Words: Gregory Caltabanis
With the Canadian Premier League kicking off its inaugural season in April, seven clubs across the nation will compete for the honour of being crowned champion. Currently, the league has teams in five Canadian cities and is actively looking to expand by 2020; but when will it be Montreal’s turn?
David Clanachan, the league’s commissioner, has no doubt the city’s time will come soon.
“If I don’t have soccer being played at a professional level in Montreal, then we’re missing a big part of what’s required in Canada,” said Clanachan. “The [Montreal] Impact is there, but it’s a big city and there’s room for more, no doubt.”
According to Clanachan, the Canadian Premier League’s aim is to have 10 teams in the next two years. By the 2026 World Cup — which Canada is co-hosting with the United States and Mexico — he’d like the league to be at 14 to 16 teams. With expansion on the horizon, the league’s executives are in talks with 18 different owner groups across the country.
“I’d like to think they all have a shot at it,” said Clanachan.
Real Monarchs midfielder and former FC Montreal star, Mastanabal Kacher, thinks Montreal would be an ideal landing spot for an eighth franchise.
The passion is there, it’s unreal. Look at the parks,” said Kacher. “Ten years ago when I was playing at the park it was almost empty. Right now you go to the park or the school — everyone’s playing soccer.”
Information provided by the Canadian Premier League. Infographic by Gregory Caltabanis.
At this summer’s Got Game trials — the Canadian Premier League’s open tryouts — Clanachan noted Montreal’s enthusiasm stood out.
“The passion, the attitude, and the hunger of the players that came out was unbelievable,” he said. “I know the game is alive and well in Montreal.”
A franchise in the city would offer Montreal talent an opportunity to showcase themselves on the big stage, an opportunity Chakib Hocine would have appreciated when he was coming up in the Impact’s youth ranks in 2015.
“After the academy all we have is Major League Soccer clubs. You don’t have options,” said Hocine. “This league will give our players more options to develop.”
After FC Montreal’s dissolution in 2016, Hocine was forced to go abroad to Finland’s second division. Following an impressive stint in Europe, the 27-year-old earned a contract with the Canadian Premier League’s Halifax Wanderers.
“For now, I’m focused on Halifax — the team, the fans and the city. I’m excited for next season,” said Hocine.
With Hamilton, Ontario’s Forge FC taking on York 9, from Ontario’s York Region, in the league’s inaugural game on April 27, all eyes will be on the Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. If Clanachan’s words are anything to go by, Montrealers might also soon have another team to cheer for.
“Soccer in Montreal is on fire. That’s the way I look at it,” said Clanachan.