to Charlottetown, where they’ll self-isolate in team bubbles for 5 days, run 2 further tests, all while continuing to train within their team bubble. 

Once those tests are cleared, as well, the games can start as normal, and while mingling between teams is going to be discouraged, contact can start to open up in the bubble. 

While there is no contingency plan in place beyond delaying the start date or kicking out any teams that do get hit with an outbreak, the league is hoping that with their careful handling of the virus, they can avoid a situation like what MLS faced with FC Dallas and Nashville SC, who were both kicked out of the MLS is Back tournament in Florida after having team outbreaks. 

“Just to be very specific about the question around self-quarantine and self-isolation,actually all of our players and coaches they started last weekend on this,” Clanachan stated. “So we have to self-quarantine and isolate here in their home markets first for 14 days which we will do we actually are testing our players twice, once we have already gone through one set of testing, and I’m happy to say that every one of our players and all of our coaches tested negative in the first round, prior to getting on charter flights, private flights to go to P.E.I. our players will be tested and our coaches will be tested again, so we’ll have had two negative tests as we land.”

“And then once we land, along with our health and safety protocol folks, and the provincial health and safety people, our players will be tested yet again twice more in a five day quarantine period before we’re able to start playing. We will be able to train, when we get there, only in our specific groups, because we’ve created a bubble within a bubble. But by doing all of that. We’re we’ve gone above and beyond the 14 days, and we’ve made sure that we are sequential for that period of time with multiple testing within those that two week period.”

Rosters just about set:

For avid roster-watchers in the CPL, this next week should be very fun, as teams will finally release a slew of roster announcements that they’d been sitting on for the last little while. 

Some teams have elected just to release their rosters already, such as Pacific FC and York 9, but other teams, such as Atletico Ottawa, Forge FC and Cavalry, have some announcements to make in regard to player signings that they’ve made but have been yet to announce. 

Due to the trouble that some teams have faced in getting their international signings into Canada in time to play a season, they’ll be also some clarification on the players that weren’t able to make it in time, which is the case if they’re not yet in Canada as of today. 

Clanachan confirmed as much on Wednesday. 

“At this point in time, most of the players are here, obviously the Canadians in the league are already here, but also a lot of the foreign players are already here,” Clanachan explained. “Any foreign player that is not here at this point in time, they would have to come into Canada and do exactly the same protocol everybody else does, they have to go into their home market, they then have to quarantine for 14 days there, just like anybody else coming into the country, and then to go to P.E.I., they would have to do another fourteen days, so it’s not really possible at this point in time.”

“We’ve actually told our clubs that if they don’t have somebody on the ground right now, it’s going to be very difficult for them to be in the tournament.”

It’ll be tough for some teams, who may have signed a player but won’t have the chance to see him until 2021, at the earliest, which may force them to seek out a loan or permanent transfer away in order to keep the player out of limbo. 

That doesn’t sound like it’ll affect too many internationals, but there are definitely some names worth monitoring in the weeks to come, especially at clubs like Cavalry and York, who made some high-profile international signings back at the beginning of 2020. 

For young Canadians across the league, however, this could be good news, as they’ll certainly be in line for more minutes now, especially given the league’s plan to introduce the 5 substitution rule that has made waves around the world since the pandemic. 

With some teams facing the possibility of having smaller than expected rosters, having the chance to use more of their bench will be a huge plus, especially for young Canadians.

Made for TV?

Lastly, the big nugget that everyone had been expecting was to hear news surrounding broadcast partners for this tournament, as it would be a huge opportunity for the CPL to gain exposure by being featured on national TV. 

During their inaugural 2019 campaign, 20 matches were broadcast on CBC, but the plan was to either figure out a way to get Mediapro’s Onesoccer, the official broadcast partner of the league, to start a channel, or engage in a partnership with a TV channel that would show CPL games on a consistent basis. 

From conversations with Mediapro’s executives last year at the CPL Finals, they told reporters that their plan was to create a 24/7 Onesoccer channel on TV, so that could come as early this tournament, or in 2021, but aside from that, Clanchan did confirm that he’d been working on another way to get the CPL matches on TV. 

“Yes, we are actually talking to two of the linear broadcasters in Canada right now,” he confirmed Wednesday. “I don’t want to spoil it or put any undue pressure on them, but we’ve got great interest to show quite a number of the games on linear broadcast TV so that’ll be exciting. That’s an announcement for another day, so stay tuned, but yes that’s part of the plan.”

While the CPL is going to be in-tough to fight for eyeballs, with the NHL, NBA and MLB all playing in August now, without mentioning the potential for MLS’s full return once they complete their tournament, just getting games on TV would be a huge win on its own. 

There’s no doubt that hardcore supporters of the league will watch, be it on Onesoccer, or on TV if that becomes available, but they’ll have a chance at tapping into the casual fan market if they’re on national TV, as last year’s CBC games certainly proved. 

Looking Forward:

But either way, this is a big tournament for the CPL, for a multitude of reasons. 

Aside from the financial incentive, which is very important, as this league does need to play games in order to survive, this is also a good chance to build up some goodwill with fans once again, after a tough couple of months of communication between the league, its fans and its players. 

Clanachan stressed that he didn’t feel that was the case on Wednesday, as it sounds like the club’s board offices were all on board with this plan, despite reports, but at the same time, the bad energy radiating from the players and fans in recent months shows that there is work to do. 

While the league has done a good job in waiting and making sure that this was a successful plan, being more open with communication is something that won’t hurt going forward, as fans and onlookers won’t care if the league takes its time, provided that they understand why. 

It’s clear that from the reaction to the league’s return, however, fans are just happy to have the league back, so it’ll be huge for the league to capitalize on this momentum, using this tournament to start a wave that can push towards an eventual 2021 season. 

And at the very least, it’ll be good to have Canadian soccer, involving Canadian teams and Canadian players, back on tap starting in August, especially after enjoying a fun first year of having the CPL in action. 

So we’ll stay tuned for that, and keep close tabs on this tournament, of which we’ll provide lots of coverage for!

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