Down to the wire: Breaking down the race for a spot in the 2022 CPL playoffs
The race towards the Canadian Premier League playoffs is almost at its conclusion.
With just over a month remaining in the 2022 CPL season, there is still everything to play for right now, as seven teams remain in the hunt to be one of the four teams left standing when the playoffs kick off in October.
Therefore, as most teams get set for their last six or seven games, depending on where they stand, every game means that much more now, as it could be the difference between making the big dance or being left at home.
Starting with a crucial four-game slate this weekend, and continuing right down to the final weekend of league action on October 8th and 9th, look for teams to battle tooth and nail for every point still available to them at the moment.
And speaking of which, here’s a look at how that race is shaping up at the moment, as we take a look at who's trending towards making the playoffs, who is barely clinging on, and who is just trying to play spoiler over the next few games, getting you set for what’s to come over the next few weeks of CPL action.
Atlético Ottawa (22GP, 11W-5L-6D, 39 PTS)
To begin, no better place to start than with the current league leaders, Ottawa, who as it stands, look set to make the playoffs for the first time in their three years as a club.
And that’s a credit to how good they’ve been this season. Paced by their strong defensive record, which is second-best in the league, they’ve proven to be adept at grinding out results, sitting with a league-low five losses, as well as a league-leading nine clean sheets.
Because of that, while the fact that they sit fifth in league scoring with 27 goals is a worry, their strong defensive record should be a big boost in the playoffs, where goals are often at a premium, making Ottawa early favourites for the ‘North Star Shield’.
Is Ottawa becoming a soccer city? 🔴⚪️— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 1, 2022
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The good news on top of that? They look well on track to make it that far, too.
They have a tough schedule, yes, as four of their last six games are on the road, with three of those road games coming against fellow top five teams, but given that they have the best away record in the league, and that their two home games are against the bottom two sides, Edmonton and York, they should be able to overcome those obstacles as long as they maintain their current form over the next few weeks.
Verdict: The CPL’s road warriors finish the job they started, getting them over the line.
Cavalry FC (22 GP, 11W-7L-4D, 37 PTS)
But while Ottawa leads the way, for now, their lead at the top isn’t as secure as they might like, with Cavalry sitting just two points behind them in second place.
Despite dealing with all sorts of injuries and absences all summer, Cavalry have just kept finding a way to pick up points, allowing them to sit very much in the race for first place. Off the back of their solid offence, which is the second-best in the league, and helped by their overall defensive solidity and tactical versatility, they’ve done well to not get too high or too low over the course of this race, allowing them to remain quite consistent as the year has gone along.
GOAL 🐎@CPLCavalryFC strike first vs. @yorkutdfc as Jose Escalante gets on the end of a cross and buries his effort, cool as you like 👀#CanPL | #CavsFC | #UnitedByYou— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 27, 2022
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Therefore, look for them to make it four for four in terms of playoff appearances in their CPL history this season. They’ve got a decently tough run-in for the last six games, which includes a three-game road trip, but seeing that they also have a three-game homestand to close things off, and that only one of their road games is against a current top-five team, things are looking good for them right now.
Of course, they will have to be wary of the fact that their homestand comes against three top five teams, which could be a tough hurdle to overcome, but it’s also worth noting that they have the best home record in the league, which much like Ottawa’s strong form, should be enough to see them over the line.
Verdict: Their consistency should allow them to gallop over the line.
Forge FC (21 GP, 11W-7L-3D, 36 PTS)
Where things get interesting, however, is once you get to third place, where Forge FC currently sits, looking to shake off a run in which they’ve picked up losses in three of their last four games, coming part of an overall four-game winless run.
There, things look shaky for Forge, who despite sitting with the best goals for, goals against and goal difference in the CPL, sit very much in the thick of the playoff race, something that we’re not used to seeing from the two-time CPL champions, who are also looking to make it four for four in terms of CPL playoff appearances.
Because of that, it makes their last seven games that much more interesting. With four games at home, and three on the road, just four of those matches are against teams in the top five, which considering that they’re both solid at home and on the road, should allow them to see things over the line.
At the same time, that’s no sure thing, which is why you should keep a close eye on them. Despite their dominant numbers, they have been underperforming their advanced numbers throughout the year, and have dropped some games you typically wouldn’t expect them to, so while it feels weird to imagine Forge missing out on the playoffs, they’ll need a return to their usual form to avoid disaster.
Verdict: Big game Forge *should* overcome their mixed 2022 form, but it’ll be close.
Pacific FC (21 GP, 10W-6L-5D, 35 PTS)
Speaking of CPL champions, however, that leads us to Pacific FC, who as the current ‘North Star Shield’ holders, are looking to defend their crown once again this year.
There, however, they’ll be in tough, as both a midseason slump and a CONCACAF League journey has certainly left its toll on them, leaving them to sit just two points above the line heading into this matchday.
Plus, with the lowest goal difference of teams in the top five, sitting fourth in goals for, and tied for fourth in goals against, they’re not necessarily getting the dominant offensive numbers nor the stingy defensive numbers that you’d hope for them to have, either. Especially given that they sold their leading scorer and current CPL Golden Boot leader, Alejandro Díaz, last month, that also doesn’t help their cause, making their quest to the playoffs that much harder.
GOAL 🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 23, 2022
Marco Bustos opens the scoring for @PacificFCCPL, catching @CPLCavalryFC off a bad giveaway and sailing a first-time shot from distance into an open net#CanPL | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/jyY1uxHkmc
At the same time, it’s hard to count out the defending champions this early in the race. With four of their last seven games coming at home, where they’ve had the second-best home record, and just four of those games coming against top five teams, they have a chance to pick up some late points, which should be good enough for them to finish the job.
Of course, much like Forge, that isn’t a sure deal, especially given that three of their last four games are on the road, which isn’t ideal, but at the same time, Pacific has seemed to thrive in these sorts of moments, making it hard to imagine them missing out on the big dance by the end of the season.
Verdict: Defending champions *should* overcome their tough summer, but it won’t be easy.
Valour FC (22 GP, 9W-7L-6D, 33 PTS)
So having gone through the top four, things seem pretty straightforward, right? There are four solid teams, all of differing pedigrees, but teams that still all look likely to make the playoffs, correct?
And while that was the case a month ago, there is one team that is throwing a wrench in those plans - Valour.
Currently sitting just two points off the playoff line, after finding themselves well on the outside of that bar for most of the season, Valour is certainly very much in contention for their first-ever playoff berth right now.
Sitting with the second-best goal difference in the league, paced by a solid attack, but an even better defence (especially in the second half of the season), they’ve been a tough nut to crack as of late, losing just three of their last 12 games, allowing them to make this push.
Because of that, what once seemed unlikely is very much in the realm of possibility now, giving Valour a chance to take things down to the wire, where they’ll look to finish the job that they’ve started with this late summer surge.
Should they see things over the line, however, a tough slate of games awaits. Four of their six remaining games are all on the road, including their last three games, which considering that they’ve got a very good home record, but a middling record away from home, could go against them here.
The good news is that three of those road games are against teams outside the top five, so while both of their home games are top five clashes, which won’t be easy, that’s a split of games that they’ll be happy to have, giving them a shot right until the last day, which is all that they can ask for at this stage.
Verdict: Tough schedule suggests that it could be just too late… but don’t count them out yet.
HFX Wanderers (22 GP, 7W-12L-3D, 24 PTS)
After, though, things start to get quite lean in terms of playoff hopes, starting with the Wanderers, who as it stands, sits 11 points off the line, a gap that could grow to 13 depending on what Pacific and Forge do with their game in hand.
Which, with six games remaining, and a maximum of 18 points on the table, makes it a bit of a longshot to imagine them overcoming that distance between now and the end of the season.
Sitting with the second-worst goal differential in the league, including the league’s second-worst defensive record, they just haven’t been the solid defensive team that they can be at their best, which combined with some injuries to key attackers, has led them to sit where they are.
At the same time, should they desire, they can make things interesting now here. Four of their last six games are at home, all against top five teams, so while they’ve been unusually poor at home this year, there’s no better time for them to regain the once-dominant home form that used to make teams fear a visit to Wanderers Ground, allowing them to stay alive right until the last few games, all while playing spoiler in the race for the top four.
Verdict: Too little, too late, but late homestand could allow them to end off on a high note.
York United (22 GP, 6W-11L-5D, 23 PTS)
Continuing down the list, that then allows us to reach the last team in contention, York, who much like the Wanderers, are all but hanging on considering that they sit 12 points off the line with six games to go.
Yet, that shows what kind of season it’s been for York, who after making the playoffs for the first time last year, have struggled this season, especially offensively, where they’ve scored a league-low 20 goals in 22 games.
Because of that, it’s going to make it hard for them to imagine making the playoffs again in 2022. With three games at home, and three games on the road, a tall task awaits them, as they currently have the league’s worst home record, and play three top five teams on the road, making for a tough end to the year.
So while they’ll hold out hope of being able to make it right until the last day, their role in the playoff push might be to play spoiler, allowing them to put this injury-riddled season behind them as they get set for 2023.
Verdict: Preparing for 2023 looks to be the goal for the Nine Stripes.
FC Edmonton (22 GP, 3W-13L-6D, 15 PTS)
Lastly, but most certainly not least, there’s the already eliminated FC Edmonton, who at this point, are here to play spoiler in the playoff race, a role they’ve already embraced considering that they beat the Wanderers 3-2 last weekend in a thrilling game.
Because of that, while their spot in the table might stand out negatively, as well as their league-low goal difference, at this stage it’s all about continuing to grow, allowing them to find their feet in 2023.
"Our young and inexperienced team went toe-to-toe with a fantastic team in this league."— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) July 31, 2022
It wasn't @FCEdmontonNow's day vs. @CPLCavalryFC, but still a tough performance from Alan Koch's side.
Match Analysis⬇️#CanPL | ✍️ : @mitchelltierney
Therefore, look for them to wreak some havoc in their last six games. With five of their six games coming against teams in the top five, including all three of their games at home, a couple of wins and draws in those games could make things interesting at the top, which at this stage of the season, would be a perfect moral victory for Edmonton to take into next year and beyond.
Verdict: Look for FC Opportunity to become FC Chaos to close out the season.