MIAMI, Fla. — (28 May 2020) More than two months has passed since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Canadian Premier League to suspend the start of its second season. Since then players have been at home and training individually. Now at the end of May, new cases of COVID-19 are declining in certain provinces, due to Canada’s response to the pandemic. Players, teams and fans are hoping to restart the newest professional sports league – though it is unclear when and under what conditions.
Canada Soccer has given the clear for a careful and calculated return to training, and Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan has given fans a firmer timeline to look at: during the Atletico Ottawa home kit reveal, he stated that he expects to see CPL clubs easing back in to training sessions as early as next week.
I’m certainly hopeful. As we said earlier this week, we’re actively engaged with each of the club’s provincial and municipal governments. In Ottawa, we have a friend in Ottawa with Minister Lisa MaCleod, so we’re hoping her group will help us there as well. We need to get all the approvals required for return-to-training. Obviously, we have that in place already from Canada Soccer. We’re expecting to commence training pretty shortly. I would say hopefully sometime next week or early in the next after that.David Clanachan
The Canadian Premier League has already released a large Return-To-Training document for CPL clubs, over twenty pages in length, indicating that the league was approaching the landmark moment where clubs will be able to have players train on club grounds and in small groups.
Clanachan explained that the steps that will be taken will be coordinated:
We’ll start with a phased approach: small workouts in small groups, and then in a rolling basis we’ll bring clubs on. I think the most important thing, though, is that we’ve got to commit – and we are committed, as are our clubs, to adhering to public health guidelines and the government directives around this to stop the spread of the COVID-19 disease. And also, to make sure that we maintain the health of all of our players, technical staff, coaches, and their families as we’re going through all of this. We’re doing it the right way, and we’ll be back on the pitch before you know it.David Clanachan
Atlético Ottawa: The newcomers in the CPL
One team that has likely benefitted from the delay in the start to the season has been newcomers Atlético Ottawa. They now have had additional time to build up their inaugural roster, albeit under difficult conditions presented by the pandemic. It is hard to determine the effect of the pandemic upon signings, but, it can be expected that some players may be reluctant to sign with certain clubs in a more affected area.
Atlético Ottawa CEO Fernando Lopez said that the suspension of the preparations for the season left his players with minimal time together. He said the club’s current roster of fourteen players had only trained together in Madrid for three days before being forced to distance themselves from one another during the suspension of soccer activities. As a result, he’s hoping to see a training period of three to four weeks before a modified 2020 CPL season kicks in.
We have trained three days together in our preseason training camp in the week we were in Spain, in Madrid. Definitely, we need some more than that. We are working with the CPL, together with Canada Soccer and the local authorities, to get permission to return to training. As soon as we have that, as much time that we can train together is going to be beneficial for us. Hopefully we can train three weeks, four weeks. The more time that we can train I think will be great for us.Atlético Ottawa CEO Fernando Lopez
Local Ottawa entrepreneur Jeff Hunt is eager to keep the momentum going, specifically stating that he has faith that Clanachan will find a way for Atlético Ottawa to take to the pitch in the near future.
I think events like this certainly make us feel that the momentum is still strong, but nothing replaces the games and the participating with fans at a game. We’re hoping that we can keep the excitement going with continuing to do things like this, and hopefully we’ll figure out some way with David’s leadership, that we’ll have some version of competition this year.Jeff Hunt
With fourteen players on the roster, Ottawa has room to sign some nine more players. The club has signed six international players so far, leaving room for one more international signing. The club would porbably look at an international number nine striker to fill that roster spot. Atlético needs to have the depth required in what is likely to be a condensed calendar of games once the season can begin. Fernando Lopez believes the rest of the domestic signings will leave the expansion side with a roster that reflects the Atlético Madrid mentality:
It changed a little bit because we planned to start in April, and since the moment that that changed, everything changed. We were managing well, and we were keeping the conversations with players that we have conversations with, agents, and teams. We are just waiting to put everything in place when the situation gets back to normal. Hopefully, we can announce the rest of the players. We still have one more international spot, and the rest are going to be Canadians. I’m sure we will fight for everything when the competition is back.Atletico Ottawa CEO Fernando Lopez
In terms of getting the season started, what options appear most viable at this point? The Canadian Premier League could look to a single province to host a shortened season that will run 2-3 months long. This significantly reduces travel and isolation requirements, with the expectation that players will see out the modified season by playing in empty stadiums.