The lengthy CPL off-season has seen dozens of faces come and go (and, in some cases, come back again). All the splashy signings from as far back as January have yet to take the field in their new club's colours. That'll change this week, though, as the CPL finally returns for its 2020 regular season in Prince Edward Island. Each club, in addition to 2019 returnees and intra-CPL movers, has been bolstered by outside reinforcements this year, both international and domestic. Unfortunately, some of the highly-touted internationals signed over the winter won't make the trip to PEI due to COVID-19 travel restrictions — FC Edmonton's Raúl Tito, Cavalry's Richard Luca, and York9 FC's Adrián Ugarriza spring to mind. However, the contingent that is headed to The Island Games still features plenty of CPL newbies, many of whom will be crucial to their team's success in this rapid-fire season. Here are five newcomers that'll be worth keeping an eye on in Charlottetown. RELATED READING: 2020 CPL regular season: The Island Games
Paolo Sabak, Forge FC

Not long after sending their best player off to Belgium, Forge FC filled Tristan Borges' spot on the team with a Belgian of their own. The 21-year-old Sabak played with some top-notch players in his time at the KRC Genk academy, sharing a pitch with Alejandro Pozuelo and Wilfred Ndidi during his brief stint with the senior team. He has 20 caps in total across the various youth levels of Belgium's national team program, and he developed in one of Europe's best academies. Jobs in the front three of Forge will not be easily won, with about seven or eight players vying for starting spots. Sabak has to be a front-runner, though, simply given his natural talent. The youngster is looking to add a spark to his career after fizzling somewhat in the Netherlands last year. With plenty of outlets to benefit from his playmaking acumen (such as Anthony Novak or Mo Babouli), Sabak could certainly be one of the top international players in the CPL in 2020.
Hanson Boakai, FC Edmonton

We may not remember it because it was so long ago, but there was a lot of buzz when the Eddies announced that their prodigal son was returning home. After five-odd years overseas, plying his trade across Europe, Boakai returned to the city that gave him his start in pro soccer. Boakai was the youngest player to take the pitch in an NASL game back in 2013 when he featured for the Eddies at age 16. Since then, according to Jeff Paulus, he's matured and improved significantly. The FCE boss speaks very highly of Boakai. "He’s a kid with that special ability on the ball,” Paulus said back when Boakai signed in December. "When you look at the league and you see the impact of a (Tristan) Borges or a (Marco) Bustos-type player, now we’ve got that kind of player at this club. Hanson Boakai is that player." Boakai has the natural skill and deft touch on the ball to get by any defender in the CPL, and he'll have a very talented teammate in Easton Ongaro to pick out as a target. There's no doubt that, at The Island Games, he'll have at least a couple of moments that make you audibly gasp. The question, of course, will be how consistently he can play to that level and make those moments happen. Paulus has said that he doesn't need Boakai to be the "Canadian Messi," as he was labelled back when he stunned the country in the Canadian Championship. Just the Edmonton Hanson.
Francisco Acuña, Atlético Ottawa

It hasn't been talked enough just what kind of background this player is coming from in Mexico. Francisco Acuña was playing, regularly, in Liga MX in 2019. He played 90 minutes in the Copa MX last November — more recently than anybody has played a CPL game. Two years ago, Acuña was setting up Lucas Cavallini (heard of him?) for goals in the best division in the Concacaf region. Although he's 32, all signs from Atlético Ottawa's camp suggest he has plenty left in the tank. The CPL's first expansion side might be in tough this season with a brand-new roster, but at least one player will be worth tuning in for every time. It's a privilege to have an international player of Acuña's calibre in the league; you won't want to miss him. Of course, you never know how exactly an international player will react to a new level of play, and it may take him a little longer than other players to shake off the rust, but hopefully his quality shines through in these seven games for Ottawa.
Alessandro Riggi, HFX Wanderers FC

This Montreal native has been on the radar of in-the-know Canadian soccer fans for several years now, having done well for Nick Dasovic's under-20 national team back in 2012 and 2013. He's come a long way from his days in the Sampdoria and Celta Vigo academies in Europe, though. Riggi carved out a very solid few years with both FC Montreal and Phoenix Rising FC in the USL, racking up a total of 81 games across the two clubs. He's a few years removed from scoring nine goals in 25 games for Montreal in 2015, but the talent is there. He also probably learned a thing or two from playing with Didier Drogba in Phoenix. "He’s a very nippy and tricky player, exciting to watch and he can find space in between the lines and run at defenders," HFX coach Stephen Hart said back when Riggi joined the club. Signing Riggi was a major coup for the Wanderers, who have loaded up on Montreal-based talent for this year. Riggi, Akeem Garcia, and Alex Marshall (who also probably could've made this list) will be hoping to develop a partnership that banks a lot more goals than Halifax scored last year.
Alejandro Díaz, Pacific FC

Take most of what's written above for Francisco Acuña, and repeat it here. Díaz comes from an incredible background, having played for Club América — the biggest team in Mexico, and probably one of the best-supported in the Americas — since he was nine years old. He played first-team games for them in Liga MX well before his 20th birthday, and he was on the pitch in early 2018 when the Mexican giants fell to Toronto FC at the Estadio Azteca in the Concacaf Champions League. Now, at the age of just 24, he's sought a new adventure in a fairly unexpected location. He'll be competing with Terran Campbell for minutes at the striker position, but Díaz has the tools to set the CPL on fire. After a few somewhat-unimpressive years on loan recently, perhaps a change of scenery and a little relief from the pressure of playing in his native Mexico will do him good, and help him find the scoring form he's been missing.

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