The release of the 2020 Canadian Premier League regular season schedule has soccer fans across the country abuzz with excitement. As we speak, supporters are consulting the schedule and circling key dates on their calendars, signifying a marquee match-up for their favourite club that they wouldn't dare miss for the world. If you're a Forge FC or York9 FC fan, maybe you're excited about the first 905 Derby of the 2020 campaign. If you live in Alberta, the dates of all four Al Classicos will be of paramount interest to you. Maybe Halifax Wanderers FC fans want to do something special when York9 FC comes to town for the first time in light of the fact that ex-Wanderers defender Matthew Arnone (voted player of the year for 2019 by supporters group Privateers 1882) signed with the Nine Stripes this off-season. Regardless of what team you support, there are plenty of interesting matches to look forward to in the 2020 CPL season. The team of Armen Bedakian, Charlie O'Connor-Clarke, Marty Thompson and John Molinaro offer their picks below. RELATED READING: The 2020 Canadian Premier League season schedule
BEDAKIAN: York9 FC vs. Pacific FC on June 28

Last season, so much of the league narrative revolved around two teams: Cavalry FC and Forge FC, and for good reason. Forge and Cavalry produced some of the finest football across the country, dominating in both the Spring and Fall portions of the regular season as they battled nine times against each other all the way to the last whistle of the inaugural campaign. But this year there are signs of a shift in the power dynamic, if not entirely toward two new teams, then at least towards further parity at the top of the table. It's why my must-watch match of 2020 doesn't involve either of the combatants from Finals 2019, but involves the first meeting between newly-revamped York9 FC and Pacific FC, respectively. Boasting a healthy midfield upgrade with Michael Petrasso and Chris Mannella, the Nine Stripes of 2020 promise to be much more competitive. It's why Jimmy Brennan has his boys training well before pre-season technically begins. Meanwhile, Pacific FC has added plenty of new talent in players such as Callum Irving, Jamar Dixon, Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, and, most importantly, Marco Bustos, a candidate for league MVP. So, this first meeting between these two would-be contenders takes place at York Lions Stadium on June 28, and, frankly, I'm hoping to see the same sort of uber-competitive spirit that permeated throughout Cavalry's encounters with Forge in 2019. These potential heavyweights will need to take as many points from each other as possible, too, if at least a third-place spot is to be assured.
THOMPSON: FC Edmonton vs. Cavalry FC on April 18

I wrote about this match earlier this week, but it's worth repeating. We’re getting a professional football match in northern Alberta in mid-April. Be damned you Canadians who are scared of a little cold weather! It could be -10 with flurries by the time this Al Classico comes around. Weather aside, this match has the potential to be something special. The Eddies are still looking for that first Al Classico win and are in the midst of rebuilding their squad. Cavalry, meanwhile, remains a bit of an enigma themselves as the departures of Julian Büscher, Joel Waterman, and potentially Dom Malonga could leave them hurting. April 18 could mark a turning of the tide if Jeff Paulus has his way. It could also be a difficult ending to Cavalry’s reign – will they slip up? Also, let’s be honest, we want to see another snow game. RELATED READING: CPL announces balanced schedule, new league and playoff format for 2020
O'CONNOR-CLARKE: Forge vs. Cavalry on Oct. 4

I realize it's too easy to say I'm most looking forward to the last game of the season, but come on. Two teams that absolutely despise each other, both of which will almost certainly be in a bitter fight for standings position come the end of the year, playing each other on the final matchday? It's hard not to love a Forge-Cavalry smackdown at Tim Hortons Field, especially when there's something on the line (as there very well might be in this case). With all eight teams playing simultaneously on October 4, this might be the game that neutral observers should keep an eye on. These clubs playing against each other has never disappointed, and I'd be hard-pressed to think of a reason why it would this season. Forge and Cavalry, even though they'll probably have other teams breathing down their necks much more than they did in 2019, remain heavyweights in the CPL, and so this matchup on the final day of the regular season could have massive implications for the league table.
MOLINARO: Atlético Ottawa vs. HFX Wanderers, May 16

It's not very often that sports writers get a chance to witness a new franchise play its first home game. I still have vivid memories of Toronto FC's home debut at BMO Field in 2007 – although TFC dropped a 1-0 decision to the Kansas City Wizards on that cool April afternoon, the atmosphere inside the stadium was electric thanks to a passionate fanbase that was so hungry for the return of pro soccer in their city. That's why I'm looking forward to Atlético Ottawa's home opener more than any other match this year. After beginning the 2020 CPL campaign with a four-game road trip, Atlético will make its home debut on May 16 when they host HFX Wanderers FC. Given that Ottawa fans will have to wait more than a month to cheer on their hometown club in person, I'm anticipating a phenomenal gameday experience and fan atmosphere inside TD Place Stadium in mid-May. And you know what? Ottawa's supporters will fully deserve their special day. Soccer fans in the nation's capital have been put through the wringer ever since the Ottawa Fury ceased operations and pulled out of the USL last November. They've had their emotions toyed with, wondering whether or not they would have a local team to support in 2020. Thanks to Club Atlético de Madrid stepping up, pro soccer didn't die a sudden death in Ottawa – it's been reborn. Emotions will be running high on May 16, and no matter what the result turns out to be, it'll be a day to remember to TD Place Stadium.

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