TORONTO, ON – The opening round of the Canadian Championship returned with a vengeance and presented some of the most compelling storylines and performances that the competition has ever seen.
While the TSS Rover’s win over Valour FC steals the national headlines, and deservingly so, there were several studded performances in the preliminary round of the competition.
With that, I’ve selected my best XI of the opening round, ahead of the quarterfinals set for May 9-10
GK: Gianluca Catalano (Vaughan Azzurri)
If Vaughan SC were going to pull off an upset against MLS side CF Montreal, they would need a strong performance in goal, and although they couldn’t complete the upset, they got just that. While CF Montreal potted a pair, Catalano stood on his head throughout the night and pushed higher up in his box to act as a passing option.
He made nine saves on the day and kept Vaughan in the game with a chance, not allowing CFM to run up the score despite dominant attacking numbers. However, he could have provided more going forward, with only 45% of his passes reaching their target.
Catalano won’t be moving on, but given his performance against experienced professionals, he may have drawn pro clubs to take a flyer on him, a 22-year-old Canadian with a bit of CPL experience with York United.
LB: Maxime Tissot (Atletico Ottawa FC)
If a 50-yard run in the 85th minute and a goal from the captain isn’t enough to grab highlight reels, there’s not much more that can be done. For the first time in their club’s history, Atletico Ottawa is off to the second round of the Canadian Championship, and Maxime Tissot played an integral part in their 3-1 victory over the HFX Wanderers.
A lesson in counter-attacking football, by @AtletiOttawa and Maxim Tissot 🎓#CanChamp | #CanPL
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/jKkibr2Uwv
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 19, 2023
Tissot was a constant facet in Atletico’s transition to the counter-attack, where they found their goals against HFX while also ensuring the Wanderers weren’t able to find much space up the right wing, winning six of his nine duels.
CB: Manjrekar James (Forge FC)
Facing FC Laval was anything but a tough test for Forge, but Canadian international Manjrekar James showed that he’s getting used to head coach Bobby Smyrniotis’ structure, which they continued with despite inferior opponents.
Although a player like James doesn’t have to play their best to handle a semi pro side at the level of Laval, his tactical awareness in defensive and transitional situations proved his potential with the club while also completing the clean sheet against the PLSQ champions.
CB: Sean Young (Pacific FC)
Sean Young’s start to the 2023 Pacific FC season has been nothing short of incredible. After a strong performance against Vancouver FC in a 1-0 win on the opening weekend in the Canadian Premier League, he pushed higher up the pitch in the Canadian championship.
After Manuel Aparicio had to leave the Voyageurs Cup match due to injury, Young stepped into the set-piece role and delivered an inch-perfect free kick to the head of Amer Didic on a set-piece to give the Tridents a leg up in the tie. He also drew two fouls and completed 80% of his passes in a solid performance at centre back.
🚨GOAL@Pacificfccpl have gotten one back before HT! It's a great header from Easton Ongaro, who opens his Pacific account with a #CanChamp marker🎯
Some big man-to-big-man link-up with Sean Young's delivery, too 👀
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 21, 2023
It may be early in the campaign, but 2023 is looking to be a breakout year for the Vancouver Island-born defender.
RB: Fugo Segawa (TSS Rovers)
It wouldn’t be a long shot to name each and every TSS Rovers player to this team of the round. Yet, former York 9 defender Fugo Segawa was among the top performers, showing he could still shut down CPL-level talent whilst playing for the amateur Rovers.
Placed against Matteo De Brienne for much of the night, one of the few Valour players to have a positive performance, Segawa looked the stronger of the two, winning battles for the ball while jumping on loose opportunities. He made two tackles and intercepted possession five times.
The 25-year-old had a strong linkup play with his centre-back Danylo Smychenko, with the two offering passing outlets for each other whilst playing out of the back. Meanwhile, Segawa did well to advance the ball in the wide channels through Ali Zohar and Erik Edwardson, who picked up a pair of assists.
LM: Massimo Ferrin (HFX Wanderers)
Playing his first game back in the GTA since joining Patrice Gheisar and the HFX Wanderers, or aptly dubbed “Vaughanderers,” Massimo Ferrin had a near-perfect homecoming despite the loss to Atletico Ottawa at York Lions Stadium.
A former League 1 Ontario golden boot winner with the Vaughan Azzurri, Ferrin curled in a brilliant free-kick to beat Atletico’s wall and goalkeeper Nathan Ingham, something he commonly did in the Canadian second tier.
Massimo Ferrin is that guy 😎
The @HFXWanderersFC newcomer gets his very first goal to stun @atletiOttawa, and it's a PERFECT free kick, too 🎯
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/qrYMI5k78A
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 19, 2023
It will take time for him to compete at a top tier in the Canadian Premier League regularly, and losing the first round of the Voyageurs Cup isn’t an easy pill to swallow, but he is adjusting well to the level in his first pro season.
CM: Lorenzo Callegari (HFX)
If the opening game of the CPL season was Lorenzo Callegari’s coming out party for HFX, the Canadian Championship loss just showed the baseline level he’s bound to continue at. The French midfielder.
He didn’t play with the same flare as he did on the weekend, yet continued to rack up the most touches of any player in the match with 122 and was always dropping into deeper pockets when Halifax’s midfield had possession. Creating the spaces as an individual and unlocking teammates allowed him to complete 98 passes, many of them short, before Aidan Daniels or Andre Rampresad advanced the ball to challenge Ottawa’s backline.
Naming two players from a losing side to the first-round best XI may be odd, but both Callegari and Ferrin impressed at a cut above the rest of their teammates.
CM: Noah Jensen (Forge FC)
At 23 years old, Noah Jensen is a bit of a late bloomer for Forge FC, but is proving to be one of the players that the CPL was built for, allowing him a professional setup after college where he has been able to thrive.
Noah Jensen 🇨🇦 opens the scoring for @ForgeFCHamilton! 🍁#CanChamppic.twitter.com/BHZD3oc5Kz
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) April 18, 2023
Good on both feet, he scored twice over FC Laval in the 3-0 win, in two very different ways. His first came on a strike from the top of the box, while the second came from a deflected free-kick roughly 25 yards away from the goal.
In addition, he pushed centrally to support the attack while focused on the wing. This allowed him more space to roam, making 73 touches through his 76 minutes while completing 52 passes, similar to Kyle Bekker’s role when he’s available for selection.
ST: Sean Rea (CF Montreal)
CF Montreal didn’t have the toughest test in their opening-round win over Vaughan Azzurri, yet former CPLer Sean Rea got himself a goal and tormented the right side of the pitch while drifting into midfield at times.
The first goal of the 2023 #CanChamp is @cfmontreal's Sean Rea 🇨🇦pic.twitter.com/Bs6eb2CGiA
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) April 18, 2023
It was a mature performance from Rea, potting a goal while completing. 26 of his 28 passes, all at the same time as he roamed the midfield supporting the transitional play to supply Ariel Lassiter and Ibrahim Sunusi up front.
Having excelled in the CPL, Vaughan was never going to be an exceptional test for Rea, but he helped settle a recently shaken up and struggling CF Montreal team, buoying them past a potential upset.
ST: Matteo Polisi (TSS Rovers)
Mateo Polisi scored a goal for Valour in the preseason, but they didn’t want to keep him around. In the first round of the Canadian Championship, he repaid them with a brace against them in the biggest upset in Canadian club soccer history.
Polisi pressed with vigour from the start, challenging Valour’s backline and applying pressure to seemingly hesitant centre-back Matthew Chandler, a tactic that proved fruitful for the 2021 CPL Champion.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, BURNABY? ✨
TSS Rovers go up 3-0 over Valour FC in this MIRACLE #CanChamp match 🤯
Matteo Polisi, take a bow 👏
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/VBXW4UemFS
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 20, 2023
His first goal came from that direct pressure, winning a battle with Chandler and calmly striking the ball past Valour’s Rayane Yesli. Meanwhile, he smashed home his second strike on a pullback from Kyle Jones.
Although he missed a penalty kick, Polisi was the catalyst for the Rovers’ victory and made the most of his opportunities despite only touching the ball 45 times. Given his performance, there’s a legitimate chance he’s with a pro club, and not Rovers, come May 10 and the second round.
RW: Easton Ongaro (Pacific FC)
After taking some time to settle in on the CPL’s opening weekend, Easton Ongaro looked like he was back up to speed against Cavalry FC in the Canadian Championship. He scored his first goal with his new club, a headed-in set-piece from Sean Young while making several runs at Cavalry’s goal where he could have added another goal or two.
Easton Ongaro 🇨🇦 converts a set piece from Sean Young 🇨🇦 and @Pacificfccpl are level!#CanChamppic.twitter.com/rS772qKkcx
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) April 21, 2023
It was a tough call between Ongaro and TSS Rovers’ winger/forward Erik Edwardson for the final attacking spot on the roster, but Ongaro’s resurgence at the CPL and Canadian Championship level came on Thursday against Cavalry, and his ceiling in the CPL continues to be sky high.
While the match against Cavalry went to penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw through 90 minutes, Ongaro had four shots and a key pass and won 14 duels in a strong all-round performance with the Tridents.
Steiner’s best XI of Canadian Championship preliminary round