The Canadian Premier League announced on Thursday the full format of the 2021 CPL season, revealing how the next North Star Shield champion will be decided.
The league, in a press conference with commissioner David Clanachan, revealed that each CPL club will play 28 total games in 2021, with a single-table format running throughout the competition. At the conclusion of the regular season schedule (112 matches in total), the top four teams in the standings will progress to a playoff round to decide the CPL champion — the first-place side will host the fourth, and the second-place team will host the third in single-knockout semi-final games, with the two winners meeting in a one-game CPL Final (hosted by the higher-seeded team).
This year’s season will begin this Saturday, June 26, with all eight clubs convening in Winnipeg, Manitoba for The Kickoff, presented by Volkswagen — the CPL’s month-long event in which each team will play eight of their regular season matches at IG Field in a safe environment. Atlético Ottawa and FC Edmonton will open proceedings on Saturday (2 pm ET/1 pm CT, live on OneSoccer).
After the conclusion of The Kickoff on July 24, each CPL team will return to its home market to play out the remainder of the schedule.
In order to minimize travel during the season, the league has ensured that teams will play against teams farther away from them geographically at The Kickoff, before taking on primarily opponents nearer to them after returning home. The CPL revealed that, of the 20 games each club will play after The Kickoff, 16 will be against teams in their region, with four against the more distant sides they will have played in Winnipeg.
“Our focus is to deliver a full season with great competitive play throughout for our players, coaches, fans and supporters and I am pleased to be able to announce that today,” said Clanachan in a statement. “With this format we have made every match competitive and meaningful. By adding a fourth team to the playoff series our clubs will battle to the end to be able to host a semi-final in their market and to be in the lead position so they can host the 2021 Final at home for their fans and supporters.”
The format for the 2021 season differs from the previous two years of the CPL; in 2019, only two sides progressed to a two-legged final round after a schedule split into Spring and Fall campaigns, while the 2020 season (truncated due to the COVID-19 pandemic) took the form of a six-week sprint at the Island Games, with the top four playing a round-robin group stage before the final.
The CPL added that the full schedule for matches after The Kickoff will be revealed soon.