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Canadian Premier League: Canada’s soccer startup kicks off

Pacific FC host Halifax Wanderers in the second ever Canadian Premier League match.
Pacific FC host Halifax Wanderers in the second ever Canadian Premier League match (Manuel Veth/Pro Soccer USA)

VICTORIA, BC — On Saturday Canadian soccer history was made when the Hamilton Forge hosted York 9 for the opening game of the Canadian Premier League. The 1-1 draw between the two teams was the first ever match to take place in Canada’s first-ever coast-to-coast soccer league. 

Then on Sunday attention moved out west, from Ontario to British Columbia. On Vancouver Island, Pacific FC hosted Halifax Wanderers FC for the first-ever cross country matchup in the league and became the first team to win a game, 1-0.

Altogether seven Canadian Premier League teams are participating in the inaugural season. Hamilton Forge, York 9, Pacific FC and Halifax Wanderers are joined by Valour FC (Winnipeg), Cavalry FC (Calgary) and FC Edmonton.

While the first game between Hamilton Forge and York 9 constituted a true local rivalry, the same was not the case for this second matchup. About 5,858 kilometers (3,600 miles) separate Pacific FC — located in British Columbia’s capital — from Halifax, which is located on Canada’s Atlantic coast in the Maritimes. 

“Fantastic, you know, yesterday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. The Forge and York, they put up a good show. To have it on national television was fantastic,” Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan told reporters during halftime. 

One of the terms frequently used by coaches and staff of all teams leading up to the first weekend of games was “startup.” The Canadian Premier League is a startup league, and in typical startup fashion, everything felt very improvised on this first day at the Westhills Stadium. 

Some of the stands were finished in the week leading up to the game. Around the ground, it is hectic. This is the first time a league like this has launched in North America since Major League Soccer started in 1994.

Hectic, a little chaotic, but also exciting on the big day. That is the best way to sum up the atmosphere around Westhill Stadium. 

A few examples: Ahead of kickoff, the biggest fan group, the Lake Side Buoys — named after a small pond behind the west stand — practiced their chants with a group of young Brazilians in town for the game. Meanwhile, long lineups and lost accreditation were quickly fixed with a smile and a phone call.

On the pitch, however, there was not much of a sense that this league is a startup. The level of soccer was high and Pacific FC, in particular, played a fast-paced brand of the game. 

Much to the delight of the local fans, Pacific FC opened the scoring in the 21st minute. Noah Verhoeven brought in a corner from the right. Defender Hendrik Staroszik rose the highest and nodded the ball across the line.

Pacific FC has a big advantage, having signed several players that came through the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps development system. In fact, Staroszik is the only non-Canadian in the squad. 

Canadian Premier League teams are allowed seven foreigners on their rosters. And they have to field six Canadians at all times. 

The game had a distinct Canadian quality, and it was physical, something the league wants to cultivate. 

“The bottom line is we want a good flow to the game, which we sat down and talked about to Canada Soccer and the referees,” Clanachan said. “We don’t want diving and rolling around and all that stuff. The players have been good about it, so yeah, I think it has been very entertaining.”

The Canadian Premier League has a 10-year television deal in place with Media Pro, and fans and journalists have access to plenty of data and statistics thanks to a developing deal with the stats provider Opta. 

Hence, the game between Pacific FC and HFX Wanderers FC could be easily tracked on a data screen. But in this one, the eye test was enough to judge the soccer on the pitch. Pacific FC, a man down after Lukas MacNaughton received a second yellow card in the second half, tried to hang onto its 1-0 lead against a pressing Wanderers side.

In the end, Pacific FC managed to become the first team in Canadian Premier League history to win a game. 

For goalscorer Staroszik, the league’s first-ever recorded shutout was more important than the goal he scored.

“I am happy about my goal. But I am defender, you know, the shutout is more important to me,” Staroszik said after the game. 

Signed from the German Liga 3 side, Hallescher FC, Starostzik also said there is still plenty of work ahead for the club.

“We have to learn, and we have to work hard and have humility,” the German defender said with a smile on his face. 

Words that were echoed by his head coach, Michael Silberbauer, a former Danish national team player who joined Pacific FC last fall and has worked tirelessly to put together a team that could be competitive in this environment. 

“We want to be a positive club, move the ball around on the ground. And we have a lot of good footballers out there, and they’re buying into the principles that we have set forth,” Silberbauer said.

The creation of a new league in Canada is a watershed moment and the two games between Hamilton and York, as well as Pacific FC and Halifax, were just the beginning. 

“We are building everything up from the ground here. This league isn’t just for the players, but also to create an entire soccer infrastructure for the country,” Clanachan explained. 

That statement perhaps sums up the afternoon. History was made, and four out of the seven Canadian Premier League teams have now kicked a ball and played their first competitive match. 

It is just the beginning of a league that wants to become the stepping stone to establish soccer beyond Canada’s three MLS franchises and, more importantly, to aid the Canadian national team in its endeavour to build a strong team that can be competitive by the time Canada co-hosts the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

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