VANCOUVER, BC – With the Canadian Premier League underway in its Winnipeg bubble, Canadian soccer fans have had the chance to see the top domestic league for the first time since Sept. 6, 2020. While fans won’t be allowed into the matches until July 7, soccer is in full swing, with former and current U SPORTS players centre stage.
The CPL is playing a 28 match season in 2021, with each club’s first eight games taking place in “The Kickoff” event at Winnipeg’s IG Field. After the bubble, teams will return to their home markets for the first time since 2019, with FC Edmonton, Cavalry FC, Pacific FC and potentially others hosting supporters.
Each week of the CPL season, 49 Sports brings together the best players and moments from the past week of action. So, without further adieu, the best U SPORTS moments and players from each club’s first two matches.
Victor Loturi scores the first U SPORTS goal
Through the first eight matches of the CPL season, only Mount Royal Cougar and Cavalry FC midfielder Victor Loturi has put a ball in the back of the net. Cavalry’s sixth overall pick in the 2021 CPL-U SPORTS Draft scored the first professional goal in the Calgarians’ 4-1 thrashing of Atletico Ottawa.
While his goal was the first by a U SPORTS player this season, it was also one of the rare goals constructed entirely by Canadian university players. UBC defender Daniel Kaiser, who signed a developmental contract despite being undrafted, sent the assisting cross in for Loturi to finish.
At 19-years-old, Loturi is still one of the younger players in the CPL, fitting the league’s U21 minutes requirement, but he is proving to be a valuable member of Manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s group.
With 150 minutes under his belt so far, Loturi is passing at a 95% clip, one of his team’s best pass completion rates. In addition, as seen in the graph below, he is completing a high amount of passes in the attacking third, establishing himself as an early offensive threat for the Cavs.
In Calgary’s opening match, a 2-1 victory against York United, Loturi was the only player to have a perfect passing chart, completing all 32 of his passes.
After signing just days before the opening match, Loturi has been one of the top players in the infancy of the 2021 CPL season, and his classy finish for his first goal is just a hint of his potential for Cavalry.
Stefan Karajovanovic can play at this level
OUA soccer fans know his name, and if he keeps it up in the CPL, so will Canada Soccer. Carleton Ravens striker Stefan Karajovanovic made a name for himself in U SPORTS, scoring at a near goal-per-game pace, and although he has yet to hit the back of the net for HFX, you can sense a goal is coming.
Finalists in the CPL’s 202 Island Games, the HFX Wanderers, have gotten out to a disappointingly slow start, losing 2-0 to Pacific FC and Valour FC. However, Karajovanovic has impressed, notably with his runs behind the back and his social-media-worthy skills on the ball.
The Ravens striker has started both of the Wanderer’s matches so far, and four of his five shots have tested the goalkeeper. He came extremely close to scoring in the first match against Pacific, taking a touch off his back before firing a volley at PFC goalkeeper Calum Irving, forcing a big stop.
Playing upfront with former Cape Breton University Caper, Corey Bent, there is much to be excited about with Karajovanovic. While the Carleton man plays a similar style to HFX’s Akeem Garcia, he has shown that he can play at the CPL level.
On the latest episode of the CanPL.ca Podcast, former 49 Sports CPL correspondent Brady Reid picked Karajovanovic to score HFX’s first goal of the season.
Lukas MacNaughton holds the line for Pacific FC
While Loturi and Karajovanovic do what they can to put balls in the back of the net, the opposite is true for former U of T Varsity Blue and Pacific FC centre-back Lukas MacNaughton.
One of few players to remain with the British Columbia club since the inaugural 2019 season, the now 26-year-old has grown into one of the most reliable defenders in the league.
Pacific FC has gotten off to a stellar start in 2021 and quickly put themselves in North Star Shield conversations. While a midweek 2-2 draw against York United does not breathe much confidence into the side, they looked every part a contender in their 2-0 victory over Halifax.
“In these two games, he’s been playing like the heart of a lion; he’s given everything and saved us today,” said Pacific Head Coach Pa-Modou Kah to 49 Sports after the York United draw. “When everyone around was getting a little bit tired, he was energizing his teammates and was rock solid at the back.”
MacNaughton has played every minute for the Islanders so far, ranking fourth on the team in duels won with 11, and second in clearances with three. Similar to another U SPORTS player in York’s Dominick Zator, MacNaughton provides a calming presence in an exciting PFC eleven.
Upcoming Match to Watch: HFX Wanderers vs Cavalry FC
For U SPORTS fans, the HFX Wanderers are the team to watch. In their last match against Valour, the Nova Scotians started four players with U SPORTS experience (Schaale, Oxner, Kreim, Karajovanovic) and had another three on the bench (Ruby, Lamothe, Bent).
While Wanderers Head Coach Stephen Hart has temporarily left the club for health reasons, the team is hungry for a win or at least a goal. Coming up against a Cavalry side that scored the first all U SPORTS goal of the season with Kaiser and Loturi, the Saturday afternoon matchup makes for a compelling watch from a U SPORTS perspective.
HFX and Calvary kick-off at 4:00 pm Pacific Time on Saturday, July 3.