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Duane’s Island Games Preview (2020 CanPL Preview)

Listen to the latest Two Solitudes Soccer Podcast for the preview show

Pacific –
2019 finish: 8-7-13 (combined), 5th

Returning players: 10 players return from a young and exciting team that was inconsistent, but promising, in 2019.

Key additions: Pacific benefited from the lag between the end of the Fury and start of Atletico Ottawa and were able to land a trio of former Fury players. GK Callum Irving, DF Thomas Meilleur-Giguère and MF Jamar Dixon give Pacific a depth and veteran presence that they were missing at times in 2019.

And, I’m just trying to be a hipster by burying the lead. Marco Bustos was among the best players in CanPL last year but was on a bad and dysfunctional Valour team.

Who to watch: Terran Campbell. The 21-year old is among the Golden Boot favourites and will be looking to use a strong Island Games performance to find a move up for 2021.

Potential breakout: Marcel de Jong. Stay with me, here. No, de Jong isn’t going to step out to establish himself as a player. We know who he is. However, the veteran didn’t get a chance to be the leader he was brought in to be last year when he went down with injury. He’ll get a chance in PEI (and, who knows…it’s not as if Canada is overflowing with defenders at the moment).

Outlook: Likely the most intriguing team in the tournament, Pacific has a great mix of youth and experience and could be a potential darkhorse.

Listener’s pick: 4th

My pick: 3rd in first round, 4th in playoff round

Forge —

2019 finish: 17-5-6, 2nd in overall standings. Won CanPL championship final over Cavalry.

Returning players: 17 players return for the defending champions, including standout stars like Kyle Bekker, David Edgar, Elimane Oumar Cissé and Kwame Awuah among others.

Key additions: Forge also benefited from the blow-up of the Ottawa Fury and added MLS experienced Maxim Tissot to make them even stronger.

Who to watch: Forge is built around Kyle Bekker. Arguably the best player in the league, the midfielder is a proven winner at the CanPL level and he will be looking to continue his legacy with Forge.

Potential breakout: Mo Babouli. Few Canadian players have been talked about as much as Babouli, without having the resume to back it up. Some believe he’s overrated by Toronto-centric reporters (can’t think of who that might be), while others can’t get past his ability to put the ball in the back of the net whenever he has had a chance to play. He will get his chance finally.

Outlook: They are the favourite for a reason. Deep and without a specific weakness, Forge go to the Island with all the pressure of the favourites.

Listener’s pick: 1st

My pick: 1st in first round, 2nd in playoff-round, lose final

York –

2019 finish: 9-7-12, 3rd overall

Returning players: 10 players return. Notably, Ryan Telfer comes back after COVID-19 took away an opportunity to go to Europe.

Key additions: Yet another Fury pick-up for York, with Chris Mannella returning to play with a lot of the same guys he came up through the system with in the GTA. There is also a consensus that York has been savvy with their international pick-ups.

But, the biggest add might be Management Consultant Angus McNab, he brings a wealth of experience and solid analytics background to the table and has set York up to be arguably the most numbers driven team in the league. They invested in hiring (Young Sam*) Gregory as Director of On-Field Analytics, in a move that shows their commitment to doing things in a different, modern way.

*It’s a Voyageurs thing

Who to watch: Jimmy Brennan. To that end, the coaching of Brennan might be the biggest thing to watch during the tournament. The club has shown a commitment to McNab, which is a move away from last year’s approach that saw Brennan as the most visible person involved. There are rumblings that Brennan is on the hot seat and that anything less than a deep run could result in a coaching change for 2021.

Potential breakout: Gabriel Vasconcelos. The Brazilian has some interesting names on his C.V., but is looking for his first chance to lead a team. He’s likely the most exciting international to join the league (and actually make it here) in 2020.

Outlook: York might have the biggest swing potential of any team. Everyone likes the moves they’ve made. Most see them as among the most talented teams in the league. They still have to prove it. If it goes wrong, it will go really wrong.

Listener’s pick: 2nd

My pick: 2nd in first round, 1st in playoff, Champions

Ottawa —

2019 finish: Expansion team

Returning players: None, obviously, but they do have three players with CanPL experience.

Key additions: Atletico Madrid. The wealth of institutional knowledge at a club like Atleti has to be a net benefit and the most important thing “added” in this expansion year.

Who to watch: Ben Fisk. A lot will be asked of Fisk, who was the one of the most underrated players in the league last year. He’s a fan favourite wherever he goes for a reason.

Potential breakout: Francisco Acuña. Not really a breakout, per se, but the veteran Mexican is the most likely to emerge as Ottleti’s first star.

Outlook: Any expansion season is going to be tough, but Ottawa is also dealing with a global pandemic. Much of what is here for depth was added at the last minute and nothing is realistically expected from the team. It’s an opportunity for the players who are there to take advantage of this shot. That’s exciting.

Listener’s pick: 8th

My pick: 8th in first round, eliminated.

Halifax —

2019 finish: 6-10-12, 7th

Returning players: Only 7 players return from the last place performance in 2019. Most important of those is Peter Schaale. The German defender only played half the season in 2019, opting to return to Cape Breton to finish his USports career. He’s a full professional now (and an international on the roster), and the player that Stephen Hart will look to build around.

Key additions: Alessandro Riggi. The former Impact prospect has had terrible injury luck in his career, but has always been seen as a guy that can score when given a chance. Halifax badly needs him to find his form on the Island.

Who to watch: Louis Béland-Goyette. Another former Impact player, Béland-Goyette found himself in the dysfunctional Valour environment in 2019. Many think a change in scenery will help him reach his potential.

Potential breakout: Cory Bent. A USport product, the UK native will count as a domestic in 2020. Cape Breton is already proving to be an important training ground for the CanPL.

Outlook: Some unfortunate circumstances have led to a situation where Halifax isn’t sure who will play keeper on the Island. Although there have been some good upgrades from the weakest line-up in 2019, it seems a long shot that Halifax can go too far up the table.

Listener’s pick: 6th

My pick: 6th first round, eliminated

Valour —

2019 finish: 8-4-16

Returning players: Seven players return from a season that can only be described as bumpy for the Winnipeg team. Midfielder Dylan Carreiro will add a little familiarity on what is a significantly turned over roster.

Key additions: Brett Levis comes in from the Whitecaps system with some hope and, perhaps most interestingly, Fraser Aird has been added to the roster. Aird was at one point considered a national team contender. His career has not gone smoothly, and Valour will offer him a chance at redeeming things.

Who to watch: Andrew Jean-Baptiste. A solid defensive presence with MLS experience, Jean-Baptiste was exactly the type of player Valour was lacking in 2019.

Potential breakout: Shaan Hundal. In from TFC II, Hundal is an exiting young player who will be hungry for minutes.

Outlook: After an absolute mess of a debut season, Valour is in solidly “show me don’t tell me” territory. There is talent here. Up to Valour to prove the doubters wrong.

Listener’s pick: 7th

My pick: 7th first round, eliminated.

Cavalry —

2019 finish: 19-5-4, 1st. Lost CanPL final

Returning players: A total of 14 players return from what was the best start-to-finish team in CanPL in 2019. The problem are the two that that aren’t on that list. Dominique Malonga was the perfect addition to a solid group and took the Calgary based team from good to great. Add the rock at the back, Joel Waterman, to the loss list and Cavalry has some huge holes to fill.

Key additions: Toronto FC product Robert Boskovic was brought in on loan to attempt to fill Waterman’s shoes. But, the biggest name added is veteran forward Marcus Haber. Although he had moments, Haber was a disappointment in Pacific last year. Can he replace Malonga’s offense?

Who to watch: Jordan Brown. His first season didn’t quite live up to the excitement, but he will likely get a chance to play a bigger role in 2020.

Potential breakout: This is tough on a tea that won’t have a lot of open spots, but PLSQ standout Mohammed Farsi will get a chance to fill a spot at the back.

Outlook: This is still a good team. A very good team, even. They just don’t seem as good as last year. Yet. Tommy Wheeldon Jr. knows how to build a winner, so ignore Cavalry at your own risk.

Listener’s pick: 2nd

My pick: 4th first round, 3rd playoff round

Edmonton —

2019 finish: 8-8-12, 4th

Returning players: 15 players return from what was an enigma of a team in 2019. One who won’t be happy to be there is Amer Didic. After missing out on a MLS contract in the pre-season, the best defender in the league last year will be looking to prove doubters wrong and maybe get a look in the fall in MLS.

Key additions: The return of two of the most (in)famous Voyageurs favourites, Hanson Boakai and Keven Alemán, are very intriguing. Neither has lived up to their youth career hype, but both have the potential to be impact players in CanPL. Generating attack from the midfield was the issue for the Eddies in 2019 and both players address that.

Who to watch: Easton Ongaro. But, Ongaro is the young guy getting the hype now. He and Edmonton will be looking for a big tournament from the big man to potentially sell him up a level. A Golden Boot favourite.

Potential breakout: Terique Mohammed. The TFCII loan player has been long thought of as a borderline MLS prospect in TFC circles. This is an important tournament for hi.

Outlook: They are on the cusp of the playoffs. If the offensive sparks they signed in the midfield turn out, Edmonton is looking at being a surprise challenger. If they don’t, it’s hard to see them doing much better than last year.

Listener’s pick: 5th

My pick: 5th first round, eliminated.

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