We’ve seen each of the seven Canadian Premier League teams play at least one match. And while we’re still very early into the inaugural CPL campaign, some patterns are beginning to emerge.

If you’re an analytics fanatic, you’ll point to the fact that Forge has 30 shots on goal over the team’s first two games. You’ll note that the majority of the Hamilton side’s chances are coming from inside the box. You’ll champion the fact that, simply based on the amount of quality chances created, that this team will bust out soon and put up a big number. But, going into the season, the expectations were that a number of players could provide goals from both the attacking positions and midfield. So, far, though, we haven’t seen that scoring depth shine through. Kadell Thomas has both of the goals. Players like Chris Nanco, Emery Welshman and Kyle Bekker need to turn chances into goals. And, Tristan Borges is the early candidate for most snakebitten player in CPL; he’s already seen himself too many times on highlight reels for shots off the woodwork or great saves. In the end, soccer doesn’t give points in the standings for creating chances. Arsenal would have won 10 Champions Leagues by now if that’s how it went. It’s all about the finish.

If you think that Stephen Hart’s crew isn’t shy in the tackle and are speedy on the counter — your eyes aren’t deceiving you. In both of their first two matches the Wanderers had less than 45% of the possession. But, in both matches, they won roughly 60% of the duels. The Wanderers won’t be reminding anyone of Barcelona when it comes to pinging the ball around the park, but their opponents can expect a physical team that’s hard to beat in one-v-one battles. And, if the Wanderers continue to dominate when it comes the duels won, that means they’re creating more chances off the counter than their opponents.

We had hints of this from the preseason — Cavalry FC will not give its opponents time and space. Judging from Saturday’s match against York9, Cavalry will press very high and try to close down the opposition player who has the ball at his feet. Unless you move the ball exceptionally quick, or are willing to try and play direct soccer and hoof the ball over the midfield and towards a target man, Cavalry will force you to turn the ball over, and will create chances off of it. Even though York has plenty of footspeed — and it paid off in the opening game — Cavalry was cutting off the supply lines by putting the opposition defenders under extreme pressure. Cavalry’s three forwards press as a unit.

Size doesn’t go into a slump. It’s an old adage — but one that fits when it comes to the Eddies. By all admissions, from players to coach, the Eddies didn’t play like they wanted to in the first half of their 2-1 win over Valour. But two things allowed the Eddies to save the game — the fine goalkeeping of Connor James and the team’s height advantage. When you see the Eddies walk out of the tunnel, with so many six-foot-and-up players, you wonder if this is a soccer team or a basketball team. This is a physically intimidating team, and the twin centre-back towers of Mele Temguia and Amer Didic not only take away the crossing game, but get up into the attack; Temguia bundled in the Eddies’ first goal and Didic’s flick set up the second. James, as well, answered a lot of critics wondering if a kid came come straight out of university soccer and excel. His first-half saves held the Eddies in the match.

Like their Southern Ontario brethren, York are behind the eight ball in the short Spring season, with just one point out of two games. But York9 might be the hardest of any of the teams to analyze. Injuries and suspensions forced coach Jim Brennan to basically reinvent his midfield between games one and two. The midfield was overrun by Cavalry this past Saturday, but it was missing a lot of first-choice options. Losing Kyle Porter and Joseph Di Chiara stifled the Nine Stripes on the wings, But we do know that the likes of Ryan Telfer and Cyrus Rollocks give York9 plenty of speed in offensive transition. The counter is where this team will thrive. But, right now, the most valuable player for this team might be… the trainer.

Home or away, coach Rob Gale is going to instruct his forwards to press as high as they can and force opposing defenders to make quick decisions. The high-press game yielded two goals on the road in win over Pacific FC, and Valour had a very impressive first half at home to FC Edmonton, even though the team’s efforts didn’t yield a goal. Gale moved Michael Petrasso from a defensive spot — where he’s traditionally played — to an attacking role; and, so far, Petrasso has paid that back by being a dynamic option who has created chances and confused opposition markers. The question, as Valour is in the midst of its five-games-in-16-days stretch, can this team keep up the tempo?

So far, we’ve seen Pacific FC control the ball, and a lot of crosses are being whipped in from the wings for target man Marcus Haber. So far, Haber’s efforts haven’t translated into goals; there have been some rather spectacular misses, including an attack against Valour in which Haber hit the post twice. The thing is, for accomplished strikers in the box, hitting the goalpost isn’t bad luck — it’s a miss. There’s no doubt there’s a lot riding on the big target man; but given his European football and national-team pedigree, that pressure comes with the territory. Haber’s getting into good places, he’s causing the defenders problems, but strikers are always judged on their success rates.

Continue reading...