Herdman calls for CPL to skew younger as league helps produce more CanMNT talent
There’s no doubt that having a domestic league is crucial for the development of soccer in a country, with top international teams filled with talent from within their own ranks.
In Canada, however, that hasn't always been the case.
Despite past attempts to create leagues for both the men's and women's sides, there were but a few success stories, such as the arrival of MLS teams to Canada. But for the most part, there haven't been enough opportunities for many of Canada's top players to grow and develop in their backyard. Instead, they'd be left to go elsewhere to chase a pro soccer career.
Things are starting to change.
This week, former Cavalry FC midfielder Victor Loturi and defender Dominick Zator – also of York United – earned call-ups to the Canadian Men's National Team for March's Concacaf Nations League double-header.
Zator returns to the fold after being called up once before in 2019, hoping to bring his excellent club form at Polish club Korona Kielce to the national team picture. Loturi, 21, played 45 games for Cavalry across three seasons before making the jump over to Scotland, where his play with Ross County allowed him to earn this nod.
“I think it's really important that the Canadian Premier League is creating that foundation. It's certainly creating a foundation for players to push on,” Canada manager John Herdman explained. “And I think when you're starting in the Canadian Premier League, for a lot of players they now know that this is a starting point for them to the next level of football, which is Europe.”
“And we're starting to see (that jump), I think Victor's a great example of a young player doing what I want to see. I want to see the Canadian Premier League just get a bit younger, so we can start springboarding all of the younger players that can really use that developmental experience playing in a good league in Canada with other experienced Canadian players, and then springboarding to the next level.
"I mean, the younger those players are, the better, so it'll be good to see more players under the age of 21 picking up minutes in the Canadian Premier League, and then springboarding out like Victor.”
Let's focus on Loturi, shall we?
"It gave me an opportunity, it gave me a platform to get to this level."@victorloturi and @tommywheeldonjr look back on the midfielder's time in the CPL with @CPLCavalryFC, and the opportunity the league provides for rising talents 🗣️#CanPL pic.twitter.com/9zjy3QrumT— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) March 16, 2023
Considering the young midfielder was in the U SPORTS system as recently as 2020, Loturi's call-up is a great success story.
Beforehand, someone like Loturi wouldn't have likely progressed very far past that level in his career. If he was lucky, maybe a small opportunity down in the United States or over in Europe could have materialized, but other than that, his future would have likely seen him play out his university days before fading into the semi-professional scene in Canada – like many, many players before him.
Now? He's going to go to a CanMNT camp and share a field with the likes of Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Stephen Eustáquio, who themselves are pushing the boundaries of what's possible for Canadian players in Europe every week.
Loturi isn't the only one who's had the chance to follow such a journey. Joel Waterman went from a U SPORTS veteran to cracking a World Cup squad in four years, for example, while Lukas MacNaughton also followed a similar path from U SPORTS to earning his first Canada call last year.
"(I’m excited) to have Victor and Dominick in our environment, as they're players that have progressed out of the Canadian Premier League and have taken a risk to go over Europe in those smaller second and third tier leagues in Europe and getting experiences in leagues where Canadians have often struggled," Herdman offered.
"These two have taken that jump, and they haven’t always found it easy, but are getting consistent minutes, which is really important for selection for these windows, as they’re playing in leagues where it's not easy.
"(Those leagues) remind us of some of the matches that they're going to have to play in CONCACAF, where our backs are going to be against the wall and we’ll be in tough conditions, so they’ve done well (in those places)."
It all showcases the growing importance the CPL is beginning to have on the pipeline of youth talent to the CanMNT that exists. Of course, the MLS to CanMNT pipeline remains popular, but the CPL is quickly starting to emerge as a strong option for those who may have fallen through the cracks, and stories like Zator’s, who was cut from the Whitecaps 2nd team in 2017, is a great example of that.
There's talent in Canada, but it hasn’t always been identified, nurtured and then developed, but those gaps are starting to be filled.
The fact that nine players have already had some sort of opportunity with the CanMNT after just four seasons is a small example of that, as you can only imagine what that number could look like as the CPL establishes more of a foothold in the global soccer ecosystem.
Because of that, it’s a good reminder of the importance that the league is holding as it enters its fifth season. Especially with a women’s league hopefully on its way very soon, helping fill similar gaps in the women’s game, it’s clear that opportunity was one of the biggest hurdles toward the success of the sport in this country, one that has slowly started to be surmounted.
And the story of Loturi and Zator is just the latest in a quickly growing line of them, as Canadians are starting to reach their dreams, all starting in their own backyard.
With another World Cup soon to be in Canada, that’s huge, as kids will be able to see Canada play at that tournament and then realize that if a Loturi, Zator or someone else is in that squad, they followed a journey that any kid in Canada can dream of themselves following.
Especially after failing to impose the correct infrastructure to facilitate such dreams following the 2015 World Cup, having that in place for both the men’s and women’s ahead of 2026 could prove to be a game-changer long-term.
Therefore, look for Loturi’s call-up to be the latest push towards that reality, one that several other Canadians will now look to follow in the years to come.