This offseason has been a bit of a long one for the reigning champions of the Canadian Premier League.
At first glance, Pacific FC has been bleeding players, a mass exodus that hasn’t been stemmed. Departures of key pieces to their title run definitely do not inspire confidence for the season yet to come.
However, these transfers are a testament to the growth of the game in Canada, among the league itself and also the players in this country.
When the CPL was established in 2017, there was a vacuum at the top of the Canadian men’s soccer pyramid. They had been without a true top-flight professional league since 1992 excluding a brief flirtation of the semi-pro Canadian Soccer League in the late 2000s. For many growing young players in Canada, that meant either the academy systems of the three Major League Soccer clubs or heading overseas to ply their trade.
And what would happen if the opportunity never arose for action? It certainly isn’t easy to work themselves into the first team of any MLS club. For many, this might’ve been the end of the line of a professional dream, playing a couple of years in university or just hanging up the boots altogether.
This is why the existence of the CPL is critical to the Canadian game. For those who might not have gotten a shot anywhere else, there is now a stage for them to play professionally at home. The league is committed to developing Canadian talent and it could not have come at a better time.
Pacific is chock-full of such stories. Kadin Chung started his youth career off like many others in British Columbia, playing his way through the Whitecaps Academy before earning his debut for WFC2. After a couple of years and a stint with German fifth-tier side 1. FC Kaiserslautern II, his career wasn’t able to see much progression.
Chung then signed with the Tridents, the wing-back becoming an integral part of the side and improving each and every year. His past campaign was probably the best, Chung tallying the second-most interceptions in the league as well as getting involved offensively with outstanding creativity. Now, he finds himself with Toronto FC, ready to make his own impact at the MLS level.
Lukas MacNaughton was a University of Toronto standout, the centreback earning himself a trial with TFC during his U SPORTS career. Instead of finding his dream move to the MLS though, MacNaughton found himself playing for League1 Ontario semi-pro soccer. With the creation of the CPL, MacNaughton inked his first professional contract with Pacific FC and hasn’t looked back.
He’s come a long way from being the first Trident ever to be sent off in a match. Over his three seasons on the island, MacNaughton developed into one of the premier centrebacks in the league. Hard-nosed defensively and a force in the air, his transfer to join Chung at TFC is one that shows the possibilities the CPL has to offer.
Even Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour’s moves to fellow CPL foes, Forge FC, shows the developmental power that exists in the CPL. It’s a deep blow for Pacific, naturally, but for the pair, it seemed like a natural progression to play in the CONCACAF Champions League. After all, so much of the Trident’s play hinged on the contributions of these two that it only made sense for them to see how they would fare at the continental level.
The women’s national team claimed gold at Tokyo 2020, after two consecutive bronze finishes in London 2012 and Rio 2016. The men’s team is soaring to heights previously unimaginable just eight years prior and now look to be on the cusp of their first World Cup appearance since 1986.
Both of their success will inspire a new generation to follow, in a country that now has a men’s professional first-flight league (and hopefully soon a women’s one, too) to give them the first step. Already the boons of the U SPORTS draft are becoming apparent in offering that pathway to the pros.
Perhaps one day the Canadian Premier League could become a destination league. But until then, its role in offering opportunities to Canadian players, some looking for a second shot or just having their first chance, is not something to be underestimated.
As for Pacific, in the short term, these departures will leave voids that will be hard to fill. However, they have rapidly become a talent production factory, a testament to the excellent work being done on the island. Their commitment to local young talent is second to none. Knowing the front office and coaching staff, it won’t be long before they unearth another gem and polish it to their utmost extent.