FORMER T&T and current Halifax (HFX) Wanderers Football club coach Stephen Hart, has suggested the upcoming Canadian Premier League (CPL), scheduled to kick off in April 2019, is an ideal new professional league for Caribbean players, who have found it difficult to get into Europe’s various leagues.
Hart, who coached the Soca Warriors from 2013-2016, was announced in June as coach of HFX Wanderers, which is one of the seven CPL franchise teams including : York9 FC (York, Ontario), Forge FC (Hamilton, Ontario), FC Edmonton (Edmonton, Alberta), Calvary FC (Calgary, Alberta), Valour FC (Winnipeg, Manitoba) and Pacific FC (Langford, British Colombia).
Before Hart’s coaching tenure with his native T&T, when the Soca Warriors qualified for the 2006 World Cup, under Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, this great achievement was strongly built on a generation of players, who played professionally in Europe, led by famous names such as Dwight Yorke and Shaka Hislop namely.
Similar too can be said of Caribbean rivals the Jamaica Reggae Boyz when they played in the 1998 World Cup. Both teams inability to qualify for the flagship FIFA tournament since has a strong direct correlation to few players playing in the elite European Leagues and of late not so much in Major League Soccer (MLS).
“I think it’s important for everyone to understand that CPL is a brand new league and just judging from the try-outs (CPL got game trails) that we have been having, they are many players from the Caribbean and Latin America that have been trying out”, said Hart.
“It’s one of those situations where opportunity does exist. For the players from Trinidad & Tobago when you understand how difficult it has been to get into Europe camped to the past due to work permit that are necessary it is an avenue to get into the USA market and been seen more easier and regularly without a doubt.”
Due to the players’ inability to get into Europe, during Hart’s time coaching the Soca Warriors, many players were forced to go into the Middle East and Asian leagues to play professionally.
Some T&T players who have played in Canada in recent times include, defenders Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver White and FC Edmonton), Jelani Peters, Tristan Hodge, Ricardo John and Aikim Andrews (all Toronto FC 2).
Hart acknowledge while the CPL could offer in some cases easier travel home and easy cultural assimilation due to Caribbean heritage population in Canada, he noted some unique Canadian conditions will provide their own challenges. “Another thing players will have to be cognizant of is the travel in Canada considering it’s a massive continent”, said Hart.
“Then of course pre-season in the winter will be different, playing indoors and with the league being east to west in, despite sounding exciting, it does put wear and tear on the body for players, who are potentially lucky enough to be chosen, but these are things one has to adapt to if they want to be professional in the CPL.”
Finally, from a personal career standpoint, Hart noted he was happy to be back coaching and is excited by what the new career challenge will bring to him.
“I’ve always been happiest on the football field coaching, working with players, this is a completely new situation for me because I’m also the general manager (HFX Wanderers) and learning all the dynamics of building a club, stadium operation and everything that goes with that.
“I’m finding it very interesting so far and enjoying it very much.”
“Now I’m in a position where I can put a team together with my own ideas. But I’m under no illusions, I’ve told club owners I’d like to build something overtime if I am given the time, because it is very difficult to put a brand new team together and get it correct right off the bat.
“A lot of MLS clubs, for example, it took them quite a while to find their feet and to get things perfectly how they wanted to be successful on the field. So with a completely brand new league and team you just have to be patient and take it one step at a time.”