AGR'S High Press: 1 KEY STAT for each CPL team at mid-season mark + (too early) awards!
The halfway point of the CPL season is finally here.
Some teams hit it quicker than others, but after a pair of midweek games, everyone has now played at least 14 games, meaning they've all reached the halfway point of their respective 2023 CPL regular season campaigns. As of writing, just 12 points separate first and last place, and no one has more than a three-point gap with the team in front of them. Plus, every team is within at least six points of a playoff spot, with just seven points separating second and seventh.
With every team still to play each other two more times (except York and Forge), expect a lot of movement to come, too, which should make for a fun second half of the season.
Not that movement should come as a surprise anymore: Just weeks ago, it seemed like Pacific FC were running away with the league lead, while Vancouver FC were toiling away in last place. Now? Thanks to some losses from the former and wins from the latter, the table has opened right up. That's how quickly things can change ... just like rosters in a summer transfer window. We'll get to that shortly!
In lieu of the usual weekly analysis on 'High Press,' here's a look at one key stat from each CPL team so far this year, as well as an early look at how the award race could shape up.
1 key stat from each CPL team
Pacific FC: 11 different goalscorers
Kicking things off in order of the standings, there’s Pacific, who have been dominant this season.
Given that they lead the league in goals, xG for, and are second in goals against, xG against and in Expected points, it’s been a dominant campaign for the Islanders, making it hard just to pick one stat for them.
Ultimately, however, their scoring depth is what stands out, as they’ve had an astonishing 11 different goalscorers so far this season, which leads the league (although Ottawa is surprisingly close with 10 different scorers).
Not only that, but they’ve had different sources of offence, too, as they’ve had five players score three or more goals, and three players who have scored four or more (no other team has more than one such player).
Goals win games, and Pacific’s varied offence has been a big asset for them this season.
Forge FC: Best expected points
It’s been a strange start to the season for Forge, who have been performing below their usual standard, yet sit in second place (albeit with one extra game played).
Due to a mix of an underperforming attack and a sloppy defensive record (they sit tied third in goals for and tied for sixth in goals against), they’ve been unable to string together results like they usually do, leaving them with a mixed record of 6W-4D-5L through 15 games.
The biggest thing that stands out, however? That they’ve continued to do the right things statistically, sitting second in xG for and first in xG against, which has given them the most Expected Points in the CPL.
What that shows is that their process has actually been solid, but that they need to tighten things up in both boxes, which has hurt them a lot this season.
🚨GOAL @atletiOttawa🔴⚪️— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 25, 2023
What a start to this game from Ottawa!
Gabriel Antinoro scores just 23 seconds into this match against Forge, giving his team a crucial 1-0 lead with his first pro goal💨
Also, they need to get that Forge fear factor back, especially at home. That’s reflected in this bonus stat - they’ve already dropped 12 points in seven games at home this year, after only dropping 14 points across 14 games last year.
Cavalry FC: 12 dropped points from winning positions
After a quiet start, Cavalry’s been a late riser up the CPL standings, boosted by a run of four wins across five games before dropping a 2-0 result to Ottawa this week.
Yet, while Cavalry are sitting in a great spot, just four points off first place, things could be much better for them, as they also dropped 12 points from winning positions in the first half of the season.
The good news? They’ve avoided doing so in their last six games, as those 12 dropped points came in their first eight games, meaning that they’ve tidied things up as of late.
With the title race being so tight, however, they’ll need to maintain that the rest of the way, because if not, those early dropped points could loom large for them by the end of the year.
York United: Striker struggles
It’s been a solid start to the season for York, who sit in a playoff spot despite dealing with all sorts of injuries, especially defensively.
That’s reflected in their defensive record, as they’ve allowed 22 goals, just one fewer than last-place Vancouver.
Where they’ve made up ground, however, is offensively, where they’ve scored a solid 17 goals, which is even more impressive when you realize that just two of those have come from their strikers, Osaze De Rosario and Brian Wright, with De Rosario having scored both.
GOAL 👑👑— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 10, 2023
Osaze De Rosario scores his first goal of the season and it came at the perfect time as it now gives @YorkUtdFC a 2-1 lead over @atletiOttawa late in the match!
We were also treated to the famous Shake ‘n’ Bake celebration! 👀 @dwaynederosario #CanPL | 🔴… pic.twitter.com/meHyqJ491G
Despite scoring a combined 19 goals last year (12 for De Rosario, seven for Wright), they’re on pace for less than four at the moment, led partly by the fact that they’ve missed a combined 15 big chances between them (eight for De Rosario, seven for Wright). Wright’s struggles, in particular, are the biggest surprise - he only missed six big chances all of last season, whereas De Rosario missed 12, making his struggles there less of a surprise.
Because of that, look for York to try and get that pair firing. Sitting with the second-worst goal difference in the CPL, they’ll need them to as they continue to stabilize their defence, or else those missed chances from their #9s will loom large
Halifax Wanderers: An impressive home record
They were the last team in the CPL to win a game this season, but the Wanderers have started to really catch form as of late, climbing to fifth thanks to a run of four wins in their last six games.
The biggest part of their rise? A home-heavy schedule, as all four wins have come at the Wanderers Grounds.
After playing just two of their first eight games at home, where they only picked up one of six possible home points, they’ve now been able to string together a four-game home winning streak since then, which is a first in their history (previously they’d never won more than two in a row at home in CPL play, ever).
That’s huge, as it’s given them a true home-field advantage. Always seen as one of the best atmospheres in the CPL, that they’ve now been able to use that to their advantage is a huge asset, as they can truly turn the Grounds into a fortress.
They’ll have to figure out how to win on the road, of course, sitting as the only team without an away win, but if they keep up their league-high 2.16 points per game at home, they’ll be sitting pretty by the end of the season given that eight of their last 14 games are in Halifax.
Atletico Ottawa: Ollie Bassett is clutch
There’s no doubting Ollie Bassett’s importance to this Ottawa side. Last year’s reigning MVP and Player’s Player of the Year, he helped the team to a regular season title and final appearance in 2022, after the team finished in last place the year prior.
But while he was dominant last season, finishing with eight goals and three assists across 31 games in all competitions, he’s quietly taken another step forward this year, sitting with eight goals and two assists in just 15 games.
Plus, more importantly, he’s continued to be clutch with his goal contributions.
Last year, Ottawa had a record of 6W-3D-0L when he had a goal contribution, while this year it’s a record of 4W-3D-1L, showing that not only is he getting involved offensively, but is helping his team in key moments.
And as they’ve quietly begun to stabilize their defence after a slow start in that area, that’s been key, allowing them to quietly pick up some points as of late.
Because of that, he’s now up to four game-winning goals, and at this rate, should have many more in his locker by the time the season comes to a close if he keeps this up.
Valour FC: Where's the true no. 9?
As the old adage goes, defence wins championships.
But as Valour has learned, a good defence isn’t always enough - you do need some goals to win games and get that far.
Therefore, while they’ll be pleased to sit with a league-low 14 goals conceded through 14 games, they’ll be frustrated that they’ve also scored a league-low 11 goals, two less than the next-best team.
They’ve been a bit unlucky not to score more, as they sit second-last in xG for with 15.92, but that’s partly down to the big factor that has hurt them this season - a lack of a true goalscoring option.
The only team not to have a three-goal goalscorer, they’ve only had two players score twice in league play - midfielder Diego Gutiérrez, and winger Kian Williams. Sitting with just two goals between striking options Anthony Novak, Walter Ponce and Jaime Siaj, they’ll feel that they’ll need more from them in the second half, in particular.
If not, they could end up wasting their solid defensive numbers, led by a fantastic campaign from Rayane Yesli in goal (more on that in a bit), which would be a big shame.
Vancouver FC: Hundal's league-leading involvement
In their expansion season, Vancouver have done well to be competitive, but have also shown their inexperience at times, which has led them to sit in last place.
The good news is that they remain in the race, and have tightened things up defensively as of late, going five games without conceding three or more goals after doing so three times in a five-game stretch before that.
Where they’ll need improvement, however, is in the attack, where they’ve scored just 13 goals in 14 games. In particular, they’ll need to get Shaan Hundal some support - he’s scored six of those goals, which represents 46% of that total.
GOAL 🦅@vanfootballclub with the early lead!👀— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 11, 2023
Shaan Hundal takes the #CanPL scoring lead once again with his 5th goal of the season. It ended up being a simple finish beating @CPLCavalryFC's Marco Carducci. pic.twitter.com/vjvmrYYXvu
For reference, no one has scored more than 35% of their team’s total this year (Terran Campbell of Forge and Myer Bevan of Cavalry), showing the importance of teams being able to spread around their scoring.
Luckily for Hundal, that should change in the second half of the season, as Mikaël Cantave’s arrival has already helped Vancouver’s offence immensely, and the recent signing of 2022 Golden Boot winner Alejandro Díaz could be a huge game-changer if he hits the ground running.
Much like with each team, there’s also a lot to keep an eye on individually, too, as the race for the end-of-season awards should be quite tight.
In particular, the MVP award race is wide-open, while a few others could see some good battles down to the wire.
Here’s how I have things at the midway point.
Player of the Year (so far)
- Ayman Sellouf
- Ollie Bassett
- Ali Musse
This one’s incredibly tough, but ultimately, given Pacific’s strong start and his role within that, Sellouf narrowly edges it, with his four goals and five assists proving to be too hard to ignore.
Keep an eye on the 2022 winner, Bassett, however. Given that he’s well on track to demolish last year’s eight goals and three assists, he’ll quickly gain traction in this race if Ottawa keeps heating up.
Then, Musse just edges the battle for third place, as he’s played a key role on a Cavalry team that has really hit his stride as of late, although he faces stiff competition in that battle for third.
Honourable Mentions: Lorenzo Callegari, Aidan Daniels, Rayane Yesli, Sean Young
Players' Player of the Year (so far)
- Ollie Bassett
- Ayman Sellouf
- Lorenzo Callegari
This one’s a bit tougher to project, as it’s from the perspective of players, which will make it fun to see who they see as their top pick.
Typically, though, reputations matter, which is why Bassett edges Sellouf here, especially given how frustrating he can be for opponents to play against. Sellouf is very close, though - his trickery and 1v1 ability will be easily remembered when the players vote later in the season.
Lastly, though, Callegari slots in, as his ability to control a midfield and destabilize teams' defensive set-ups could make him a wild card in this vote, whereas he might not stand out as much to the average eye.
Honourable Mentions: Sean Young, Aidan Daniels, Ali Musse, Shaan Hundal, Kyle Bekker
U-21 Player of the Year (so far)
- Matteo de Brienne
- Tyler Crawford
- Goteh Ntignee
Always a fun award, this year’s U21 race could be one for the ages, as some interesting names have stepped up and made it a fascinating battle.
Therefore, while de Brienne leads the way as a bright spot despite Valour’s struggles, it’s incredibly tight behind him, led by Crawford, who has played a key role in helping Vancouver’s defensive turnaround.
Then, rounding off the race for now is Ntignee, whose speed and 1v1 ability has allowed him to shine in a bigger role as of late for Cavalry after they traded Cantave.
GOAL 🐎🐎— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 1, 2023
Goteh Ntignee scores to put the match out of reach as @CPLCavalryFC now lead 2-0 over @ValourFootball
Valour have created quality chances and will wonder how this one got away from them!
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/sRDxao4GJc
Don’t sleep on some of the honourable mentions, either - the fun thing about U21 players is that things can change quickly, so don’t be surprised if someone like Jean-Aniel Assi or Tiago Coimbra is in the top three by year-end as they continue to find their feet.
Honourable Mentions: Jean-Aniel Assi, Tiago Coimbra, Anthony White, TJ Tahid, Juan Pablo Sánchez
Goalkeeper of the Year (so far)
- Rayane Yesli
- Callum Irving
- Nathan Ingham
While a lot of the other awards are quite close, this one feels like the first one with a clear leader, as Yesli has been fantastic for Valour, helping them with their strong defensive record.
The best way to demonstrate his play? He’s prevented 5.12 goals for Valour based on their xG, which is pretty good when you realize that no one else has prevented more than 1.04.
Otherwise, Callum Irving has been strong despite playing behind an inexperienced Vancouver defence, and his stock could quickly rise in this race if Vancouver makes the playoffs, as he’d likely be key in that push.
Ditto for Nathan Ingham, whose recent return from injury has stabilized Ottawa, helping them find some form defensively.
Honourable Mentions: Marco Carducci, Yann Fillion
Defender of the Year (so far)
- Amer Đidić
- Daniel Nimick
- Abdou Samaké
Similarly to the goalkeeper award, the race is pretty clear for defender of the year, as Đidić leads the way after a strong half-season for Pacific.
There, he’s been dominant at both ends - Pacific’s defensive numbers speak for themselves, and he’s chipped in with four goals offensively, which is tied for a career-high.
There may not be a more dominant player in Canada on set pieces than @Pacificfccpl's @amerdidic_ 💪— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) June 5, 2023
After another headed goal from Đidić on Friday, here are some of his best moments this season! 🔱#CanPL I 📺 @onesoccer pic.twitter.com/zj7TNv7Xly
After that, though, the battle is intriguing. Nimick just edges second place for now, as he’s been very consistent for Halifax, while Samaké slots in at third given Valour’s defensive play, as he’s one of a few Valour defenders that could get looks at this award.
Based on the big list of honourable mentions, though, this race could quickly change, so don’t sleep on it as the year goes along.
Honourable Mentions: Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, Daan Klomp, Manjrekar James, Miguel Acosta, Paris Gee, Guillaume Pianelli, Andy Baquero, Rocco Romeo
Coach of the Year (so far)
- James Merriman
- Patrice Gheisar
- Tommy Wheeldon Jr
Lastly, that leads us to coach of the year, which for now is led by the coach of the top team - Merriman.
He’s an easy choice, too, as while Pacific’s results speak for themselves, his ability to handle a deep and talented squad has allowed them to be full value for where they sit, too.
Otherwise, Gheisar sits narrowly behind him, as the first-year manager has done very well to get a young and inexperienced team to gel, and could be a strong candidate to win this if Halifax makes the playoffs.
Then, Wheeldon Jr certainly deserves a look for how Cavalry have caught fire as of late, although the race is pretty tight behind him with his former assistant, Martin Nash, hot on his tail as he continues to get a lot out of a depleted York team.
Honourable Mentions: Bobby Smyrniotis, Martin Nash
Player of the Week: Terran Campbell
Back to the usual weekly awards, Campbell takes home the player of the week after scoring a hat trick in the 905 derby versus York, the first of his career.
Bassett made it close in the end, thanks to him scoring two winners in two different games, but given the importance of that 905 derby win for Forge, Campbell’s exploits were enough to carry him to victory here.
Goal of the Week: Fraser Aird
Some good candidates to choose from this week, but ultimately Aird takes it, as his link-up for Cavalry’s second goal (and eventual winner) in a 2-1 win over Pacific is a work of art.
From the link-up play, to the backheel assist from Myer Bevan, and then the left-footed finish from Aird, there’s a lot to like about this play, making it a deserved winner.
#CANPL. BANGERS. ONLY. 🐎@CPLCavalryFC go 2-0 up over @PacificFCCPL as Fraser Aird uncorks some vintage magic with his left foot ✨— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 9, 2023
WATCH #CanPL (FREE) 🔴https://t.co/qCayIbtMXL pic.twitter.com/SJSRD83kgI
Gotta see this: A raccoon takes in the 905 derby
The unofficial mascot of Toronto, the raccoon was fittingly present at the 905 derby this weekend, as a friendly face decided to pay York Lions Stadium a visit during half time.
Unfortunately, if they were a fan of the home team, it was a rough day for their team in a 4-0 loss to their rivals, but they’ll now look to bounce back with a clash against Pacific this weekend, giving their furry friend something to cheer about.
What I’m watching this week: Atlético Ottawa vs Vancouver
Lots to watch for as most teams enter the second half of their campaigns, but ultimately, Ottawa’s matchup with Vancouver stands out the most.
For Ottawa, it’s a chance to keep building their record at home, doing so after one of their best performances in the season against Cavalry, where they tapped into the “Atléti DNA” to grab a gritty 2-0 road victory.
After some key signings, they look like a team that could surge up the table in the second half, starting with a win in this game.
As for Vancouver, they’ll look to keep up their recent defensive prowess, while continuing to let their new-look offence find its legs.
A potential chance for Díaz to make his debut, they’ll hope that can help them find another gear in that department, as they look to mount a furious push up the table in the second half of the campaign.