(Update: Hours after I publish, several teams add more players. ‘Tis the season. To keep things fair I’ve added a line or two below.)
Way back in November, all the Canadian Premier League club made their first signings at the same time, and something similar seems to have happened this past week, with a wide range of players joining before the season starts.
Only in November, Wanderers were one of the quieter teams, adding journeyman Canadian Zachary Sukunda while other teams brought in more recognizable names like Kyle Bekker and Skylar Thomas. Since then, it’s been more about familiarity and flexibility for Stephen Hart, who’s signed players from Trinidad & Tobago as well as the Scandinavian lower leagues where so many Canadians have gone to play over the years with no CanPL available.
Yesterday, that changed, with Wanderers signing two players with legitimate experience in good leagues in South America. Fans should expect both Luis Alberto Perea and Juan Diego Gutierrez to start and both could be exciting attacking players in this league.
Winnipeg’s Valour FC also went South American, albeit with a left-back. Forge added two more Canadian pieces to bring their roster to… ten players (so we can expect some more action there). York and Edmonton both signed young players through the open trial and the academy, respectively. We can confirm Pacific are in the process of adding another brand ambassador1Pacific signed veteran Canadian left-back Marcel de Jong last week, but I had to draw the recency line somewhere and boy is Pacific winning the inaugural Branding League this year, no contest..
So by way of preseason preview, let’s take a look at the big signings recently and see if we can figure out where each team is at, starting with Wanderers.
Who they got: Luis Alberto Perea (FW); Juan Diego Gutierrez (AM)
What they still need: Another striker
Up until now, Halifax had a bunch of young-ish attacking options, mostly out wide, and no strikers.
Luis Perea solves that problem. Like most CanPL signings, he’s a bit of a journeyman, but his recent experience looks very good relative to the level CanPL is likely to be at this year. At 32, he’s not a super long-term piece, but he joins from Colombia’s La Equidad and has experience playing in most of the mid-tier South American leagues, where players who may be more familiar to Canadian fans have played–Fredy Montero and Joao Plata, to name two.
Perea’s more often been a sub than starter since leaving Universidad de San Martin in Peru in 2015, bouncing mostly around mid-table sides in that country. A glance at his CV can make it look like he has a lot of teams but South American leagues play a split season2As, it’s been rumoured, will CanPL. with opening and closing stages, and players often hop teams between them. It’s a mercenary business.
A year ago, he landed at El Savador’s CD FAS and scored 15 goals in 16 starts, putting up 1.04 goal/90, which is better than solid. It’s all guesswork at this stage, but I’d handicap the Salvadoran top flight as somewhere roughly similar to CanPL, at least in year one.
Juan Gutierrez is here to get the ball to Perea, which he did with some regularity when the two played together in Peru. Perea wasn’t as prolific in Peru, but the Peruvian top flight is a better league than El Salvador’s.
While Perea went mid-table, Gutierrez caught the eye of Danish side Velje Boldklub, in the second tier at the time and fighting off relegation. He played a few games there, but also spent a fair bit of time on loan back in Peru and in the Swedish Superettan, a league with whcih CanPL teams have been competing for signings. Boldklub were on their way to promotion in 2018 and sold him back to Peru, where he’s not exactly struggled but his team got relegated and, beyond the top flight, Peru’s football infrastructure is not great. (FIFA just pulled the U-17 World Cup from the country partly because of this.) Thus he ends up in Halifax.
Gutierrez may well be one of those players whose career never quite took off, but he has a mean highlight video3Doesn’t everyone these days? consisting of teammates not reading his passes especially well, but which makes obvious he can play either wide of in pockets through the middle. The latter, in particular, is an important skill and something Wanderers didn’t have outside maybe Kodai Iida, who’s unlikely to be a starter, and Vicent Lamy, who’s 19. Gutierrez gives them a key playmaker to feed speedsters like Akeem Garcia and means Hart has some flexibility in how he lines up. There was enough potential in Gutierrez to get him a look in Europe and at 26 he’s really just entering his prime.
Also, he has great hair so I predict CanPL fans will love him.
Wanderers still need another striker because you can’t go into the season with just one centre forward on the roster, especially when said forward is 32. My guess is the depth will be younger and possibly local, but another veteran to compete for minutes would be great.
What they got: Martin Arguiñarena (LB)
What they still need: midfielders, particularly in wide positions
Continuing with the South American trend, Winnipeg added Uruguayan full-back Martin Arguiñarena. He’s an interesting player, similar in profile to the two attackers Wanderers added, though perhaps less of a journeyman, having spent most of his career with Villa Teresa, eventually helping them win promotion from the Uruguayan second division to the top flight.
After a year there, he was snapped up by El Tanque Sisley, a relatively mid-table club in Uruguay that was just beginning to go bankrupt at the time. He played well enough, however, to get a transfer to Boston River, another mid-table club but one on the up-and-up that season and, fortunately, not going bankrupt.
Less fortunately, Boston River had a bad closing stage in 2018, and Arguiñarena didn’t play as much, leaving him out of contract. Boston River’s loss might be Valour’s gain–it’s a bit of a shift, but the Uruguayan league isn’t poor and, at least based on his CV, Arguiñarena projects to be one of the better fullbacks in CanPL, especially going forward.
That’s important because if Valour have a weak spot right now, it’s out wide. Skylar Thomas and Jordan Murrell should make a strong, athletic centre-back partnership that will allow a player like Arguiñarena to operate further up the field. Midfield is still a bit sparse for Valour–no names on the roster really jump out, and the eye starts to fall to Dylan Carreiro, the erstwhile ex-TFC man on about his seventh professional opportunity, or 33-year-old Croatian journeyman Josip Golubar. Valour could still use more pace out wide to try and get crosses in for Stephen Hoyle.
(Feb. 26 Update: Valour signed two more from South America, though one of them is actually a Canadian international in Nicolas Galvis. At 21, he’s the type of player I thought we’d see a bit more of in CanPL, that is, a fringe CMNTer who needs a quality pro environment. He has experience at the second division level in Uruguay and Colombia, and could be a useful middle-of-the-road piece in that midfield. Nestor Gomez Navia is another 21-year-old midfielder who came through Deportivo Pasto’s youth system but didn’t stick with the first team.)
Who they got: Jeannot Esua (FB); James Marcelin (DM)
What they still need: Another striker, fullbacks
Marcelin is a low-key great signing. I’ve been a fan of his for a while, even when he was in MLS. He was probably always more NASL level, and ended up being one of those players who has made a steady if inglorious career for himself in the US.
He can play either defensive midfield or centre-back, but given the Eddies’ current roster looks a lot more like a steady, anchoring DM, although he has scored the odd goal. He’s a no nonsense kind of player, and the kind of smart veteran who will do a lot to guide the younger Eddies academy players. He’s a solid get for the CanPL, very much a builder player.
Esua’s more of a flyer, a 22-year-old with only a single season of pro experience, at mid-table USL side Orange County, where he played only sporadically before bouncing back to his native Cameroon, where he developed with an academy system that also serves as an agency.
He’s probably depth at best, but looking at the Eddies roster, I have no idea who else plays fullback for Jeff Paulus outside Esua and Kareem Moses. It could be that more signings are coming. It could be Paulus will play three at the back with attacking wingbacks. Either way, the team is also without any sure-thing strikers. Tomi Ameobi is a long-time Eddies favourite, but not necessarily a clinical finisher. Oumar Diouck is a Belgian who’s played mainly in the Belgian third division, which isn’t fully professional.
Edmonton have a great academy and will probably be the first team to unearth a diamond or two. They have three teenage forwards who could fit that bill. If they can get minutes, that’s a good thing for Canadian soccer even if it means the Eddies aren’t scoring.
(Feb. 26 Update: FC Edmonton have added two more academy players, only this time they’re from Montreal Impact’s academy: 23-year-old CB Melé Temguia and 24-year-old attacking midfielder Phillippe Lincourt-Jospeh. Temguia played for the defunct FC Montreal and FC Cincinnati in the USL during their big 2017 season before doing a stint in Australia at Hume City, and likely knows Zach Sukunda. Lincourt-Joseph played in… Oman and the non-professional Portuguese third division. Neither player is likely a starter and neither answers any questions for the Eddies, who now have 20 players signed.)
Who they got: Dominic Samuel (CB); Triston Henry (GK)
What they still need: players
Maybe Forge got confused. Maybe they saw that yesterday’s signings both had two first names and thought they were getting four players? Could be, because right now they can’t actually field a team. Preseason starts in a week and Forge are currently playing a man down with only ten rostered players.
Obviously, more are coming, and neither of the two additions today are bad pieces. Triston Henry is a goalkeeper, albeit probably a back-up in CanPL after playing for Bobby Smyrniotis’ Sigma FC in League 1 Ontario. He has some fairly marginal college experience, but was excellent in L1O last year and some goalkeepers are late bloomers
Samuel is also a L1O alum, but had been a stalwart for Rochester Rhinos in the USL in 2016. Rochester were, on the field, a good team, and Samuel played most of the season. Off the field, Rochester folded, and Samuel found himself back in L1O, where he’s been very good again, as you’d expect. CanPL is a league of second chances, and Samuel deserves one.
Forge have made some really interesting signings–whenever they announce players, they’re intriguing names. The Sigma academy connections are obvious, too, in players like Kwame Awuah (a top MLS draft prospect), Chris Nanco (TFC II and USL vet), and Marcel Zajac (promising NCAA prospect). Kyle Bekker ties everything together in midfield.
There’s still two months before Forge kick-off the league’s first ever match at home, so there’s time. If what’s still to come are bigger signings that maybe took some time to finalize, Forge could be very good indeed. If they add mostly depth pieces out of preseason camp… not so much.
(Feb. 26 Update: They can field a team now! Plus, Forge have–maybe–added one of those bigger signings in Elimane Oumar Cissé, a–maybe–central midfielder from Senegal. According to CanPL.ca, he’s been capped 12 times by Senegal, but damned if I can find a trace of that in the usual places–ESPNFC has him capped once, in a 2 – 0 loss to Mexico. I’ll assume CanPL may know better here, but I’d also assume most of those caps have come in the earlier rounds of AFCON qualifying or such, and he’s likely a Senegalese international in the same way Nicolas Galvis is a Canadian international.
Either way, he’s a 23-year-old with no professional experience outside of Senegal. French-speaking Africa is heavily, heavily scouted, so it’s odd for a player with reported international interest not to have moved to Europe much earlier. There’s a highlight video of him playing for Diambars FC in Senegal here4Interestingly, it also says he has only one senior cap., though it mostly shows him as a CB. Smyrniotis says Cissé will add “another quality dimension to our midfield” and he wore #6 in the one roster I can find for Senegal, so he can likely play DM as well. He’s short for a CB but looks to have decent ball skills–continuing a trend in CanPL.
Forge also added Johnny Grant, a full-back who won a USL championship with Swope Park Rangers and who’s also played for Sigma in L1O. He missed all of 2018 with injury, but if he can bounce back could be an intriguing signing, too.)
Who they got: Marcel de Jong (LB)
What they still need: centre-backs, at least one more striker
Pacific FC do headlines better than any other team in this league. They’ve got photo shoots, video spots, and branded coffee. They’re also badly short of players right now and many of those players have question marks in a soccer sense even if their local bona fides are impeccably bespoke.
Marcel de Jong’s signing last week was the first time the club finally tied together the local philosophy5He’s not from BC, but he is ex-Whitecaps., the marketing, and the soccer. de Jong is one of my favourite Canadians to watch: he’s good on the ball, can cross and shoot from distance, is rugged in the tackle defensively, and a great leader.
It’s also been painfully apparent watching him for Vancouver the past year or so that the miles are beginning to catch up with him. He’s had a tremendous career, really, in Canadian terms: a steady job in the German and Dutch leagues and a warrior for Canada in far-flung locales all over the region. He has a lot of Air Miles. Last year, he was getting beat pretty consistently by MLS’ large crop of athletic wingers. This is a pretty good example, from the Voyageur’s Cup against Montreal:
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) July 26, 2018
Closing down has never been de Jong’s strength, and he brings a lot more to the game in terms of passing, positioning, and leadership. It’s likely that, in CanPL, he won’t be as exposed as often he was in MLS, although there will be pacy wingers. And either way, he’s the kind of ambassador this league needs, and all business.
If he plays at left-back, then Pacific need a centre-back inside of him who can recover and help mop up some of the through-balls. In fact, they could use two, maybe even three: the only central defender they have on the roster is fringe USLer Matthew Baldisimo, and even he’s a converted midfielder.
de Jong could play inside, too, or in a back three, where his passing range would be maximized.
de Jong is a good signing for Pacific, and they have the makings of a spine with him and Ben Fisk in midfield. What’s missing from this team is any speed or flair in attack–what little they have so far is mostly coming from the Canadian college/university circuit, and there will be a gap between that and CanPL. Five years ago, I’d have been the first to advocate playing de Jong as a left winger or wingback and he would add that attacking bite from wide. I’m just less sure he can do it now.
As with Forge, there’s still time to add pieces, but it is beginning to run out.
(Feb. 26 Update: Goalkeeper wasn’t the first priority I had yesterday, but Pacific did need someone to at least battle for minutes with Mark Village. Nolan Wirth is, you guessed it, ex-Whitecaps and local, having grown up playing in the Vancouver Island Soccer League. He played PDL in 2018 after a spell at Phoenix Rising in USL where he didn’t play much. He has a smattering of Canadian youth national team experience. There are still no centre-backs on the roster. #hippychivas indeed.)
Who they got: Diyaddine Abzi (FB); Emilio Estevez (AM); Morey Doner (FB); Justin Springer (FW)
What they still need: key playmaker
York were one of the first clubs to really fill out their side and so have looked, on paper, better than some of the competition in CanPL. At the back, that certainly holds true–Luca Gasparotto was a big get, as was Roger Thompson, and highly-rated prospect Steven Furlano.
Diyaddine Abzi slots into that back line as another young player, and one who impressed in last year’s Voyageur’s Cup for AS Blainville. I like that CanPL teams are looking at that round of the competition last year, taking it seriously, and providing that opportunity to move up (even though York will face Blainville in this year’s tournament).
The other signings–going back about two weeks, actually–are mostly depth: Estevez is a futsal player who came through the open trials, Morey Doner is a League 1 Ontario player, and Justin Springer last played in USPORTs.
York9 have made good use of Brennan’s L1O connections, but a lot in midfield will rest on Canadian journeymen Kyle Porter, Manny Aparicio, and Joseph di Chiara. All three are engimas in their own way. All have upside, but Aparicio was latterly going up against players like Zela Langwa in the Spanish third tier and Kyle Porter was struggling for minutes in USL. Those two will have to handle the majority of the service to main striker Simon Adjei, along with Wataru Murofushi, a veteran of the Singaporean leagues.
There’s still no real headlining attacking threat on that team, even if the depth pieces are shaping up really well.
Who they got: Nathan Mavila (LB)
What they still need: Top-end talent, prospect depth
It looks very much at this point like Calgary Foothills are going to get promoted. The PDL side ran away with their league last year and most of the core pieces–Nik Ledgerwood, Sergio Camargo, Dom Zator, Marco Carducci–have signed with Cavalry. Even the head coach came up.
Part of me thinks this is really cool, and a great measuring stick for a proven team sticking together. Another part of me thinks CanPL is going to be a significant step up from PDL.
Nathan Mavila, who actually signed last week, feels very much like a PDL signing: he spent time in the decent West Ham youth system, graduated to semi-pro, got a cup of coffee with a mostly-bankrupt team6In this case, Leyton Orient, and ended up in school while playing for Dulwich Hamlet FC.
There are legit USL-level talents on Cavalry, including Oliver Minatel, who have a higher ceiling, and Nik Ledgerwood, whose ceiling was absolutely higher three or four years ago. Carlos Patino was solid in USL for Seattle 2, and I very much rate Marco Carducci. The whole team is full of guys like him who probably deserve another chance.
But other CanPL sides added players today who are playing at a higher level than USL, and a much higher level than PDL. For every gem who makes good with his opportunity, Cavalry fans are going to see 3-4 others not quite cut it–’tis the story of promoted teams the world over. On a small CanPL roster, that doesn’t bode well.
There’s enough raw talent here that, if Cavalry can add another piece or two in the next month–and they may–then I’ll really like what Tommy Wheeldon has built.