The 2023 Canadian Premier League season is already at the quarter mark and each of the league's eight clubs have played one another at least once. While it is still relatively early, there are multiple intriguing storylines developing for each club. The biggest storyline from a league-wide standpoint? Just how close those clubs have been so far this season. There is precious little space between teams both in the standings and in individual games. Just four points separate third and eighth in the table, and no club outside of the top three has more than a single victory this season as 50 per cent of matches have ended in draws. Forge and Pacific, meanwhile, have emerged as the early favourites. However, there is still plenty of time for other sides to join the race for the 2023 regular season title. With that in mind, here is one big storyline that has emerged for each club so far in 2023, in order of where they sit after seven match weeks in the CPL standings.
Forge FC's unmatched depth leads to an unprecedented startThere have been no signs of a championship hangover in Hamilton, as after winning their third North Star Shield, Forge FC are off to the best start to a CPL season in club history. They are undefeated through their first seven matches of the year for the first time, with four wins and four clean sheets, and they sit top of the table. Bringing back 19 players from last year's title-winning team has allowed the side to have an incredible rotation of talented players already familiar with the club's tactical identity. Meanwhile, Forge's one big off-season signing, Canadian international Manjrekar James, has fit seamlessly into the backline -- one that has allowed the fewest goals against in the league with just five through seven matches. There will surely be a few hiccups as the season progresses, especially with so much fixture congestion over the coming weeks, but Forge already have a number of important points banked.
Pacific FC's Sean Young emerging as one of the CPL's best playersAs Pacific FC have emerged as the league's most lethal offensive team so far this season, midfielder Sean Young has been their most consistent and important player. The 22-year-old leads the league in assists this season with three and has also added two goals -- leading the league in goal involvements as a result. He also ranks highly in chances created (fourth with 13), expected assists (fifth with 1.45), shot attempts (tied for third, with 11) and possession won in the final third (tied for second in the league, six). He has gone from a solid defensive midfielder to an excellent box-to-box player capable of controlling all aspects of the middle of the park. The Victoria native also wore the captain's armband in a match against Valour earlier this month, demonstrating the leadership and respect he has built within the Pacific dressing room.
York United's Golden Boot favourite Osaze De Rosario still goallessAfter coming up just short in the Golden Boot race last season, finishing just a goal behind Pacific's Alejandro Diaz and scoring 12 in CPL action, York United's Osaze De Rosario looked primed to build on that success in 2023. Despite 1.78 expected goals so far this year, the sixth-highest in the league, and sitting seventh in shot attempts (11), De Rosario has not found the back for the net so far this season. The only other players who are in the top 20 in expected goals and have not scored an actual goal so far this season are York United teammates Brian Wright and Austin Ricci -- demonstrating just how big of an issue finishing chances has been for the Nine Stripes in general. If they are to maintain their spot near the top of the table, that will have to improve in the second half, and De Rosario finding his goalscoring boots will be critical moving forward.
Bad goals, and avoidable mistakes costing Cavalry FC pointsDespite losing for the first time in CPL action just this past weekend, Cavalry FC will feel like they have already left a lot of points on the pitch in 2023. In fact, they lead the league in terms of points dropped from winning positions so far in 2023, with 10 already. No team has had more of the ball than Cavalry this year, averaging 57.66 per cent possession. But far too often they have switched off defensively in decisive moments -- with the pair of goals they gave up against Halifax Wanderers in first-time stoppage time on May 13 as the prime example. With 35 clean sheets in 98 all-time league matches they have been one of the league's best defensive teams since its inception. This season, however, they have kept just a single clean sheet through seven matches. Cavalry have done a lot of good things this year, but a failure to clean up their bad habits has resulted in an underwhelming season so far.
Valour continue to pick up results despite injury crisisAfter a statement 2-0 win against York United in the season's opening weekend, it has been one injury after another for Valour so far in 2023. This is especially true at the back, where the club already started the season without key defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Since then, defenders Jordan Haynes, Guillaume Pianelli, Abdou Samaké and Andy Baquero have all missed time with injury while Matthew Chandler suffered a long-term ACL injury. Midfielder Raphael Ohin has also not appeared since the first match of the season. Despite a constantly changing side and players being forced to play out of position at times, Valour have lost just once in CPL action so far. Former Forge defender Klaidi Cela has held things down well at the back while multiple teammates recover from injuries, while Pacifique Niyongabire is one of the league's most exciting attacking players. If Valour can get healthy soon, there is a lot to like about how they have played so far in 2023 that could lead to them maintaining their spot above the playoff line.
Under Afshin Ghotbi's guidance, Vancouver FC proving to be organized and competitiveWhen building a side, it is most important to establish the foundation first, and it appears head coach Afshin Ghotbi has done that with Vancouver FC. The expansion side has been impressively resilient at the back so far this season, allowing more than a single goal in a match just once (albeit in a 5-0 home drubbing against Atlético Ottawa). Especially with early injuries to key players Gabriel Bitar and Kadin Chung, Ghotbi has managed to get the best out of many of his players, impressive considering he has the youngest squad in the entire league. Getting a first victory at home is the next big item on Vancouver's checklist, but for now, they remain firmly in the fight, and that is an important way to begin their first season as a club.
Halifax's new tactical identity experiencing early growing painsThe league's only side without a win so far this season, there has been significant improvement in the way Halifax have played this year under new head coach Patrice Gheisar. Only Forge have made more successful passes in the opposition half, showing just how much on the front foot the Wanderers have been playing this year. New signing Lorenzo Callegari has been critical to this new possession-based style, as he leads the league in successful passes. His absence was heavily felt in the club's lone loss of the season, 3-0 at home to York United. Their new style hasn't quite translated into the final third yet, as only Vancouver FC has scored fewer goals than Halifax's six. It has also meant at times giving away cheap goals, especially in transitional moments. Halifax, however, appear committed to this system, and there are signs it could work in the long term.
From worst to first, and back to worst, Atlético Ottawa struggles to find formThe biggest surprise of the season so far has been 2022 regular season champions Atlético Ottawa, who have managed just a single victory, and four defeats, through the first seven matches of the season and currently sit at the bottom of the CPL table. Most concerning, considering how crucial the club's defensive identity was to their success last season, is the fact that Ottawa have allowed a league-leading 10 goals against while also allowing their opponent to score first in all but one match this season. Having a league-worst home record, with just a single point from four matches at TD Place Stadium isn't helping an already frustrated fanbase either. If they cannot find form quickly, it could be a massive fall from grace for Atleti in 2023.