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Cavalry FC, Ottleti meet at ATCO Field with new CPL rewards in line


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The Canadian Premier League will honour its regular-season champion, beginning this year.

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Finally.

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After much debate and three previous years without what is commonplace in the footie world, Canada’s domestic circuit has come around to the idea that the games leading up to the playoffs are worthy of official celebration. In most places overseas, the club that earns the most points during the regular-season schedule is crowned the league champion.

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“When you have a 28-game season grind, you need to recognize the team that has been the best day-in and day-out,” newly appointed CPL commissioner Mark Noonan told canpl.ca. “We haven’t done that as a league, and I felt it was really important to do that. Any team that qualifies for the playoffs can get on a run. They may not necessarily be your best team, (but) they are the best team at that time.

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“So I want to make sure that the regular-season champion is properly recognized and rewarded, as well as our playoff champion.”

The regular-season reward isn’t just about a trophy and bragging rights.

The team that tops the standings when the regular season ends on Sunday, Oct. 9 will pocket cash of equal value to the prize money earned by the playoff champion. In previous seasons, a financial reward was solely awarded to the loop’s playoff champion.

“I think what this does is it meets the North American playoff mentality with the purist (winner) of 28 games,” said Cavalry GM/head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “That is the most even balance of form, and you marry both. And why not have two exciting competitions, and three if you include the Canadian Championship?”

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Unfortunately, for the two-time regular-season champion Cavs — winners in both 2019 and ‘20 — that financial reward is not retroactive.

But the future does bring an even bigger carrot for regular-season champs. Beginning next year, that winner earns a Concacaf Champions League berth for the following year’s event, meaning two teams each year from the league — thanks to a change at the Concacaf level — will play in the international tournament.

“That is great incentive,” continued Wheeldon Jr. “And in the event that the same team wins both regular season and playoffs, the team with the most points (after that winner) takes the other Concacaf spot.”

So there’s plenty now on the line for the regular-season champs.

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Of course, Saturday’s match between Atlético Ottawa and host Cavalry at ATCO Field (3:30 p.m., OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca) goes a long way in determining this year’s regular-season winner.

The table is tight with just three games left on Cavalry’s regular-season slate.

Ottleti sports a top-spot 11-9-5 record with 42 points, while the 12-5-8 Cavs are just one point behind.

Then, it’s Forge FC (12-4-8) on 40 points and both Valour FC (10-7-9) and Pacific FC (10-7-7) at 37. Of those five teams, the one with the least amount of points at the conclusion of the regular-season schedule will fail to qualify the CPL’s four-team playoffs.

The winner of the Cavs-Ottleti contest clinches the first of those four post-season spots.

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“It is a great opportunity,” said Ottleti head coach Carlos González. “(It’s) a well-deserved opportunity because we have worked really hard since the beginning to be in this position and this situation, so we are going to play with that intention, knowing that it is a very important game.”

Given the close quarters in the standings, the last three games are all very important for Cavalry.

All three are at home — against Ottawa, versus Valour on Sunday, Oct. 2 (1:30 p.m.) and the finale v. Pacific on Saturday, Oct. 8 (4 p.m.).

“It gives us the slight edge,” added Wheeldon Jr. of rounding out the schedule on the home pitch at Spruce Meadows. “We’ve got the best home record of all teams (8-0-3), so we are going to lean into that. We know our fans will help us get through it. They have done it before, and we are really going to enjoy these moments.”

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