The Canadian Premier League’s third season (second full season) is in the books after Pacific FC dethroned double champs Forge FC in the final on a blustery Sunday afternoon. With the CPL’s primary objective being the development of young Canadian talent while providing the players a competitive environment to test their skills this would be an ideal time to reflect on who is ready to make the jump to a higher level. In particular let us look at players that Toronto FC, who is slated for some significant roster changes this winter, should target from the CPL.
With the exception of Joel Waterman’s move from Cavalry FC to FC Montreal after the 2019 season the move of players graduating from CPL to MLS just has not materialized. It is too early to determine how many players are capable of making the jump from CPL to MLS. There is insufficient data to gauge how the CPL as a pipeline to MLS will pan out. An important caveat to take into account is that any of player movement from CPL to MLS may not necessarily imply that they jump into a starting role. In most circumstances, it is more likely that an MLS team picking up a CPL player will be seeking depth options.
Another important development announced this week is the announcement by MLS of the creation of a new MLS controlled development league (MLS Next Pro) in 2022. It appears that the aim of this new venture to provide MLS teams with a competitive structure for their reserve teams much like other North American sports are organized with minor league affiliates. TFC is one of 20 MLS teams that will contribute a team to this new venture next season. Indications are that MLS Next Pro is to be a step up from a traditional academy team structure and will bridge the gap between the academy and the first team. As such this may be ideal for a next step for CPL players looking for another pathway to MLS.
Toronto FC’s roster will have a significant makeover this winter in preparation for next season. Upgrades and additions are needed all over the pitch. With the players expected to carryover to 2022 one can see that areas of particular concern are at the back line and at striker. It remains to be seen if Bob Bradley attempts to bring in several major pieces over the winter to transform the team into an immediate contender or whether a more measured and patient approach will be taken.
Being bold includes taking a good look at what the CPL has to offer. While TFC definitely needs some major pieces now, particularly at centre-back, the teams needs to replenish its depth throughout the lineup. Finding some of these depth players could be as close as TFC’s back yard with several Canadian Premier League players that appear ready to take the next step up to MLS, or in some cases, a return to MLS. It is important to note that this is not an exercise in trying to select a CPL best XI or all-star team. The CPL players listed below are those that could find a role or add needed depth to a rebuilding TFC next season. Only Canadian players were selected as TFC will most likely fill out its limited international roster spots with players beyond the pedigree of internationals plying their trade in the CPL.
Amer Đidić—CB | Edmonton FC | Age 27 | 193 cm | 3 goals 1 assist
At age 27 when the 2022 season commences Amer Đidić is one of the older players for TFC to target. However, it’s not uncommon for centre-backs to hit their peak later than other positions. At 193 cm Đidić is good in the air and makes an inviting target on set pieces as his 3 goals scored off corner kicks this past year attest. A one-time MLS player on Sporting KC just a few years ago Đidić has benefited from having a consistent run of games with Edmonton FC these past three years. He is not too far off John Herdman’s radar either as his participation in both the 2020 and 2021 editions of the so called Camp Poutine show. It is possible Đidić could develop for TFC in a similar manner as Joel Waterman did for CF Montreal.
Garven Metusala—CB | Forge FC | Age 22 | 186 cm | 2 goals
This young Forge FC defender had a fine rookie season and earned the confidence of his manager Bobby Smyrniotis. A versatile defender, who also provided cover at right-back, Metusala may be a valuable prospect who could play in TFC’s new MLS Next Pro set up should he not be ready for MLS next season. Blessed with the ability to pass out from the back while holding firm in his defensive responsibilities, Metusala has flown under the radar playing on a strong Forge FC team. Born in Quebec Metusala has received recent overtures from the Haitian Football Federation.
Dominick Zator—CB | York United | Age 27 | 188 cm | 1 goal
A steady central defender with both Cavalry FC in 2019 and 2020, and York United last year, Dominick Zator may be most useful as a depth piece for TFC. With the departures of Omar Gonzalez, Eriq Zavaleta, Rocco Romeo, and Julian Dunn, TFC is seriously short of options at CB.
Diyaeddine Abzi—LB | York United | Age 23 | 183 cm | 6 goals 3 assists
If anyone were to be a perfect fit to join TFC this winter it would be LB Diyaeddine Abzi. With the retirement of Justin Morrow and the uncertainty whether Richie Laryea will return next season, TFC is thin at LB with just Kemar Lawrence as the likely option to start the season. Steady in the defensive zone, Abzi loves to move forward to join the attack and has occasionally set up playing as a wing-back or out-and-out winger. His production was outstanding for a LB this past season scoring 6 goals and 3 assists, including a pair from set pieces. This past spring saw Abzi selected for Canada’s unsuccessful Olympic qualifying team.
Kwame Awuah—LB | Forge FC | Age 27 | 173 cm | 1 goal 3 assists
Should Abzi not be available then Kwame Awuha would also make a terrific choice to provide cover at left back. Awuha, who has some MLS experience a few years back with New York City FC was a workhorse with Forge FC this past season. Solid in defense, Awuah loves to push up and contribute to the team’s offensive forays. He may be worth a second look at the MLS level.
Mohammed Farsi—RB | Cavalry FC | Age 22 | 180 cm | 2 goals 5 assists
Selected as the best under-21 player of the year for 2020, and after three years of outstanding play for Cavalry FC, Mo Farsi has announced his intention to leave the club for new opportunities at the conclusion of the 2021 season. Rumours have swirled about interest from US-based MLS teams and interest from Europe. TFC would do well to bring him into the fold for next year. Much the same situation as at LB, TFC is potentially short on options at RB too should Richie Laryea move on. Only Auro Jr is certain to be back for 2022. His style of play is not too dissimilar to Diyaeddine Abzi in that Farsi loves to join the attack. Also like Abzi, Farsi was selected to Canada’s Olympic qualifying team this past spring.
Kadin Chung—RB | Pacific FC | Age 23 | 175 cm | 1 goal 2 assists
Should TFC not succeed in landing Mo Farsi then Kadin Chung would be another player capable of providing depth at RB for Auro Jr should Richie Laryea no longer be available.
While TFC has a hot right-back prospect at TFC II in Kobe Franklin, the latter is just 18 years of age and would be better served by another year of seasoning with TFC II playing on Toronto’s MLS Next Pro team. Joining a rebuilding TFC and likely spending more time stapled to the bench than getting minutes would be regressive and is less than ideal for Franklin’s development.
Woobens Pacius—CF | Forge FC | Age 20 | 185 cm | 8 goals 2 assists
Another young Forge FC star on the rise, striker Woobens Pacius had a terrific rookie campaign playing on a team with an abundance of offensive talent. Only 20 years of age Pacius’ ceiling is high. Terrific in the air or with the ball at his feet Pacius makes an inviting target. With TFC moving on from Patrick Mullins, and the likelihood that Jozy Altidore, Dom Dwyer and even Ayo Akinola might also be moving on it is imperative that TFC replenish its stocks at striker. Pacius appears ready to step in immediately and compete for some minutes, especially off the bench. It is unlikely TFC would be expecting much more from Pacius in the near term as Bradley and Manning are undoubtedly casting a wide net looking for an experienced striker or two from Europe or South America that can make an immediate impact. Current rumours mention Lorenzo Insigne from Serie A’s Napoli as a strong candidate to come to TFC.
Lowell Wright—CF | York United | Age 18 | 183 cm | 6 goals 3 assists
Much like Pacius, Lowell Wright has all the makings of a future standout as a striker. At just 18 years of age Wright may be more of a work in progress still, although his solid frame might remind one of Ayo Akinola two years ago. Even if Wright does not see the first team on a regular basis he may be well served by getting consistent minutes with TFC’s new MLS Next Pro team.
Tristan Borges—AM | Forge FC | Age 23 | 170 cm | 3 goals 6 assists
The MVP in the CPL’s inaugural year 2019 Tristan Borges returned to Hamilton on loan from Dutch side OH Leuven in 2021. While not as impressive statistically in 2021 compared to 2019 Borges is one of the best play-making midfielders in the CPL. His inclusion on this list is solely based on the possibility that TFC home town legend Jonathan Osorio might make a move abroad this off-season. Borges may fill the void left by Osorio for TFC while the likes of Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Noble Okello and Jayden Nelson continue their development. Should Osorio remain with TFC, as appears likely, then TFC would have little need to seek out Borges.
The CPL should be viewed by TFC as another reservoir of young talent, especially for providing depth to the club. In particular, acquiring a pair of CPL fullbacks at a roster friendly home discount will free up cash to spend on experienced international centre-backs and strikers. The roster makeover by TFC has only just begun and Bob Bradley has his work cut out to bring the club back to competitiveness and respectability. As he stated so succinctly when introduced as TFC’s new head coach and sporting director, “There’s a lot of work to be done.”