The Canadian Premier League was born out of a desperate need for Canadian soccer to develop its players and give them career opportunities that they might not otherwise receive elsewhere. So far, it’s been a huge success.
Loads of Canadian prospects have cut their teeth during the league’s first two seasons and made big names for themselves at their clubs, while others (including former league MVP Tristan Borges of Forge FC) have gone on to bigger and better things thanks in large part to the platform granted to them by the CPL.
The lifeblood of any sports league is it young players. With this in mind, we wanted to put the spotlight on the CPL’s best youngsters from this past summer’s Island Games in PEI.
CanPL.ca assembled a special panel of soccer pundits from across the country to submit their lists of the best under-23 players in the Canadian Premier League, based on their form during the 2020 campaign and their future potential. The other criteria was that players had to be 23 years or younger at the start of this season.
Once all the ballots were in, we tabulated the votes and came up with one cumulative list of the CPL’s best under-23 players.
Even though he wasn’t a nominee for this year’s Golden Glove award, Marco Carducci had a solid showing at The Island Games in 2020, and further established himself as one of the league’s best goalkeepers. As such, he comes in at No. 3 and is the highest-ranked shot-stopper on our list.
A native of Calgary, Carducci was a workhorse again for the Cavs this season, starting in nine of the team’s 10 games in Charlottetown and logging 810 minutes of playing time – he appeared in 25 league matches and saw 2,250 minutes of action in 2019 when he won the Golden Glove.
Carducci played a big role in helping Cavalry advance out of the first round at The Island Games, and he ended up recording three clean sheets (second-best in the league) to help his hometown club stay in contention for a spot in the CPL Finals right until the last matchday of the second group stage.
The first CPL player ever to be called up by the Canadian national team, Carducci has 12 career clean sheets for Cavalry (second most in league history) and it’s only a matter of time before an MLS side or a club from abroad signs him.
2. Mo Farsi, Cavalry FC
A 20-year-old native of Montreal, Mo Farsi had flown somewhat under the radar as a member of AS Blainville in the Première Ligue de soccer du Québec and with the Canadian futsal team before joining Cavalry FC in April.
It proved to be an astute signing by Cavalry, as Farsi was one of the league’s breakout stars this year, taking The Island Games by storm with his dynamic and dangerous attacking play in PEI. Known for his pace and deft touch, Farsi made 10 appearances in Charlottetown as a tricky wide player who excelled at both ends of the pitch. Not only did he score one goal and add an assist, he also registered a team-high 15 tackles and ranked third in passes in the opponent’s half.
Farsi immediately won the admiration of CPL onlookers during the opening match at The Island Games, drawing two penalties and notching an assist in his first 40 minutes of action for Cavalry against Forge FC. He continued to have an impact in Cavalry’s second contest in PEI against Valour FC when he drew another penalty and delivered an inch-perfect cross to teammate Marcus Haber for a second Cavalry goal.
Farsi’s efforts did not go unnoticed, as he was named the Best Canadian U-21 Player of the Year, capturing an individual honour in an extraordinary first professional season
“Never in my life did I think I would have a first season like this, where I’d win awards right away,” Farsi told CanPL.ca. “It makes you proud, in a way, of the work you’ve put into it. I had 10 games to prove myself and I did that, which is satisfying.”
1. Akeem Garcia, HFX Wanderers FC
A Golden Boot, an appearance in the CPL Finals, and No. 1 in CanPL.ca’s Top 23 Under 23 list. It’s been quite the year for Akeem Garcia.
The Trinidadian has 13 goals over his two CPL seasons with the Wanderers, putting him in a tie with former Forge FC star Tristan Borges and FC Edmonton’s Easton Ongaro as the league’s all-time top scorer, underlining his status of one the CPL’s true danger men in front of goal.
Garcia’s six-goal tally at The Island Games not only saw him secure the Golden Boot, but it also helped the Wanderers reach their first CPL Finals – an amazing turnaround for a club that finished last place in 2019. With key goals in both the first and second rounds against eventual champions Forge, Garcia was deservedly a nominee for the league’s Player of the Year award.
Although he enjoyed a breakout 2020 campaign, Garcia’s offensive explosiveness was hardly a surprise after he bagged seven goals in 24 appearances in 2019. A change in tactics from Wanderers coach Stephen Hart turned him into the team’s main scoring threat this season.
“This year coach allowed me to focus on one position; he only played me forward this year and not on the wings,” Garcia told CanPL.ca. “That gave me a lot of confidence knowing my role, and what I can do best to help the team.”
Having turned 24 only last month, Garcia won’t be eligible for next year’s Top 23 Under 23 list. But you still get the sense that he is poised to continue to terrorize opposing defenders with his quickness, deft touch and ruthlessness inside the penalty area for years to come.
Here’s the list of the voters in CanPL.ca’s Top 23 Under 23 in the CPL series:
John Molinaro (CanPL.ca), Marty Thompson (CanPL.ca), Charlie O’Connor-Clarke (CanPL.ca)
Andi Petrillo (OneSoccer), Oliver Platt (OneSoccer), Gareth Wheeler (OneSoccer), Adam Jenkins (OneSoccer), Armen Bedakian (OneSoccer)
Joshua Kloke (The Athletic)
Carmelina Moscato (CPL)
James Grossi (CanPL.ca contributor), Sandra Prusina (CanPL.ca contributor), Steve Sandor (CanPL.ca contributor), Jonathan Briggins (CanPL.ca contributor), Martin Bauman (CanPL.ca contributor), Ryan Brandt (CanPL.ca contributor)