CPL players and coaches are set to return to a single-site bubble environment this week for The Kickoff presented by Volkswagen – a 32-match opening stanza to the season with the goal to return to home markets by the end of July. With all the action now just days away (the opening match goes Saturday between FC Edmonton and Atletico Ottawa at 2 pm ET/1 pm CT), teams are now up to speed and focused on their first taste of competitive play in 2021.
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Scouting the competition has surely been a tall task for coaches and their staff with little to no preseason fixtures to assess and plenty of roster turnover within the league. Last year’s Island Games — where some teams only played seven times — serves as the most recent sample of what to expect in Winnipeg. Be it the element of surprise or the attractiveness of their previous tactical setups, here are the clubs (other than their own) that all eight coaches look forward to seeing most during The Kickoff. Spoiler alert: some will be suiting up on IG Field, while others might only be seen on hotel room televisions.
Alan Koch, FC Edmonton"Every single team, because it’s going to be very interesting to see how teams progress. You’ve got teams like Ottawa that have been playing games and training overseas for months, and you’ve got other teams that haven’t even started (full) training. "It’s going to be interesting to see how everybody adjusts to all the unique circumstances that they’ve had to go through."
Jimmy Brennan, York United"Ottawa has put a good squad together, Pacific has done the same. Cavalry has made some great signings, Harty (Stephen Hart) out in Halifax has some good quality out there – we’re looking at a couple teams that have made some additions and look keen. And of course Forge will be there too with Bobby (Smyrniotis) and that group has stayed together. "Everyone’s adding good pieces."
Tommy Wheeldon Jr, Cavalry FC"Forge is a back-to-back champion, so they have to be the number one on everybody’s list… But you know who’s quietly gone about their business is Ottawa. "And I think you can’t look past Valour with home field advantage."
Bobby Smyrniotis, Forge FC"Atlético Ottawa -- You know they were a team that was up against the wall last year putting the squad together with everything being so quick… Come second year, they’ve considerably changed and they’ve got pieces in there that I think are meant to play a certain way."
Stephen Hart, HFX Wanderers FC"I think Pacific. I thought they were arguably the best playing club in terms of being enjoyable to watch, they have that kind of style that was good to watch. "And I'm going to cheat a little bit and say I'm very interested to see Valour because they've made some very interesting signings."
Pa-Modou Kah, Pacififc FC"I think I’m just excited to see the games, I’m very excited to see how teams play. There are seven other teams that are also looking forward to playing, so it’ll be nice to see the season going on."
Rob Gale, Valour FC"England at the Euros."
Mista, Atletico Ottawa"I love Pacific because I think they did a great job last year and (Pa-Modou) Kah is a very good coach but I have to go with Forge – they won the last couple CPL titles and everyone has to give them some respect."