The Canadian Premier League was born out of a desperate need for Canadian soccer to develop its players and give them career opportunities that they might not otherwise receive elsewhere. So far, it’s been a huge success.
Loads of Canadian prospects have cut their teeth during the league’s first two seasons and made big names for themselves at their clubs, while others (including former league MVP Tristan Borges of Forge FC) have gone on to bigger and better things thanks in large part to the platform granted to them by the CPL.
The lifeblood of any sports league is it young players. With this in mind, we wanted to put the spotlight on the CPL’s best youngsters from this past summer’s Island Games in PEI.
CanPL.ca assembled a special panel of soccer pundits from across the country to submit their lists of the best under-23 players in the Canadian Premier League, based on their form during the 2020 campaign and their future potential. The other criteria was that players had to be 23 years or younger at the start of this season.
Once all the ballots were in, we tabulated the votes and came up with one cumulative list of the CPL’s best under-23 players.
Pacific FC’s centre-back played every single minute at The Island Games.
“TMG,” as he’s known, was a late addition to Pacific, signing as a free agent after his previous club, the Ottawa Fury, folded in 2019. A dynamic defender, Meilleur-Giguère combined well with fellow youngster Lukas MacNaughton as a mobile, physically-imposing defensive duo. He won possession 54 times, more than any other defender at The Island Games, and ranked second in interceptions with 25 in 10 matches.
The 23-year-old from Repentigny, Que., is a product of the Montreal Impact Academy and has represented Canada at the under-20 level 12 times. He’s widely expected to start for Canada in Olympic Games qualifying in 2021.
12. Matthew Baldisimo, Pacific FC
Pacific FC’s quiet midfield operator has excelled for the Tridents for two seasons running. The former Whitecaps FC 2 player solidified himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in the CPL in 2020. Baldisimo, 22, finished in the top 80 per cent in every defensive category, according to SportLogiq, with a staggering 5.47 tackles per 90 minutes, which was tops among midfielders.
The Burnaby, B.C. native smashed the sophomore slump after an impressive 22 appearances in 2019 as part of PFC’s young core.
“I could’ve had a way better season. I know the quality that I have – I can do a lot more than what I did in the tournament,” Baldisimo admitted. “I feel like if we had a longer season I would have been able to show more of what I was capable of.”
11. Alex Marshall, HFX Wanderers FC
HFX Wanderers winger Alex Marshall nearly didn’t make it into Canada in time for The Island Games, getting approval to leave his native Jamaica only at the last minute. It’s a good thing he arrived for the Wanderers, as he went on to collect three assists in 11 appearances for his new club.
The 23-year-old created more big chances (0.31) and completed more passes in the final third (10.03) per 90 minutes than any other Wanderer, spearheading attacks on either wing.
His inch-perfect assist to Akeem Garcia against Forge FC made quite the first impression, earning him a Fan Awards nomination for Assist of the Year, as seen above.
While Forge FC’s Belgian replacement for Tristan Borges didn’t set the world alight, Paolo Sabak made a credible impact for the Hamiltonians across 11 appearances and 752 minutes in PEI, notching three assists and one goal from a penalty.
The 21-year-old Genk product was great in tight spaces, making more pressured passes per 90 minutes (26.83) than any other CPL attacker, according to SportLogiq.
SportLogiq also put Sabak in the top 80 per cent of CPL attackers in relief receptions, line-breaking passes, and key passes per 90 minutes, showing his impact was much deeper than goalscoring and assist totals.
Chrisnovic earned the nomination as a standout on both sides of the ball for HFX Wanderers, playing a key role in the team reaching the 2020 CPL Finals. He won the second-most 1v1s among defenders in the league and finished third in the CPL in successful tackles (16), third in successful duels (59), and fourth in interceptions (17).
N’sa played in nine of HFX’s 11 matches in PEI and 21 times in the Wanderers’ first season, distinguishing himself by playing across all positions in defence, as well as in central midfield.
His stature as a young player was not lost on CPL minds as he earned a high-profile move to York United and was highlighted in CPL’s “Next Gen” series.
Here’s the list of the voters in CanPL.ca’s Top 23 Under 23 in the CPL series:
John Molinaro (CanPL.ca), Marty Thompson (CanPL.ca), Charlie O’Connor-Clarke (CanPL.ca)
Andi Petrillo (OneSoccer), Oliver Platt (OneSoccer), Gareth Wheeler (OneSoccer), Adam Jenkins (OneSoccer), Armen Bedakian (OneSoccer)
Joshua Kloke (The Athletic)
Carmelina Moscato (CPL)
James Grossi (CanPL.ca contributor), Sandra Prusina (CanPL.ca contributor), Steve Sandor (CanPL.ca contributor), Jonathan Briggins (CanPL.ca contributor), Martin Bauman (CanPL.ca contributor), Ryan Brandt (CanPL.ca contributor)