Well, here we are. It's been 190 days since the CPL first kicked off in Hamilton, which is where the league's first-ever champions will return on Sunday night. Forge FC are the first winners of the North Star Shield, putting a bow on the wild ride that was the CPL's inaugural season. Perhaps it's only fitting that year one culminates with a championship for the city where it all started in April. It's been an extraordinary year in Canadian soccer, with the future looking brighter than ever. Here, at the official beginning of the CPL's first real off-season, let's take a moment to look back on the year that was. Here are three things we learned from year one.
1. The kids are alright

Part of the founding mandate of the CPL was to give opportunities to young Canadian talent. Well, that was certainly accomplished. Pretty much every team saw significant contributions from their under-21 contingent; Diyaeddine Abzi seized the left-back role at York9, Easton Ongaro and Tyler Attardo were unstoppable up front for FC Edmonton and Valour, and Tristan Borges took the league's first Golden Boot for Forge. Then there's Pacific FC, whose entire core seemed to be youngsters. Terran Campbell scored 11 goals, the Verho(e)vens were electric in any position they tried, and Kadin Chung was a constant patrolling the right flank. The Tridents gave 14,322 minutes to U-21 players in 2019. Across the board, though, this year one in this league seems to have surprised a few people with who emerged as stars. In most cases, it wasn't necessarily the established names — the Marcus Habers or the Randy Edwini-Bonsus, perhaps — who gave their teams a spark, but rather the kids who may not have had a professional opportunity at all without the CPL. So, we can thank the CPL for introducing the Canadian soccer community at large to Tristan Borges, Dominick Zator, and even the likes of Morey Doner, among so many others.
2. Don't sleep on the quality

Coming into year one of a brand new league, anyone who claimed they knew just what the CPL's level of play would be had to be lying. Every roster had varying levels of experience, and vastly different degrees of familiarity with each other. Whatever we might have expected for year one, though, it probably wasn't this good. From the third minute of the first game, when Ryan Telfer slotted from distance, we should've known we'd see some top-drawer football. We had this ESPN-worthy long-range screamer from Manny Aparicio. We had Kadell Thomas' jaw-dropping dance through Valour's defence. We even had an Olimpico. Really the only goal year one was missing was a bicycle kick. When CPL teams came up against MLS opposition in the Canadian Championship, most fans would've been happy just to see their CPL side make a little noise. Who would've thought, though, that York9 would give us such a magical home leg against the Montreal Impact? Or, even better, that Cavalry would completely outclass the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road to eliminate them? Let's not forget, either, the scenes in Hamilton as Forge made a name for themselves and for the CPL on the international stage in the CONCACAF League. We saw some very diverse tactical soccer, as managers tried to establish their club's identity. The sides who'd worked with each other the longest (Forge and Cavalry through Sigma FC and Calgary Foothills, respectively) were well-oiled machines, but even the brand new groups — York9, HFX Wanderers, and so on — could do real damage to any other team on their day.
3. It all starts in the stands

The inaugural CPL season was incredible on the pitch, but it was equally extraordinary off it as well. From coat to coast, supporters fame out in numbers with flags, smoke bombs, and creative chants. A shout-out is certainly due to each of the Lake Side Buoys, Foot Soldiers, River Valley Vanguard, Red River Rising, Barton Street Battalion, Generation IX, and Privateers 1882. From the Kitchen in Halifax to the Trench in Winnipeg to everywhere else across the country, it was truly special to see so many long-time soccer fans (and many new ones) given something to cheer about in their home city. We saw some incredible new traditions started, like the Wildrose Cup to commemorate the top dog in the Al Classico rivalry. Or how about the Pacific FC fans who trekked thousands of kilometres on motorcycles to take in a match in every CPL stadium? As players across the league have often put it, the CPL would be nothing without the supporters. Clubs have forged close relationships with their communities, with unavailable players joining the fans in the stands on more than one occasion. Forge's Dominic Samuel was spotted helping lead the chants in Hamilton for Leg 1 of Finals 2019, and HFX Wanderers fan favourites Peter Schaale and Zachary Sukunda paid a visit to the Kitchen in September. This year saw multitudes of Canadians fall in love (or fall back in love) with local football, and that's something the CPL can be proud of.

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