Whither the internationals? Making sense of the transfer window for CanPL clubs

Stock photo. Airplanes in gate at Halifax's airport.

It’s silly season!

Each January, despite meaningful matches being played in Europe and meaningful pre-season medicals and locker assignments being doled out in North America, the soccer world turns its attention to the vagaries of the “transfer market” as rumours abound over just how much Paul Pogba–or whomever is hot this week–is worth.

Managers the world over talk about how important the “window” is for their team’s chances. (Often, it’s not that important at all–but a good distraction for an angry fanbase.) So why haven’t Canadian Premier League teams been in on the action?

The short answer: money. For any uninitiated who happen to be strolling by: Canada’s nascent top flight, like the vast majority of top flights around the world, is not a buying league. Likewise, there are no players to sell.

That doesn’t mean the transfer window is unimportant, though. Far from it.

So far, CanPL teams have signed mostly Canadian players playing in the US or Canada. This fits the league’s local-first ethos and is smart business when each team needs to field six Canadians at all times, and also meet roster quotas. International signings have been sparse, and many of the higher-profile Canadians have yet to sign. What about guys like Simon Thomas or Manjrekar James, both often-enough-capped national-teamers who have bounced between clubs in Europe’s lower or more regional leagues? Why did Tosaint Ricketts, recently released by Toronto FC, apparently turn down FC Edmonton?

Even when players are unattached and without a club, the transfer window matters. While English and Spanish teams splash cash, teams in lower divisions and smaller countries look for bargains. Smart players–and agents–hold out to see what they can get as teams miss out on targets and start to get desperate towards the end of the month.

Players can, in fact, sign with a club any time. That’s how you get Simon Adjei signing for York9 in early November, or the Kyles–Bekker and Porter–signing for Forge and York, respectively. But teams have to submit squad lists for league and cup competitions at fixed dates, usually just after the transfer window closes, which means there’s a “deadline” of sorts to bring in reinforcements before the window closes.

A “window” is set by the country’s FA–the CSA, in Canada’s case; the Football Associatin in England or FFF in France, for example–and determines when international transfer certificates can be processed. They apply to the buying team–a club can sell any time.

The CSA transfer window actually opens later than most of the mid-season European windows. CanPL teams can sign players now, but can’t register them until February or so. While CanPL teams are in the market, they don’t have to be as desperate yet. They can see who’s left–potentially on the cheap–after European clubs have made their mid-season moves.

For players, they’ll wait and see what they can get from a current or prospective club now. They might string a CanPL club along as a back-up option, or use a CanPL offer to try and get more money out of someone else.

This is my guess for what a guy like Ricketts is doing. He’s been released from a Toronto FC contract that paid him over $100K/year. He’s also played all over the place, and was rumoured to be signing in Israel this past summer. For a player like Ricketts on an expiring deal, looking for a club started in July–maybe before–and won’t end until February or later. If he can’t find a club to match or exceed his previous salary, or he’s still without a club in the spring, he’d look around for trials and training camp offers. All of a sudden, a league like CanPL looks more attractive.

Then the cycle continues into the summer as European seasons wind down and Scandinavian and North American teams look to add mid-season. One thing that hasn’t been discussed enough within CanPL circles is the importance of those summer signings. A lot of European contracts run out in June when the winter season ends. The transfer market never really stops, and smart CanPL clubs could grab a player who might become available midway through the inaugural 2019 season. Do you sign whoever’s available now or wait for the right player later?

For players, Canada is uncharted water–stable country, but new league. For those good enough to have options in multiple countries, it makes sense to wait. Likewise, it makes sense for CanPL to wait for them, if they’re good enough.

The transfer market is a game of patience. Naturally, it’s frustrating for fans–not always the most patient lot–to sit and wait as Forge or York sign another depth Canadian or local prospect.

Building that depth is important, too–maybe even more important than signing bigger names. But it’s also impossible to assess any roster until well after the transfer window is closed and training camp begins. I’m fond of laughing at Pacific FC for having only one signing (plus one more coming Wednesday, apparently), but if they’re patient and find the right players instead of just grabbing whoever’s available, they may be better for it in the long run.

That may be extra true for Halifax Wanderers. Stephen Hart doesn’t necessarily have as many local stars eager to come home. What he does have are extensive connections in the region more broadly, particularly in Trinidad & Tobago, where his assistant coach Derek King just won the league title again. I’d guess there will be at least one signing from that part of the world. Hart has already hinted at it. Those signings can take longer precisely because international players who have a reputation in our region, CONCACAF, may well have suitors from various Central American leagues, or even Mexico and MLS. Canada is now a player in that market–what kind remains to be seen.

This is why the transfer market matters. Teams that go solely local are likely to struggle. The realities of the Canadian player pool are stark, no matter how many diamonds CanPL clubs can unearth. Which players teams sign to as “stars” will make a difference. Those players aren’t going to be the Ronaldos and Pogbas of the world, but they might command a little more money than an open trialist or draft pick. They might require a longer chase. There will be hits and misses, but–especially for smaller teams who don’t have a lot of money to splurge–smart spending means being patient and building right.

About Dylan Matthias 119 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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