While a week removed from the Canadian Premier League’s Inaugural Game, there was something about May 4, 2019 — the unofficial start to Matchweek 2 — that made Canada’s professional league real… to me, at least.
A triple-header of Canadian soccer — six hours of action across four time zones. Starting in Halifax, the Wanderers opened their picturesque Wanderers Grounds against Forge FC. After that, we witnessed Cavalry FC host York9 FC at a snowy ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows before ending with Valour FC’s raucous home opener against FC Edmonton.
For many, Hamilton and the Inaugural Game was their Great CPL Realization: a moment where this Canadian professional soccer league goes from a dream to reality. But for me, that warm and fuzzy feeling didn’t arrive until the following weekend.
It started in Halifax, with Forge FC visiting HFX Wanderers. Camera cuts to the teams walking out of the tunnel — sorry, out of repurposed shipping containers; wood lined the inside of the structure with wall lighting I can only describe as “maritime-esque” — and onto a rough pitch on a soggy mid-Spring day.
I couldn’t look away. It was the most beautiful thing — and so uniquely Canadian Premier League. By 30 minutes in, Wanderers Grounds was packed and ready to witness a thriller. Akeem Garcia scored the first goal in club history before they quickly conceded.
Supporters were ready to explode when Luis Alberto Perea’s chance for a winner late in the second half came off, sailing into the goal and officially giving Halifax the professional soccer bug. Blue smoke bombs. A full supporters’ section jumping up and down.
Those fortunate enough to be there have had the chance to brag for over a year now. An incredible moment for soccer supporters who fought for Wanderers Grounds and their professional club to come to life.
Canadian soccer markets shine… in the snow
For those who recall, the second in this triple-header sent us to Calgary and ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows. Cavalry FC’s estate-like home ground brought another sense of bewilderment. Did I ever doubt the CPL would kick off in a horse ring? Of course not. Cavalry was set to be one the CPL’s breakout clubs in Year 1. But it’s one of those things you need to witness to fully appreciate it.
What’s more, Calgarians showed up in droves as the unfinished grandstand couldn’t yet protect onlookers from, well, you know, the snow.
Now, I find Canada’s connection to snow very, very tacky. It’s an Americanized misinterpretation of what it is like to live in this country – of course it snows often, as it does in many countries. Who cares?
So when those massive snowflakes came down, I couldn’t help but think about everyone doubting Canadian soccer, at home and abroad. Seeing a club’s inaugural game unfolding like this – with every geographical, climate, and uber Canadian-specific reason for a league not to exist pushed to the side – could only affirm your belief in Canadian soccer.
Winnipeggers arrive in droves
In Manitoba, a massive crowd of 9,699 opened Valour’s home account against FC Edmonton.
Yes, the finale in this three-match masterpiece didn’t deliver a snowy second half or a late winner, but it was still special. Heck, Valour provided the biggest crowd of them all – welcoming professional soccer’s return to Manitoba with vigour.
The Eddies, with goals from Mélé Temguia and Oumar Diouck, looked like a tough defensive unit in their first CPL match. Down 2-0, the home side looked unable to deliver to their incredible fan support… until Michael Petrasso stepped up to the penalty spot.
Winnipeg would get their moment to cheer. Calmly finished, Petrasso sent IG Field into a frenzy.
A club that would continue to fetch impressive attendance figures at IG Field, Winnipeggers never got enough credit for the way they wholeheartedly got behind their club from Day 1.
Who is Dominick Zator?
No CPL winner would be quite as impressive as Dominick Zator’s against York9 FC.
How the centre-back rose and powered a header over everyone, through the hindrance of a near-blizzard, was an incredible feat that made supporters, coaches, and journalists from across the country take notice.
Now, then-24-year-old Zator was far from an unknown quantity by 2019. A season with Whitecaps 2 in USL and several more with Calgary Foothills was enough to create a reputation, at least in Western Canada. But Canadian soccer observers, myself included, quickly realized the hero-making the CPL could do – and just how far players were about to be propelled in their career.
Perhaps this retrospective realization is what makes watching these early CPL games so powerful – reliving a pivotal moment and seeing the names and faces you would become so familiar with by season’s end.
Cavalry FC fans, enjoy the rewatch Monday.
For me, the CPL had arrived right then and there, and I’ll never forget it.