JENKINS: Canadian Premier League players nearing big moves
Lukas MacNaughton made the biggest splash this offseason, signing with Toronto FC. He came into the Pacific fold via the University of Toronto and was a diamond in the rough. He was one of the best defenders in the league, and clearly, the Reds liked what they saw. In January, MacNaughton joined Joel Waterman as the second Canadian centre-back to earn a Major League Soccer contract.
His former teammate, Kadin Chung, is currently in preseason camp with MacNaughton, hoping to turn his trial into a permanent move as well. Then you have the likes of Mo Farsi who made the move to Columbus Crew 2 in MLS NEXT Pro, seeing that as an opportunity for a lengthy audition, with eyes on the first team in 2023. Lastly, you have the curious case of Kwame Awuah. The most consistently entertaining and professional left-back over three campaigns in Hamilton. The Forge alum is currently unattached after a trial with the Whitecaps, but if an MLS side isn't ready to put pen to paper on Awuah's signature, don't be surprised to see him give MLS NEXT Pro a shot as well.
Here are five more players who could be on the move next season if they continue their development in 2022.
Diyaeddine Abzi | York United
Diyaeddine Abzi might be the favourite to take another step. It's somewhat surprising it hasn't happened yet. He's the complete package. Size, speed, footwork, vision, and a knack for scoring in the biggest moments. He's a young man with all the potential in the world, and he refines his game with each passing matchday.
His biggest hindrance heading into 2022 is that he's no longer a well-kept secret, allowing opposition scouts to game model around his tendencies and strengths. Things continue to trend upwards for the Nine Stripes, and a deep run in the Canadian Championship, a result against a Canadian MLS side might just prompt the few who haven't already taken notice to pay more attention.
GOAL 👑— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 6, 2021
Diyaeddine Abzi steamrolls his way to a 1-0 lead over @ForgeFCHamilton for @YorkUtdFC... and gives his team one foot into the #CanPL playoff door!
🔴 https://t.co/hishXepRT3 pic.twitter.com/pgzzEfV2Uu
Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson | Forge
Wednesday night in Hamilton, Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson was up against his toughest opponent in his career to date. Forge were playing in their first match of the season against a 6-time Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League winner in Cruz Azul, with five Clausura matches under their belt, and the steady Swede was the best player on the park. The man could seemingly run forever and hardly put a foot wrong. His late empty-the-tanks close down in the second half to prevent La Máquina from tallying a second away goal could turn out to be a historic play should the Hammers do the improbable next week at Mexico City's Azteca.
The 25-year-old is another player with a 360° arsenal and can never be left alone on set pieces, where he can use a burst of speed and his remarkable strength to get involved offensively. This will be the Swedish midfielder's fourth season under Bobby Smyrniotis, and it could be his last if he delivers.
William Akio | Valour
I'll admit, I see more potential in William Akio than some other pundits after his rookie season. Full disclosure, I had the 23-year-old as my 15th-place vote in the CPL50, while the consensus had down him at No. 43. That's how highly I rate the young man. The newly-minted South Sudanese international has everything you could want in a footballer. He's worked hard to develop his body into an imposing force, he has pace, a nose for goal, and a personality that can endear him to coaches and supporters alike.
The key for Akio will be building on an impressive 2021 season. His side will improve as it returns to full health, but scouts outside of the league will want to see him take another step forward. William himself wants to "break all the records" this year and go for the Golden Boot. If he accomplishes half of what he wants he may depart after just two seasons in the CPL.
GOAL 🎖@ValourFootball strike first, going 1-0 up over @HFXWanderersFC by way of a William Akio shot that JUST crossed the line 👀— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 27, 2021
It's Akio's 6th of the season!
WATCH #CanPL | (FREE on YouTube) 🔴https://t.co/SPlsMD31XS pic.twitter.com/sOUzrwKT8Y
Manuel Aparicio | Pacific
Manny Aparicio has seen a lot in his professional career. When he steps onto the field for his first match in 2022 (against Forge... thanks schedule-makers) he will do so as a champion. The Argentine-born, Canadian-raised midfielder is one of the more understated stars in the country. He's electric from the set-piece, his comprehension and footballing IQ is among the best in the CPL. He has tendencies to play with a fiery streak, but more often than not that's chanelled into his skill rather than emotion.
His technical proficiency is impressive and we've seen the 26-year-old appear on highlight reels across North America from open play as well as wall-bending goals. Aparicio's an electrifying talent who has performed for two different sides while becoming a fan-favourite in two cities. Under former Pacific coach Pa-Modou Kah his matches started dropped, but with James Merriman taking over and understanding his calibre, the opportunity for more minutes and more attention is a genuine possibility. One more scintillating season should offer, at the very minimum, a trial next season.
Marco Bustos | Pacific
There are typically two trains of thoughts on Marco Bustos. There are those (mainly who don't root for Pacific) who find his status as one of the poster boys of the league to be excessive, and there is a camp that still can't forecast his ceiling. He's still only 25 years of age, but in the footballing world, his timeline to progress is beginning to shorten.
When healthy, he's an MVP-calibre player. He has experience playing in a variety of countries, and from an international perspective, there are two nations that would like to bring him into the fold. But an ill-timed knee injury cut short his quest to be the league's most outstanding player and his chase of the Golden Boot. He had circled BMO Field as the date to be ready for, knowing the attention a Canadian Championship semifinal would provide. But the injury bug wasn't finished, as an accidental landing from Richie Laryea would re-aggravate the same knee and would sideline him for the rest of the season.
ICYMI ✨— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 5, 2021
Marco Bustos played HERO once again for @PacificFCCPL last night, as his 10-man @PacificFCCPL battled back to come from behind and defeat @ValourFootball 2-1 at Starlight Stadium
FULL HIGHLIGHTS 🎥https://t.co/rbB3McNhq3 pic.twitter.com/32iXxgl2zF
Despite that, until Pacific announced on Valentine's Day that he would be returning, the idea of a move on from the CPL wasn't ruled out. It's not a high-risk play for teams, save for the transfer fee it would command. Marco knows his worth and has more self-belief and determination than just about anyone else I've watched. Another big opportunity for Pacific this season is their Concacaf League debut which will expose many Islanders to Central American and Caribbean sides. They will begin their quest to repeat as champions in April with the opportunity to lift three trophies. Success is expected at Starlight Stadium, though it may lead to more players departing the club by the time 2024 rolls around.
The most exciting thing about putting these lists together is struggling with who do you leave out of the five chosen players. It reinforces the amount of quality that exists in the CPL. Amer Didic could easily make this list, and he has a shot to bolster his resume with a contender for the first time. Joao Morelli just won league MVP and took home the golden boot. Then, of course, there's Daniel Krutzen. The steady Forge force is still recovering from a significant knee injury in the twilight of 2022, but when he's healthy, there may be nobody more poised and effective on the ball.
Does another international like Moses Dyer have a breakthrough campaign? He flourished under Phillip Dos Santos in the home stretch last year. Chasing the Golden Boot could propel him to bigger and better things. Lastly, there are a handful of promising young prospects based at York Lions Stadium and nobody would be surprised to see a Max Ferrari, Isaiah Johnston, or Cédric Toussaint amongst other teammates move on.