The training is over, it’s game time for the Canadian Premier League.
“The team is ready,” Forge F.C. technical director and head coach Bobby Smyrniotis said Wednesday. “We’ve been training a lot over these last few months, we’re just ready to start playing the games.”
The eight-team soccer league begins its sophomore season tonight at UPEI after the circuit chose Charlottetown to host its 2020 season due to coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic. The squads arrived on Saturday and remain in their bubble at the Delta in downtown when not practising or playing.
Due to the pandemic, the games will be played without spectators in attendance, but all games will be streamed online at OneSoccer.
Forge F.C. from Hamilton, Ont., will meet Cavalry F.C. from Foothills County, Alta., in tonight’s 9 p.m. Atlantic opener. Forge defeated Calvary in last year’s championship final.
“If you want to set the tone, you put your two big dogs out in the fight first,” Cavalry F.C. head coach and general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said. “We had some great games with them, and I think it’s always a good chess match and we want to now make sure we have bragging rights after the first game.”
Smyrniotis was asked if his team would be the favourites as the reigning champs. He said he’d leave the prognosticating to the media and pundits.
“2020 is a different season,” he said. “We know that everyone is ready to go. Everyone is starting for zero in this event.”
Last year’s final was played on Nov. 2. Teams began training camp before the pandemic struck then halted everything. They returned to training in smaller groups and then added more players as were allowed under provincial health regulations.
“It was like training for a boxing match, but you were shadow boxing and not sparring. And then when we were allowed contact and had a date in mind, we had a fight date and we had a countdown to the clock and it just became real,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “As soon as we got the announcement it was on, it just inspired the lads.”
Both coaches said their teams are fully fit and are their players are available for opening night.
Teams are jumping right into meaningful game without having any friendly matches to prepare for the season. Wheeldon Jr. isn’t worried.
“These guys are paid professionals and they’re competitors,” he said. “I just look at the team room now where, whether it’s ping pong, cards or backgammon, they’re competing.”
Each team will play the other seven squads in a round robin with the top four advancing and the bottom four going home. The top four teams will play another round robin with the top two teams making the final.
“Rotation is key, but the most important thing is putting points on the board,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “Put points on the board early and it’ll afford you the chance to make some rotation.”