It’s been nearly a month since hundreds of professional soccer players and staff arrived on Prince Edward Island.
After thousands of COVID-19 tests, and 24 games completed, the Canadian Premier League says their Island Games bubble has worked better than they could have imagined.
“Everything has gone according to plan, and we’re really pleased with that,” says David Clanachan, the Canadian Premier League Commissioner. “The province of P.E.I. and the city of Charlottetown have been phenomenal with us. They stepped up and took the risk, and we’re glad they have, it’s been perfect.”
Clanachan, who is currently quarantining in Charlottetown with his family, says all players and staff were tested four times before games began on August 13, and continue to be tested in the bubble.
“We haven’t had any positive tests whatsoever, and that’s all the officials, referees, all league staff as well as the clubs, coaches and staff,” says Clanachan, who expects over 3000 tests will be conducted by the time the bubble finished.
Since they arrived on the Island on August 8, the eight teams have been confined to the Delta hotel in Charlottetown, and UPEI’s alumni field. But Clanachan says they have recently been granted a bit more freedom.
“The Public Health Office has said we can allow some field trips now, as long as they’re sequestered. I think one of the biggest things the players said was it would be really nice to go to a beach, even a sequestered beach, since we are on an island,” said Clanachan.
While the players are still keeping their distance from the public, some fans are now permitted to attend the games- from a distance.
“Soccer P.E.I., in collaboration with the Canadian Premier League, submitted an operational plan to allow up to 50 people, mostly minor soccer players, to attend the games at the UPEI soccer pitch,” said Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.’s Chief Medical Officer of Health at a news update on Tuesday. “There will be no interaction between the island spectators and the CPL players, but this plan allows young soccer players to experience professional soccer games very close to home.”
One of those young players is 17-year-old Andrew Stewart, who plays with the PEI U17 provincial team.
“My coach got us to go see the game, our whole team got to go. You just had to sign a waiver, and sit six feet apart, but that’s pretty much it, just enjoy the game," says Stewart.
Stewart has now attended two games and says it is inspirational to see pros take to his hometown turf, even from a distance.
“You get to see the level the play at, how fast they are, and how loud they are. It just motivates you to want to play and get to that level, because some of them are ex-University players and to play at University or that level would be phenomenal.”
Clanachan says fans will use a separate entrance, exit and washrooms from the CPL players and staff, and there will be absolutely no contact with the young fans.
But one Island resident got much closer to the action.
When one of the goalkeepers from York 9FC was injured, 19-year-old Evan Couturier was called upon as an emergency backup.
Couturier, a Riverview, New Brunswick native who plays for the men’s soccer team at UPEI, had been receiving weekly COVID-19 testing and trained with the pro team twice before the game.
“I was just hoping to get an opportunity, and then the game last Saturday, I got a phone call saying I would be needed for tonight and to be at the hotel for two o’clock,” describes Couturier.
While he didn’t play in the game, he did get paid, and says the experience of dressing for a professional soccer game was something he’ll never forget.
“You always dream about it as a kid growing up. The goal is to play pro soccer, and then to get an opportunity like this in Charlottetown, and for it to actually happen, it’s been great,” says Couturier. “And all the support from friends and family and teammates has been great.”
After this weekend’s games, half of the teams will be headed home, as the top four team move on to the league’s group stage.
That includes the lone Maritime team, HFX Wanderers FC, who currently sit in fourth place with a record of two wins, three ties and one loss heading into their final match Sunday against Atletico Ottawa.
The CPL Championship Final will be played on September 19.