David Clanachan is definitely a dreamer.
You had to squint a bit as Edmonton FC and Pacific FC played a nil-nil home debut of the Canadian Premier League, if you were trying to envision the entirety of the complete dream he decided to reveal Sunday afternoon.
His dream of a successful, sustainable national soccer league is substantial enough considering the long and horrid history of failed franchises littered around the nation that crashed and burned in previous attempts.
But here Sunday, you had to concede him a successful launch as 4,328 Edmonton fans flooded a makeshift bandbox of a patched together park that will seat 5,148 when the final temporary bleacher has been assembled.
That’s a long way from Old Trafford.
Indeed, after Bob Young attracted 17,611 to open the league by giving all the tickets away free in Hamilton, the announced attendances have been 5,100 (Victoria), 6,200 (Halifax), 2,360 (Victoria), 3,486 (Calgary), 10,156 (Winnipeg), 5,861 (Hamilton), 2,055 (Calgary), 5,763 in Winnipeg), 5,912 (Hamilton) and 4,328 (Edmonton).
When I asked the CPL commissioner about a bigger dream than those initial crowds, he gazed out at the scene and decided to go there.
“I told our group it wouldn’t be long after we kicked a ball that the press would start asking when we were going to announce some expansion franchise plans,” said Clanachan.
A seven-team league with a toe in the ocean at each end of the county – his Original Seven, if you will – involves the cornerstones of a 14- to 16-team Premier League for the build-up to the FIFA World Cup in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto in 2026.
But that’s not it.
He also envisions a second division and maybe even a third division. And, get ready for it … RELEGATION.
There’s no relegation in pro sports in North America. You buy a franchise you’re in the league as long as you own it.
But it’s a soccer world staple. Finish at the bottom of the top league and you drop down a division and the top teams from the lower divisions move up. But let’s first drop back to May of 2019.
“We have a couple of other different groups in British Columbia, a couple of groups in Saskatchewan, a number of groups in Ontario, a few groups in the Quebec market and a couple more groups out in Atlantic Canada,” Clanachan said of people exploring the idea of joining the league.
“They’re all in different stages and not all of them are going to get there. But there are some front-runners in there.”
A big question as the league gets into the summer will be if the Ottawa Fury, a former North American Soccer League entry – along with FC Edmonton – currently playing in the United Soccer League in the United States, will become the eighth entry.
“That’s out of my hands,” said Clanachan. “But around the country, we have lots of interest because people see the opportunity.”
When I asked if he felt they could get to a dozen-plus franchises fairly rapidly, he said, “I think so. For sure, the goal is 14 to 16 teams in the Premier League. I think when you get to that number, then the Premier League is full. That works.
“But then after that, I want to look at some of the smaller markets to start a second division. You don’t need to have a city of a million or 500,000 people, there are some great second-division-team locations in Canada,” he said of cities with major junior hockey franchises.
That’s when I asked the question: “Are you talking relegation here?”
There was no delay in his response.
“Promotion and relegation, yes. That is the one unique thing about our game that is not replicated in any other sport in the world. And I think it brings a double dynamic. It’s not just who wins. This year in the EPL, everything was decided at the end,” he said of the top of the tables where Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur were going at it.
“The relegation thing was over,” he said of the departing Huddersfield Town, Fulham and Cardiff City.
“Last year, the league title winner was decided long before the end of the season but people didn’t lose interest. They watched what was going on at the bottom of the table with a lot of interest.
“Once we have our Premier League rolling, I think we look at some of these second-division markets.”
As for his Premier League teams, his dream isn’t up there with the biggest leagues in Europe, in England, Germany, Italy, France and Spain.
It’s all those other national leagues over there.
“If we get to averaging 10,000 to 12,000 fans for our Premier League games in Canada, we’ll already be in the top 10 in Europe. Once you get past those big leagues, you’re in the area of Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Turkey and Portugal. I believe we can build to that. But we have to earn our way there.”
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones