Get real!

Hamilton’s new pro soc­cer team just did

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE MIL­TON

This is mas­sive news in the soc­cer world, and it should be just as im­pact­ful in the Hamilton sports world.

On Satur­day in Whistler, Alta., Soc­cer Canada — also re­ferred to as the Cana­dian Soc­cer As­so­ci­a­tion — unan­i­mously rat­i­fied the new Cana­dian Premier League for mem­ber­ship. And it also ac­cepted the first two CPL teams — in Hamilton and Win­nipeg — for full mem­ber­ship in the na­tional gov­ern­ing body for soc­cer.

That means there likely will be a pro­fes­sional men’s soc­cer team play­ing games in its own league at Tim Hor­tons Field as early as late sum­mer of 2018.

“It was a hugely sig­nif­i­cant day,” Hamilton Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell told The Spec­ta­tor. “I don’t think there is any ques­tion that it will ac­cel­er­ate things. It puts ev­ery­thing in mo­tion.”

With the mem­ber­ship vote, the CPL of­fi­cially be­comes Canada’s Tier I league in Fédéra­tion Internationale de Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (FIFA), the world gov­ern­ing body of soc­cer.

That, in turn, sends a strong mes­sage to prospec­tive team own­ers, play­ers and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that this league has changed ad­jec­tives from “pro­posed” to “very real.”

“It puts us at the same ta­ble as all the other great premier soc­cer leagues in the world,” Mitchell added.

The first two of­fi­cial teams in the CPL are es­sen­tially owned by Cana­dian Foot­ball League teams.

The Hamilton soc­cer team will be owned by Bob Young, who owns the Tiger-Cats.

The Win­nipeg Foot­ball Club, which owns the Blue Bombers, will also own the soc­cer team and play out of In­vestor’s Group Field, where the Bombers play.

Why were only two teams

named Satur­day?

“Win­nipeg and Hamilton rep­re­sent ex­actly what we’re af­ter in this league,” Mitchell said. “Great own­er­ship, great man­age­ment, phe­nom­e­nal fa­cil­i­ties and an op­er­a­tion ready to go.”

Other teams could be an­nounced within the next cou­ple of months.

Paul Beirne, the league’s project man­ager and the first of­fi­cial em­ployee of the CPL, was also the first em­ployee of Toronto FC which is, and will re­main, a mem­ber of Ma­jor League Soc­cer, the Tier I league in the United States.

“It feels like the early days of Toronto FC where the de­mand and ex­cite­ment are sin­cerely there,” Beirne told The Spec­ta­tor. “It feels like Day One, like the mo­men­tum is just start­ing and will only go in one di­rec­tion from here: Up.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store right now. It’s ex­cit­ing.

“We got 10 ex­pres­sions (in­clud­ing Hamilton and Win­nipeg) of in­ter­est from across the coun­try. And there are def­i­nitely more in the pipe­line. We’ve got more de­mand than sup­ply. We will con­tinue the process of as­sess­ing po­ten­tial mem­bers: look­ing at own­er­ship, and fa­cil­i­ties and mar­kets.

“We get one shot at this, and we want to do it right, which is why we haven’t said too much be­fore this.”

Spec­u­la­tion in soc­cer cy­berspace had the league start­ing next sum­mer or fall, with six teams: Win­nipeg and Hamilton, plus Ed­mon­ton, Cal­gary, Hal­i­fax and Ot­tawa. But that might not be the ex­act open­ing lineup.

Some of the other four might not be op­er­a­tional in the first year, and oth­ers not men­tioned in pub­lic could be in.

And there could be more than six, es­pe­cially af­ter Satur­day’s vote for­mal­ized the league’s ex­is­tence.

Mitchell said that since that vote, there have been calls and emails from other po­ten­tial own­ers, for­mer play­ers and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties won­der­ing how they can get in­volved. The league is look­ing for fi­nan­cial strength of own­er­ship, long-term com­mit­ment and mar­ket­place sus­tain­abil­ity.

Young, who was a mi­nor­ity owner of the United Soc­cer League’s Carolina Rail­hawks, sent out a long mes­sage to Hamilton fans on so­cial me­dia that read in part, “The CPL will

fill the ex­ist­ing void in the na­tional Cana­dian soc­cer de­vel­op­ment plat­form by op­er­at­ing a top-level pro­fes­sional league, both on and off the field. The CSA and the CPL’s shared com­mit­ment is to fos­ter the de­vel­op­ment of Cana­dian play­ers.”

From the be­gin­ning of dis­cus­sions on form­ing a na­tional premier league, the fo­cus has been on de­vel­op­ing Canada’s se­nior men’s na­tional team, which has slipped into vir­tual ir­rel­e­vance on the in­ter­na­tional scene, and on increasing the num­ber of peo­ple play­ing soc­cer in Canada.

Be­cause the CPL, like the CFL, will have some form of Cana­di­ans-must-play ra­tio it’s ex­pected to de­velop more Cana­dian tal­ent, more quickly, than Ma­jor League Soc­cer, which doesn’t have a sim­i­lar leaguewide rule.

“The suc­cess of the CPL is to­tally in­ter­twined with the suc­cess of the men’s na­tional team,” Mitchell said.

“The CSA is ab­so­lutely a part­ner in this ven­ture. Canada needs to be a top-30 team in the world of men’s soc­cer and a top three or four team in CONCACAF.”

CONCACAF is the gov­ern­ing body for soc­cer in North and Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean. Soc­cer Canada pres­i­dent Vic­tor Mon­tagliani who is now the pres­i­dent of CONCACAF — mak­ing him ar­guably the most pow­er­ful Cana­dian in world sport — stepped down from his Soc­cer Canada post Satur­day.

Mitchell praised Mon­tagliani’s com­mit­ment and work to­ward es­tab­lish­ing the CPL.

The Hamilton team does not yet have a nick­name but Mitchell says, “We’re look­ing for­ward to en­gag­ing with the Hamilton soc­cer com­mu­nity on pick­ing a name.”

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