Canadian soccer is back, at least for a short time, and it’ll centre on Price Edward Island.
When Covid happened, I honestly thought I’d miss it. Sports had become something of a routine for me. Even a drab soccer game could be equally calming and exciting. I could be half-awake or halfway to understanding what some team was doing tactically. Didn’t matter, and that was the pleasure.
2019 changed a lot of that just because, for the first time, I had meaningful professional soccer to watch week in, week out, in person. It was and will continue to be a hell of a ride, and I had more fun at Wanderers’ Grounds liveblogging Canadian Premier League games than I’d had in years. It absolutely meant a lot to me, and to many others in the community, and it absolutely mattered.
It also burned me out, and when the inevitable announcement came that CanPL 2020 was being postponed, my reaction was mostly relief. I’d been caught up in it for too long. Every game felt crucial, everything had to be talked about right now, every single aspect was analyzed and then over-analyzed.
In 2020, none of that matters. There is a global pandemic. Ten, twenty, or fifty years from now, we are not going to be talking about the ins and outs of Canadian soccer in 2020. No Stanley Cup was awarded in 1918/19, the last time North America suffered a major pandemic, and that’s barely a trivia answer now. Nobody cares.They probably cared at the time, as they should, but it didn’t make or break the reputation of what was, at the time, a very young NHL.
Canadian soccer is in a similar spot. It can feel like this is a lost season, but that’s the fear we’ve all be reacquainted with of late talking. Sports leagues at every level are going to suffer for a bit, sure, but there are bigger things.
It will be great fun. I am absolutely looking forward to liveblogging every Wanderers game, and probably a few others. There’s not even any university soccer to distract me this year. So see you there. Or here, as it were–we’re all online now.
But let’s enjoy it for what it is, and keep sights set on the larger picture, too. There are real risks in playing sports right now. The league has, however, done just about everything it can to limit the risks, and that’s in line with what I–and I suspect others–expect. Should something go wrong, however, public health comes before a good headline.
That brings us round the long way to the other big elephant about this league right now, which is the lack of communication, not just with media but with players, coaches, and fans throughout all of 2020 so far–and really throughout 2019 before that.
Some of this is understandable. In 2019 it was new car jitters. In 2020 it’s a pandemic. Not everything is known right now, in which case, don’t tease it. At times, the league has seemed almost desperate for content–any content–to feed the dragon. But this is the burn-out talking, the fear of disappearing for a moment.
Canadian soccer fans aren’t going to go away. Covid has given us an enforced “reset” that might even be, in the long-term, beneficial. I know, for me, 2021 is the big day–that first time I can cover a game live in-person, that first time I can see soccer in Halifax again. I imagine Atletico Ottawa fans might feel the same way, and I imagine the club itself is glad of the reprieve from trying to sign an entire team in three weeks.
That means, in a weird way, the league has a second chance at a first impression. It has a chance to try some stuff and maybe fix some stuff before Inaugural Season Mk. II–not because 2019 was bad but because rarely do you get a second chance, a break to sit back, reflect, and try something new.
Maybe the league should try getting away from the silly social media memes and bizarre OneSoccer cross-promo that made Year One feel a little insular. Embrace this tournament for what it is. It’s going to be weird soccer. It’s not really important beyond it being a gesture to fans and continuity for players. There will be no attendance figures to worry about, at least for now.
Think of CanPL PEI as the “spring season” for 2021: a sprint that will show us a lot about the league and the teams before things matter again. One year is nowhere near enough to time to build a lasting culture. Make it a fresh start for communication, for relations with the players union, for outreach in French. Maybe find ways of talking about the fans rather than to them. We’re all in this together1Remember: I’m pullin’ for ya..
For teams, this is an opportunity to play the whole squad and figure out who’s got what. Whichever team wins this is going to be a trivia answer, nothing more than joy in the moment. We don’t need to make this a big legacy. This is a tournament played after a long break with half the rosters teams thought they had, and while CanPL teams have had longer to train thanks to the provincial governments mostly handling Covid pretty well, it’s still going to be jungle ball. Rotate a lot, see what happens. Ottleti could win, even.
Back in the spring, I had Wanderers fifth in my now-discarded season preview. Now, I’m looking forward to seeing Ibra Sanoh play on home turf, and getting (virtually) reacquainted with the the UPEI stadium I spent a very long weekend at back in 2011. It’s a lovely town for soccer and it’s a mark of Canadian soccer in 2020–and CanPL’s role in that–that PEI feels like part of what’s happening.
I’m looking forward to writing more, too, the good and the bad. It’s a fresh start, and it doesn’t matter!