BURLINGTON, Canada—The 2021 Canadian Premier League season is approaching, and as a result, rosters for all eight teams are starting to be finalized.
While we don’t know the exact start date of the 2021 season just yet, we do know that the league plans to have a season, and will update us further about their plans for 2021 on May 15.
York United have seemingly completed their roster already, bringing in a number of players from abroad and within the CPL, and look like a very strong team on paper. They’re the first (and so far only, at the time of writing) club to have signed a full 23-man roster for the 2021 season.
As you’ll see in this list, York’s had a very busy offseason.
The 2021 U Sports Draft also took place in January, and while none of those players are on this list, there are some exciting players to look out for. Check out Waking The Red’s recap of that draft here.
The Canadian Premier League’s official website has a brilliant roster tracker if you want to see all of the transfers this offseason, but here are ten (okay fine, technically eleven) of the best.
10 — Daan Klomp and Tom Field to Cavalry FC
After Cavalry FC lost several members of their backline this offseason, they needed to bring in some talent at the back.
Perhaps the most exciting of those additions is 22-year-old Dutch centre-back Daan Klomp.
He joins Cavalry from Dutch second division side NAC Breda. He rose through their academy before playing nine times for the first team in the Eredivisie as they were relegated to the Eerste Divisie. He also spent time on loan at FC Oss and Helmond Sport in the Eerste Divisie before joining Cavalry in January.
There are some big shoes to fill, as he'll be part of a group replacing Dean Northover, Jay Wheeldon and Dominick Zator (who we'll get to in a bit), but Manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr says that Klomp is "one that people have passed up on" in an interview with OneSoccer.
He's definitely one to watch, and will play some big minutes this season.
Another addition to the Cavalry backline, Tom Field has the potential to be one of the league's best left backs in 2021.
Joining from Scottish Championship side Dundee, Field is a product of the Brentford academy. He played 21 times for his boyhood club after signing for the first team in 2017, and spent time on loan with Bradford and Cheltenham before joining Dundee last year. He made a single appearance for them before joining Cavalry in December.
The 23 year old takes the place of Nathan Mavila, another English left back who was impressive in his first two CPL seasons but isn't returning for a third.
If Field can play anywhere close to Championship-standard in the CPL, he’ll be a huge part of whatever success Cavalry has this year.
9 — Chrisnovic N’sa to York United
York United signed one of the best young players in the CPL from 2020 in Chrisnovic N’sa from HFX Wanderers. N’sa, capable of playing in midfield or in the backline, spent the past two seasons with HFX Wanderers, but really broke out in 2020.
The Montreal native was a nominee for the U-21 Canadian Player of the Year Award in 2020, which was ultimately won by Mo Farsi of Cavalry.
He won’t be eligible for the U21 minute quota in 2021, as he turned 22 in January, but signing him was still a no-brainer—something Angus McNab, York United’s CEO / President and GM, said when they signed him in November.
“When Chrisnovic N’sa is available, you do all you can to secure his services,” said McNab in a press release. “I see Chrisnovic at the very top of the list of young Canadians ready to play overseas. We need to give him a platform here and support that ambition as his development is ultimately good for the future of soccer in Canada.”
Only time will tell where Jimmy Brennan plays him, but with Morey Doner going the other way to join HFX, right back seems like a perfect fit for N’sa. He excelled there for the Wanderers in 2020, and his pace and power makes him a perfect full back partner for left back Diyaeddine Abzi. That duo has the potential to be the best in the league.
The day before signing N’sa, York United signed his 17-year-old brother Felix. Like Chrisnovic, Felix can play centre-back, right back or in midfield, adding another impressive young talent to an exciting young roster.
If you think that’s all the big moves involving York United, fasten your seat belt...
8 — Noah Verhoeven to York United
After spending his entire career on the West coast up to this point, Noah Verhoeven is heading to Ontario to join York United.
The Surrey, British Columbia native is a product of the Vancouver Whitecaps academy, and has played for Whitecaps 2 and the USL’s Fresno FC before joining Pacific FC ahead of the inaugural Canadian Premier League campaign in 2019.
He played 30 times in all competitions for The Tridents, 27 times in the CPL, and was one of the first young Canadians to really stand out in the league. He is now a major signing for a new-look York team that suits him perfectly—very young and very talented.
“Right now there’s a lot of good pieces so it’s just about us putting it together as quickly as we can,” he said in a press release announcing his signing. “When any club has a refresh, I think it’s not only exciting for the players but for the fans as well. It’s a fresh start, a clean slate and that’s appealing for any player: to come into an organization where there’s almost a completely new team, though the core has stuck around. It’s appealing because you can go compete and fight for your spot. And you get good results from that.”
Verhoeven was also named to Canada’s provisional roster for the 2020 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship last year, but wasn’t in the squad for the rescheduled tournament in March.
7 — Anthony Novak to Cavalry FC
Cavalry have lost a lot of forwards this offseason—Jordan Brown, Matías Roskopf, Jair Córdova, and Marcus Haber—and needed to bring in some bodies up front to replace them.
They’ve brought in a more-than-capable replacement in 27-year-old CPL veteran Anthony Novak. Moving out west after winning back-to-back North Star Shield trophies with Forge FC, Novak scored nine goals in 35 appearances for The Hammers in all competitions, including eight in 27 CPL appearances.
He’s capable of making goals from almost nothing, such as this half bicycle kick from the opening match of The Island Games, against his new Cavalry teammates.
He’ll be the first player to suit up for both sides of the Forge-Cavalry rivalry, which should make for an entertaining reunion whenever the season gets underway.
6 — Ryan Telfer to Atletico Ottawa
One of the best players in York United’s short history, Ryan Telfer is moving up the 401 for the 2021 season.
Telfer, who scored the first-ever CPL goal and ended up scoring ten goals in 39 appearances for York, immediately becomes one of the best players on an Atletico Ottawa side that we still don’t really know much about.
Ottawa have only played seven matches (at The Island Games) in club history—and made a lot of roster changes in the offseason since then—but what we do know is that Telfer will be a focal point of their attack.
The TFC academy product can play on either wing or up top, and his versatility will be helpful for Ottawa over (hopefully) a full season.
5 — Manny Aparicio to Pacific FC
Leaving York Region in the other direction than Verhoeven is York’s inaugural captain Manny Aparicio.
The 25-year-old midfielder joins Pacific FC on a multi-year contract after two seasons with The Nine Stripes, where he established himself as one of the league’s best midfielders.
There are few better in the league at striking a ball on set pieces, as demonstrated by his two free kick goals at The Island Games, including this one against FC Edmonton:
The Manuel Aparicio free kick, v2— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) September 9, 2020
Aparicio scored four times in 37 games for York in his two seasons there. He was also a local player, having grown up in the area after moving from Buenos Aires.
Another product of the Toronto FC academy, Aparicio spoke about how important playing for a local club like York was for him when he announced his exit.
“Unfortunately, it is time to say goodbye to the team that brought me in and helped me to grow as a player and even more as a person. Saying goodbye is always difficult, especially when it’s a place you call home,” Aparacio said on Twitter.
For 2021 he’ll be with The Tridents, joining the large group of returnees they’ve signed from the 2020 season. Only time will tell if Aparicio is the missing piece of the puzzle out West, but it’s certainly a huge step in the right direction.
4 — Joe Di Chiara to Cavalry FC
After leading York with three goals in six games in PEI last year, Joe Di Chiara moving to Cavalry is another big departure from York United this offseason.
He was a central figure in many games over the past two years with The Nine Stripes, and will be a massive addition to an already impressive Cavalry midfield. Adding him into a group with CPL standouts Nik Ledgerwood, Elliot Simmons, Sergio Camargo and Elijah Adekugbe is nightmare fuel for other CPL clubs.
Adekugbe will miss the 2021 season after suffering an Achilles injury, making this signing even more important for Tommy Wheeldon Jr’s side.
The 29-year-old Di Chiara is among the best passers in the league, and completed 86.3 per cent of his passes at The Island Games, consistent with the numbers he put up in 2019 (88.2 per cent).
He’s also strong defensively, but is prone to giving away fouls—he’s the CPL’s all-time leader in yellow cards with 11 over his two campaigns, including five in six games in PEI.
Di Chiara has signed a multi-year contract with Cavalry, so this could also be a move for the future. Ledgerwood, Cavalry’s captain, is still one of the better midfielders in the league, but has picked up a few injuries over the past two seasons, and recently turned 36. Signing Di Chiara potentially sets up Cavalry nicely for years to come.
3 — Shamit Shome to FC Edmonton
Edmonton native Shamit Shome is returning to his hometown in 2021 after a few years in MLS with CF Montreal.
The 23-year-old midfielder joined the FC Edmonton academy in 2015, and after an impressive year with the University of Alberta that same year, made his first team debut with The Eddies in 2016.
After impressing with them, he signed a Generation Adidas contract with MLS and entered the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, where he was picked up by the Impact. He would play 52 times in all competitions for the Impact, including occupying a big role in their Voyageurs Cup run in 2019, before being released this offseason.
He was rewarded with his first senior national team caps in 2020, playing for Canada in a couple of friendlies last January. Like Verhoeven, Shome was called up to the provisional roster for the 2020 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, but didn’t take part in March’s rescheduled tournament.
He has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the league, and will play a big role for FC Edmonton in 2021.
2 — Dominick Zator to York United
When Cavalry FC announced in January that defender Dominick Zator was leaving the club to explore free agency, a move to Europe seemed inevitable.
Zator was close to moving to the English Championship last year, according to OneSoccer's Oliver Platt, and after another strong season, it's likely that overseas interest remains in the defender.
With that in mind, it was a surprise on February 1 to see that he was joining York United. The Nine Stripes signed Cavalry’s all-time appearance leader to a two-year contract, before sending him on loan to Swedish side Vasalunds IF.
The loan deal runs until the summer, when Zator will return to the CPL for a third season.
He replaces Luca Gasparotto in the York backline, who retired after the 2020 season after playing every single minute in the club's first two seasons at centre-back. That's a big hole to fill, but Zator is one of the best, if not the best, defender in the league.
York's potential 2021 backline, on paper, may now be the best the league has ever seen. Having Diyaeddine Abzi, Roger Thompson, Dominick Zator and Chrisnovic N'sa means York have no glaring holes, especially with one of Nathan Ingham or Niko Giantsopoulos in net behind them.
With another strong campaign, Zator won't be in the CPL for long. By signing him to a multi-year contract, York have set up a great chance to sell him if/when an offer is received.
1 — Tristan Borges to Forge FC
Forge FC made what will go down as the biggest signing of the offseason, and potentially the biggest in the CPL’s short history. After departing the club in January 2020 for OH Leuven, Tristan Borges is back with Forge for the 2021 season, on loan, after being frozen out of the first team in Belgium.
Borges shares the all-time lead for CPL goals with 13, despite only playing in one of the two CPL seasons thus far, and has won pretty much everything you can win in the league. He was sensational for Forge in 2019, scoring the winning goal as his side picked up the inaugural North Star Shield, and winning a number of individual accolades: the Golden Boot, Player of the Year, and U21 Canadian Player of the Year.
If he can recapture the form that saw him dominate many of the games he played in 2019, he’ll be among the league’s best players again, and could help Forge FC three-peat as champions.
You can read more about his return to Hamilton here.
With an update on the 2021 season set to be announced on May 15, teams will be looking to finalize their rosters. With every team having signed at least 16 of the maximum 23 players (at the time of writing), clubs will be looking to find the difference makers and depth that every team requires.
A few teams could use a bit more depth at the back, including Forge FC who will likely be looking to sign a centre-back to replace David Edgar. Tommy Wheeldon Jr has also teased “a couple other strikers” coming in for Cavalry—one of whom was Novak—so teams will be busy over the coming weeks.
Who, or a player from which position, do you want your team to sign? Let us know in the comments!