2022 CPL AWARDS: Why each nominee deserves their individual accolade
With the 2022 Canadian Premier League season nearing an end, there's some silverware slated to be awarded very soon.
The biggest prize of all will be earned this Sunday, Oct. 30, as Atletico Ottawa hosts Forge FC in the 2022 CPL Final in the battle for the North Star Shield. But, just before then, the league has a few more trophies to dole out – individual awards of merit, which will be given out during an awards ceremony in Ottawa on Friday evening to recognize those who shone brightest during the season.
Ahead of this ceremony, here's a look at each of the nominees for the seven awards that will be handed out, and a quick reason why each has a chance to walk away victorious
2022 CPL Player of the Year
This award affirms the league's most valuable player, the star footballer whose performances merited the most praise, as voted by CPL head office and select media, including those at OneSoccer.
It's not uncommon to see players change positions. Sometimes, it's out of necessity, due to the availability of certain players. Other times, it can be for tactical reasons.
What's less rare, however, is to see players quickly pick up a new position as if they've been playing it their whole career. Yet, that was no issue for Forge's midfield maestro, Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson, who was turned to as a potential replacement at centre back for the injured Daniel Krutzen at the beginning of the two-time champion's campaign.
There, Achinioti-Jonsson thrived, too, playing over 25 games at the position, helping Forge finish second in the table, with the league's best goals for, goals against and goal difference. All while helping them be strong in possession with his excellent passing, which saw him complete a league-high 2125 passes, he ensured that the two-time champions would not miss the absence of Krutzen, instead helping them find new heights so far this season.
Ever since he arrived on the island back in 2021, Manny Aparicio has been a crucial piece for the Tridents in midfield. That much was evident this season.
Despite dealing with an up-and-down season in terms of availability, as injury and multiple suspensions saw Aparicio play just 17 of Pacific's 28 regular season games, they were at their best when he did play, finishing with a record of 11W-3L-3D (36 PTS) in those games, including a record of 11W-1L-3D (36 PTS) in games where he went at least 70 minutes.
Compared to their play without him, which saw Pacific hold a record of 2W-5L-4D (10 PTS) in those 11 games in which he didn't play, that shows that Aparicio's presence in the lineup was the difference between Pacific looking like a title-contending team and a team well out of the playoff race.
Therefore, while his lack of games played this season might cause some to think twice, by definition of Most Valuable Player, Aparicio certainly proved his value to the team was far better than his already solid two goals and three assists showed.
Any time a team goes from last place to first place as Atletico Ottawa did this season, you can't help but try to focus on the protagonists behind such a shift.
And in this case, that turned out to be one of their offseason signings, Ollie Bassett, who came to Ottawa hungry to hit another level despite a 2022 championship win with Pacific. In the hunt for minutes, he wanted to prove that he could be a star in this league, and he certainly has done that now, putting up an impressive eight goals and two assists in 27 games.
Also third in the league in created chances with 32, that further shows that he did a great job creating for himself and his teammates, while not avoiding the defensive responsibilities that saw his team shine defensively, as proven by the fact that he also was third in the CPL in defensive recoveries with 190.
Therefore, in terms of all-around players in the CPL, there weren't much better than Bassett in 2022, hence his inclusion on this list.
Despite seeing Valour FC fall just short in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time, the play of Sean Rea was not a reason for that. In fact, he was a big reason why Valour made it until the last week before being eliminated.
With a league-record nine assists to go along with five goals, Rea was a creative force for Valour, helping them finish with the third-best offence in the league. And by creative force, it's meant literally, as his league-leading 62 chances created was 28 more than the second-best player, which was Cavalry's Jose Escalante. That's not a typo.
Plus, Rea did all of that while remaining quite involved defensively, helping Valour become a squeaky-clean defensive unit in the latter half of the campaign, which fuelled their late push.
Yet, that just shows how the CF Montreal loanee was able to take a step up in his second year as a pro, as he went from a promising youngster to a top player in the CPL.
Rounding off the list of MVP candidates, there's another member of the only team to be featured twice in the nominees for this award - Ballou Tabla, who is the second representative of the regular season champions, Ottawa.
Yet, that just shows the key role he played for them, scoring six goals and four assists in regular season action, serving as the sort of mercurial offensive difference-maker that can often win games for teams.
Plus, as is important with Ottawa, he got it done on both sides of the ball, too, sitting top five in shots for and top 10 for duels won, signifying his commitment to his team's system.
Therefore, it meant that he was often a key force in games, playing a big role on the team that has so far shocked the league with their memorable 2022 campaign.
Player's Player of the Year
One of the league's new awards, the Player's Player of the Year is just like the Player of the Year, except it's decided by the 150+ CPL players, making for an intriguing vote.
And considering that there are 10 candidates for the award, it's quite interesting to see some of the names listed, showing who is rated highly around the league.
Given the length of this list, however, instead of a short blurb, here's a magical moment from each to remember their 2022 seasons.
GOAL🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 1, 2022
Marco Bustos opens the scoring early with a header in the box to give @Pacificfccpl a 1-0 lead over @FCEdmontonNow in #CanPL action!🍁⚽️#ForTheIsle | #FCEd
TUNE IN | 🟠 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/YqDGfzJvdA
GOAL 👑— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 24, 2022
MO BABOULI ONCE AGAIN! 👀@YorkUtdFC level things as Babouli scores a beauty assisted by Osaze De Rosario, is there a better duo in the #CanPL right now?@ValourFootball will now look to respond!
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/T6Jb7IgB1C
💥 OLIMPICO GOAL 💥— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 19, 2022
KYLE BEKKER with some @ForgeFCHamilton MAGIC, giving his team a 4-0 lead over @FCEdmontonNow directly from the corner kick #CanPL | 👉 https://t.co/hishXepRT3 pic.twitter.com/N9FPNDgChG
GOAL 🔱 🔱🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 16, 2022
Alejandro Díaz scores his third of the night and is now up to ten goals on the season! @PacificFCCPL take their first lead of the night as they are up 3-2 over @yorkutdfc what a match so far!🔥#CanPL | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhxUCE pic.twitter.com/vCo94eMrpx
GOAL 🐎🐎#CanPL 🤝 Bangers. @CPLCavalryFC take the lead again over @ValourFootball 2-1 as Ali Musse scores a screamer!— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 2, 2022
Valour will need to score twice late in the match to save their playoff hopes!
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/jizR7HxjaS
Defender of the Year
For the first time, the CPL will be awarding a 'Defender of the Year' award, as voted by select members of media, including OneSoccer.
Given that he was the only defender named as an MVP nominee, Achinioti-Jonsson is a no-brainer inclusion here. And he's a good shout to win, as Forge's strong defensive record, led by Achinioti-Jonsson's 31 tackles won, 153 recoveries, 52 clearances, 31 interceptions and 153 tackles, with all but clearances being in the top 20 among all CPL players.
In terms of defending, Achinioti-Jonsson did a lot of it, especially when you realize how much his strong passing helped Forge avoid defending even more than they did, which shows why he's up for this award.
His first season since joining Pacific from FC Edmonton, Đidić showed why he's been one of the best defenders in the league since day one (and is arguably one of the reasons this award now exists).
An aerial force, as shown by him winning a league-leading 73 aerial duels, his 100 duels won, 118 recoveries, 125 clearances and 40 interceptions also show his ability to get stuck in other areas. Plus, his possession games remains vastly underrated.
There's a reason why Pacific had the third-best defensive record in the league, as Đidić led a late run that saw them concede just nine goals in their last 12 games, helping them make a push into the postseason.
As far as consistency around the league this year, Dominick Zator has certainly led the way in that regard, as he ended up leading the league in minutes with 2506, which for those keeping track, is all but 14 minutes of action.
In a league with lots of travel, that's pretty impressive, yet shows how key Zator was for York this season. With 29 tackles, 27 blocks, 30 interceptions, 94 clearances, 154 recoveries and 117 duels won, he did a lot of dirty work for York, ensuring that they were able to stay afloat despite a dismal start offensively, before finishing as the hottest team in the CPL over the last six weeks.
So although York missing the playoffs might hurt his cause, Zator certainly ensured that they were as competitive as possible throughout the year, shining as one of the league's best defenders.
The award for top goalkeeper of the year will once again be handed out this season, as voted by select members of media, including OneSoccer.
One of three past winners of this award, Carducci is actually the only player on this entire list that could win an award for the second time, yet that is a reflection of how good of a goalkeeper he's been over his four seasons in the CPL.
This year was no exception. Despite coming off a bout with testicular cancer, he didn't miss a beat for Cavalry, playing 26 games, keeping a league-leading 10 shutouts, while making 228 recoveries, good for 4th in the league.
Plus, although he didn't make as many saves, he made a lot of key ones, and pretty much allowed as many goals as he allowed Expected Goals (xG), allowing 1 goal per 90 minutes while facing 0.91 xG/90, which is never a bad thing at all for a goalkeeper.
After three seasons at York, Ingham was one of the many new faces that went to Ottawa, and he thrived, doing a big job behind the league's second-best defence this season.
Finishing with nine clean sheets, good for third in the league, he also had the third-most recoveries with 238, too. Plus, he was second in the league in goals prevented relative to his xG, only behind Valour's Rayane Yesli, which is quite impressive.
So while he was behind an excellent defence, Ingham proved that he was a crucial part of that success, too, making him a deserved inclusion here.
Three years into his tenure with Pacific, Callum Irving has been one of the league's top shot-stoppers since he first set foot on the Island, and this year was no exception.
As part of Pacific's solid defence, he finished tied with Ingham with nine clean sheets, while leading the league in recoveries with 249. Considering he faced the most xG in the league with 33.82 (at least on a raw basis), that's impressive, showing how busy he was, yet, his standard didn't dip, as he allowed 34 goals.
There's no doubt that he had a big role in Pacific's big push to the playoffs, helping them weather a wild summer with his strong play in goal.
Gone, but certainly not forgotten, is former Pacific FC striker Alejandro 'Wero' Diaz, whose 13 goals in just 18 games ended up being the best of the bunch in the CPL, capping off a memorable season for the striker even despite his early departure. Along with three assists, there weren't many more dangerous than Diaz, making his departure from Pacific one of the big 'what-if's' of this year.
U-21 Canadian Player of the Year
In a league that places huge emphasis on the development of young talent – even mandating strict minimum minutes requirements as part of its season rulebook – the Under-21 award is, as such, a crowning mark of achievement for both the player, and the competition itself.
Osaze De Rosario
It was quite the debut season for Osaze De Rosario with York, as despite being on a York team that faced its fair share of ups and downs, the 21-year-old finished with 12 goals and four assists.
In fact, that means he was involved in 51% of York's 31 goals, which is quite remarkable, but just shows how solid he was no matter the circumstances his team was going through.
With a strong killer instinct, and the versatility to play across the front line, expect De Rosario to torment goalkeepers for years to come, no matter at what level that ends up being.
Speaking of young Canadian strikers in their first full season in the league, that exact description also fits Forge's Woobens Pacius, although unlike De Rosario, Pacius did have a half-season of action from the year prior on his resume.
And that half-season seemed to help, as he then used it to take a big leap forward this year, too, nabbing 10 goals and one assist, doing well to lead a deep Forge attack in goals. At just 21, he showed why he was so key for Forge in the stretch run of 2021, and has helped them to new heights in 2022, looking like a player ready to take that next step.
Quickly becoming a complete striker, on both sides of the ball, it feels like his career is just getting started, making him one to watch in the CPL.
Anytime you get nominated for both Player of the Year and Player's Player of the Year, that's no small feat, especially if you're still eligible for U-21 player of the year as Sean Rea is.
Therefore, that gives Valour’s five-goal and nine-assist man a huge push here, just showing how bright his future indeed really is, with his best years still to come.
Coach of the Year
The year's top tactician goes beyond the coach that wins the trophy; it's an achievement of overcoming trials, leading a group, and providing the difference in margin that it takes to be a winner every day.
At the beginning of the year, there was no doubt that Carlos Gonzalez had a big test ahead of himself with this Atletico Ottawa project. Having finished last place, and having gone through heavy roster turnover, it put a big burden on the new coach's shoulders to help turn everything around.
Which, to be fair, he did, as evidenced by Ottawa's grand turnaround. By employing a stingy 4-4-2 out of possession, and a modern 3-4-2-1 in possession, Ottawa became a well-drilled unit on both sides of the ball, playing a good mix of the staunch defensive soccer their parent team is known for, with a modern twist in possession.
As a result, they became a force to be reckoned with, no matter if they were at home or on the road, becoming deserved regular season champions, with Gonzalez playing a huge role in that push.
It's never easy to take over for a champion, as Pacific's James Merriman had to do when Pa-Modou Kah left after a memorable 2021 campaign, yet the longtime assistant coach showed no growing pains in adjusting to being the main boss.
By sticking to the sort of principles that won Pacific the title, which is a hard-working 4-2-3-1 in possession, Merriman also put a strong emphasis on team defence, while maintaining the heavy rotation that Kah was well known for.
Through that, they were able to navigate the many obstacles they faced this year, such as fixture congestion, injuries/Suspensions to key players, and selling their top striker in August to still make the playoffs, no small feat in just Merriman's first year behind the bench.
The only coach to play in every CPL final, Bobby Smyrniotis has turned Forge into a well-oiled machine, one that is the envy of a lot of teams in the league.
Therefore, it's no surprise to see the two-time champion on the list, as this might've been his finest regular season yet. They didn't finish first, say, as they did in 2021, but they finished just two points off it, which considering they faced a lot of injuries, forcing them to turn to a lot of younger players this year, that's quite impressive.
Despite the absences, they continued to play the free-flowing, modern soccer that Forge has become known for, putting up some dominant numbers statistically.
Somehow yet to win this award despite being nominated in all four years, this could very well be Smyrniotis's strongest nomination yet, as he and Forge continue to be a standard-bearer for the league to look up to.