Let's shine a light on some of the CPL's more underappreciated players, shall we? With the 2021 CPL season set to kick off sometime between "in mid-June to early July" according to Commissioner David Clanachan, it appears those players looking to prove any doubters wrong don't have to wait long to get back on the field.
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Dominic Samuel – Forge FCWho has been Forge FC's best defender over two CPL Championship-winning seasons: now-retired David Edgar? Daniel Krutzen? What about Kwame Awuah? Well, if you ask Bobby Smyrniotis, that title may belong to Dominic Samuel. "You look at a guy like Dom, and as a defender I don't think there's a better defender in the league," Smyrniotis said on his re-signing for the 2021 season. "If you look at his numbers over the first two years there are not many that match up to him and what he does." Naturally a centre-back, but capable of playing either left or right fullback, the 26-year-old has proven Forge's all-important utility man in defence. He also gives Hamilton something very different out wide, contrasting well with other more attack-minded fullbacks like Johnny Grant and Kwame Awuah. While Samuel doesn't always get the plaudits, he's been an integral part of Forge's two titles.
Pacific FC – Thomas Meilleur-Giguère
Pacific FC has one of Canada's top men's centre-back prospects in Thomas Meilleur-Giguère... the only problem is he's only played ten games for the club in 16 months. It's that small sample size that makes Meilleur-Giguère – who played every minute of PFC's Island Games tournament – feel undervalued in some way. "TMG" was a force on Prince Edward Island, recording 25 interceptions (2nd in CPL) and winning possession 54 times (most among CPL defenders). You could argue he's as impressive a defender as CPL stalwarts like Amer Didic and Dominick Zator – both of whom have earned call ups to the Canadian senior team – the only thing missing are more minutes.
Atlético Ottawa – Dylon PowleyWhispers of Dylon Powley's eventual move to a starting CPL goalkeeping role have been swirling since his first days as a backup to Connor James with FC Edmonton. The 24-year-old made nine appearances for the Eddies, conceding 13 times and racking up two clean sheets. While these numbers aren't mind-bogglingly impressive, CPL coaches are quick to highlight Powley as one of the league's most-underrated ‘keepers – specifically for his distribution skills. No ‘keeper completed more long passes per 90 minutes (7.61) than Powley in 2019, according to SportLogiq. It's one of the reasons Ottawa reached out to Powley to be their first-choice 'keeper.
York United – Michael PetrassoYou may roll your eyes at this selection… Michael Petrasso has struggled with injuries and fitness during his time in the CPL – first with Valour FC and now with York. The former Queen's Park Rangers winger's hamstring limited him to just three appearances at the Island Games. But the versatile attacker, who has nine caps for Canada, rebounded in spectacular fashion with arguably the best season of his career on loan to Barnet FC in the English fifth tier. Petrasso scored eight goals in 28 league appearances and earned the nickname "Canadian Messi." Petrasso has been undervalued by Canadian soccer due to injuries. But, considering what he's just done in England, that could all change in 2021.
Cavalry FC – Anthony NovakAnthony Novak gave Forge FC fans a bit of shock in April when he joined the Cavs. The former Hamilton striker left the two-time champions for a competitive rival – and made a hilarious road trip out of it, too. Novak, 27, scored nine goals and added six assists across two seasons with Hamilton and his departure leaves a significant hole in Forge's attack. At the same time, you could argue he wouldn't be the side's first-choice striker since Mo Babouli joined last Summer. Were his big goals, such as this one in Concacaf League, ultimately not as appreciated as similar exploits from Tristan Borges or Kyle Bekker? You don't always know what you have until it's gone.
FC Edmonton – Jeannot Esua
Former FC Edmonton player of the year Jeannot Esua is underrated not just in Edmonton but across the CPL. The 24-year-old right-wingback has shined in both Eddies' seasons for different reasons. In 2019, the Cameroonian was an excellent wingback, creating chances in the attacking third often and emerging as a skillful wideplayer. At the Island Games, Esua shined further despite the Eddies' lack of on-field success, finishing second on the team with 472 touches and 12 completed dribbles. He also contributed the most headed clearances (14) and third-highest passes in the final third (74).
HFX Wanderers – Alessandro RiggiAnother victim of the 2020 season's ridiculously small sample size, Alessandro Riggi returns to the HFX Wanderers FC fold after just six appearances on Prince Edward Island. The tricky left-winger arrived from USL side Phoenix Rising to much fanfare but ended up, quite understandably, playing a support role to golden boot winner Akeem Garcia and João Morelli. But Riggi had more than a handful of impressive moments. He placed third on the team in expected goals with 0.55 (behind Garcia and Morelli) and put up a blistering six key passes – both of which landed in the top 20 among players in the CPL. He didn't seem to lack any confidence either – his lone Island Games goal was a prime example.
Valour FC – Raphael OhinA tireless midfielder, Ohin logged a sweat-soaked 500 minutes on Prince Edward Island as Valour's driving force in attack and defence, leading the team in passing percentage (86 per cent) and possession won (36) while adding 63 passes in the final third. While the 26-year-old certainly earned more plaudits in 2020 than his 2019 rookie campaign, he's worth highlighting further. Ohin has made 27 appearances for Valour so far and could be considered one of the more consistent midfielders in the CPL – a league that has seen several star midfield operators sometimes struggle for form. He also offers an incredible story of perseverance after his arrival in Winnipeg from Ghana. Is he a potential dark horse for CanPL.ca's team of the season?