1 NEW STAR to watch from each CPL club in 2023 season
With the new season set to kick off, with that brings some new faces.
Much like on the first day of a new school year, there will be some new haircuts, new outfits and most importantly, some new players on the field when the Canadian Premier League kicks off this week.
As the league gets set for its fifth season, the quality of the players has only continued to improve year after year, fuelled by some big acquisitions, both from within and outside the league.
Therefore, ahead of the start of this new campaign, here’s a look at one new name from each team that you’ll want to keep an eye on, as they look to fuel their sides to glory in 2023.
Atlético Ottawa: Gianni Dos Santos
Stop if you’ve heard this sentence before - a former Pacific FC player who won the North Star Shield in 2021 is heading to Atlético Ottawa in search of a bigger role.
Of course, many will immediately think of Ollie Bassett, who won the CPL’s Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year trophies last year at Ottawa after coming over from Pacific, but it also applies to one of the team’s new signings from this offseason - Gianni Dos Santos.
And with the Cape Verde international, Ottawa are looking to strike similar gold to when they signed Bassett, as Dos Santos has similar untapped potential to be unearthed.
Having scored five goals and added five assists in two seasons with the club, Dos Santos’s numbers are much more impressive when you realize that they came in just over 1500 minutes, which is slightly less than a full season’s worth.
Safe to say, despite being a rotational piece in a crowded Pacific front line, Dos Santos did pretty well to shine when he did get minutes, making him an intriguing addition to an Ottawa team that just happens to have a Ballou Tabla-sized hole to fill in their attack.
In the mercurial Dos Santos, who can unleash rockets with both feet, and is great at taking on players in tight spaces, they have someone who can step up and help them with that, making him a player to watch for 2023.
Cavalry FC: Callum Montgomery
Needing to replace youngster Karifa Yao at centre back after he spent the 2021 and 2022 seasons on loan in the CPL, Cavalry went out and bolstered their ranks by signing 25-year-old Canadian Callum Montgomery, who comes to the CPL with a lot of experience under his belt.
Having played more than 50 games at the professional level, including 26 in the USL Championship and 20 in USL League 1, Montgomery will be a key piece on this Cavalry team, one that has lost a lot of veteran experience at the back with the retirement of Mason Trafford.
Plus, despite all of that experience, Montgomery is still very young for a centre back, meaning that he still has plenty of room to grow as a player and a leader. A left-footer, he’s pretty solid on the ball, averaging over 86% passing completion in his USL Championship career, while also being quite good in the air and in the opposing box.
Not only that, but after spending several years in the FC Dallas and Minnesota United systems, yet with no MLS appearances to show for his name, he also comes to the CPL hungry, too, as he looks to prove that he could potentially make that jump up to another level after a good stint in the league. Therefore, look for him to come out like a player with a point to prove right from day one, making him a key addition to that Cavalry defence.
Forge FC: Manjrekar James
Having lost one of the best centre backs in the league in Daniel Krutzen, Forge did not mess around when it came to anointing his replacement, signing Canadian international, Manjrekar James.
Just 29 years of age, James comes to the league at a perfect time, too, as while Forge has a history of signing Canadian internationals at centre back, such as David Edgar and Dejan Jaković, they came towards the end of their distinguished careers.
That’s not the case for James, who is still very much in his prime, just in need of a restart. Having been on quite the rollercoaster the past few years, going from playing UEFA Champions League games against Atalanta for Midtjylland in 2020 to going to Greece, then back to the Danish relegation zone, and then Ukraine, he heads to Forge in chase of some stability.
And in the defending champions, who are bringing back pretty much the entirety of their title-winning team as they chase their fourth North Star Shield in five years, James should find that. Decent on the ball, and solid in the air, with good speed, he should fit seamlessly into Forge’s aggressive system, helping them in that quest.
Halifax Wanderers: Yann Fillion
On a young team, sometimes it’s key to have some experience in goal.
So having refreshed their squad significantly over the past year, the Wanderers took that advice to heart this offseason, signing 27-year-old goalkeeper, Yann Fillion, to be their #1 after the departure of Christian Oxner and Kieran Baskett in goal.
An experienced goalkeeper, Fillion arrives at the club eager to help a young Halifax defence, having played nearly 100 games across Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Switzerland, including stints at clubs like FC Zürich, IFK Mariehamn and Toronto FC.
Therefore, on a team that struggled defensively last year, conceding the second-most goals in the league with 38, look for Fillion to step up key. A big presence at nearly 6’4”, he’ll look to provide a bit more of a presence in the box for this team, helping shepherd a young but talented defence to what they’ll hope are better numbers than last year.
Pacific FC: Easton Ongaro
After selling forward Alejandro Díaz halfway through last year, a move that sunk Pacific’s offence en route to a failed North Star Shield defence, the goal was clear this offseason - find someone who can lead the line for them as a #9.
Safe to say they’ve found their guy in Easton Ongaro, as the 24-year-old arrives on the west coast eager to score goals after a topsy-turvy 2022 that saw him start the year with Romanian club UTA Arad, and finish with the Vancouver Whitecaps' second team.
After one goal at Arad and three goals with the Whitecaps' second team, Ongaro is looking to pick up where he left off the last time he was in the CPL, where he scored 25 goals across three seasons with FC Edmonton.
Despite being on an Edmonton team that struggled to create goals, Ongaro had a knack for creating chances for himself, so it’ll be exciting to see what he can do on a Pacific team that is expected to provide plenty for him.
A unique player who can score with both his feet and head despite his 6’7” frame, which makes him a handful to defend, he should be a huge addition to the Pacific attack, both in terms of his ability to get on the end of chances, as well as open up space for others to thrive given the attention he can attract from defenders.
Valour FC: Pacifique Niyongabire
Having lost a majority of their attacking pieces from 2022, Valour are turning to some new faces to help them score their goals in 2023, with Pacifique Niyongabire leading the charge in that regard.
A 23-year-old Burundi international, Niyongabire comes to the CPL after a stint in the A-League with the Perth Glory and Adelaide United, where he racked up one goal and five assists across 39 league games for both clubs.
In particular, he’ll look to be a creative hub that can potentially replace the departed 2022 U21 Player of the Year Sean Rea and his nine assists, as Niyongabire excels at running at defenders and trying to get into the box, where he looks to find teammates with crosses, while also generating a few looks of his own.
It will be a tall ask, but the A-League is a strong circuit, so there’s reason to believe that Niyongabire can hit the ground running, leaving his stamp to the Valour attack.
Vancouver FC: Callum Irving, Gael Sandoval, Maël Henry, Kadin Chung
Of course, as the new kids on the block as the CPL’s latest expansion side, Vancouver FC’s entire roster is new, as they get set to kick off their first season of action.
Therefore, it felt wrong to just highlight one player, as there’s quite an assortment of players for new head coach Ashfin Ghotbi to turn to as he looks to form this team into a unit that can surprise in year one.
For example, in goal, Callum Irving is a huge coup, as he brings North Star Shield-winning experience from his time with Vancouver’s provincial rivals, Pacific, where Irving had 22 clean sheets in 69 appearances in all competitions across three years.
Then, at full back, Kadin Chung is a nice addition, as he returns to the CPL after an unsuccessful stint with Toronto FC, where he played just over 500 minutes across nine appearances with their first team last year, spending a lot of time with their second team.
Also a fellow CPL champion with Irving from that same Pacific team, with whom he logged 63 games across three seasons, he brings plenty of experience to the table, yet at just 24, is eager to prove that he can still make that jump to that level despite his TFC misadventures.
Meanwhile, up the field, Gael Sandoval is a statement signing for Pacific, as he arrives to the CPL in the prime of his career at 27, despite having over 200 games of experience in Liga MX and the A-League. With 13 career goals and 19 assists in those competitions, while holding a Concacaf Champions League winner’s medal, he’s one of the biggest signings in league history, and certainly has the pedigree to carry Vancouver FC places if he plays up to his level, which is exciting to imagine.
Lastly, that leaves a bit of a wildcard as a last new name to watch, and that’s 18-year-old Maël Henry, who arrives at the club looking to make his professional debut after falling through the cracks at CF Montréal.
Having trialled with Ligue 1 side FC Lorient this offseason, and with five appearances with Canada’s U20 team under his belt, Henry is an exciting midfield prospect, one who is very strong on the ball and creative in attack, which should make him a young player to watch as he helps Vancouver meet their U21 Canadian minutes quota in year one.
York United: Clément Bayiha
After a first taste of Europe, Clément Bayiha returns to Canada in search of a fresh start after a topsy-turvy stint with Norwegian top flight side, HamKam.
Having picked up less than 300 minutes across nine appearances, Bayiha will be eager just to play, as despite having played 43 games in his career with HamKam and CF Montréal, he’s got just 1600 minutes under his belt.
And at York, he should get that. Eager for a Diyaeddine Abzi replacement, Bayiha can be that sort of player, as he’s a dynamic wide threat, one who can get up the field and whip crosses into the box, while also providing a good defence presence, allowing him to slot in as a winger, wide midfielder, wing back or full back.
Therefore, while it’s unsure where he’ll fit in on this York side, look for him to get back to what he showed back in the day for CF Montréal, where he was a youngster that burst onto the scene thanks to that ability to dribble and create chances for his teammates, even if he has just one career assist to show for it.
- - CPL is BACK
- - Gael Sandoval
- - Kadin Chung
- - Callum Irving
- - Mael Henry
- - Easton Ongaro
- - Manny Aparicio
- - Callum Montgomery
- - Ali Musse
- - Andrew Jean-Baptiste
- - Pacifique Niyongabire
- - Manjrekar James
- - Alessandro Hojabrpour
- - Mo Babouli
- - Clement Bayiha
- - Oli Bassett
- - Gianni Dos Santos
- - Andre Rampersad
- - Yann Fillion
- - CPL kicks off this weekend