Euphoria may soon give way to growing pains but an entertaining 1-1 draw between Hamilton Forge FC and York9 in front of a boisterous crowd opened eyes to the possibilities of what a long-awaited domestic professional league could hold.
“It’s an exciting day for soccer fans: The Canadian Premier League kicks off today. Good luck to @York9FC & @ForgeFCHamilton in the first-ever @CPLsoccer match,” tweeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
If nothing else, the inaugural contest had the veneer of a professional product attracting a rowdy crowd of 17,611 and some enthusiastic attacking play that CPL commissioner David Clanachan described as distinctly “Canadian”.
“I don’t see a lot of guys diving and rolling around they are playing the way you would expect Canadians to play a sport,” said Clanachan.
“We’ve been very clear we want a game that is free flowing, hard, fast, fair, no diving because I consider that cheating.”
While the opener offered plenty of potential, there were signs of the hard work that lies ahead for the modest seven team league.
The Forge and York9 did not come close to filling the 24,000-seat Tim Hortons Field, despite free admission.
Also, while the game was being broadcast nationally by the CBC it faced stiff competition from the English Premier League and Major League Soccer with Toronto FC hosting Portland Timbers just down the road.
Perhaps the most significant spectator in attendance was John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team.
Canada has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986 and a thriving domestic league has long been identified as the missing link that would connect the north American nation to a return to the global showcase.
What Herdman saw was two Canadians account for all of the scoring, Ryan Telfer recording the historic first goal for the York9 in the third minute and Kadell Thomas curling in the equaliser for the Forge in the 77th minute.
“We said one of the key things we are going to do is develop Canadian players, so the league today is just shy of 70 percent are Canadians,” said Clanachan.
“We know what we are here for. We are here to play our part and help develop the game…
“We promised Canadians we would do that and frankly Canadians are going to hold us accountable for that and they should.”