While it’s abundantly important to focus on the growth of our own nation in the beautiful game, it’s also abundantly clear that one of the primary aims of the CPL is to develop talent that can be sold to other leagues in the world. In some ways, this is a sad reality as some of our very best players leave early on in the season for pastures new. But in other ways, it allows our league to gain recognition in the world market, and has the potential to allow Canadian soccer players to take their development to the next level for higher profile teams.
So with that, in the next few months, I’m going to be rolling out an entire CPL Scouting Database. This will include low-market/high-value players from other realms that CPL clubs should have on their radar, and low-market/high-value players from our league that clubs across the globe should have on their radar.
Today we break into the third of this long-haul series, studying the very best defensive midfielders in Canada’s top flight. Here is our analysis.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- General Information
- Player Introductions & Brief Information
- Statistical Comparisons & General Player Stats
After a data search for defensive midfielders in the Canadian Premier League under the age of 30, we narrowed our scope down to six standout performers. Their general information has been presented below.
|1||Diego Gutiérrez||Valour FC||25||Shuttler||7.25|
|2||Alessandro Hojabrpour||Forge FC||22||Deep-Lying-Playmaker||7.18|
|3||Andre Rampersad||HFX Wanderers||27||Anchor||7.17|
|4||Elliot Simmons||Cavalry FC||24||Anchor||6.89|
|5||Cedric Toussaint||Pacific FC||21||Shuttler||6.83|
We will delve into these ranks and the reasons behind our Player Ratings throughout, but it’s important to note the relative age of our performers. Andre Rampersad is the only player who would be described as having reached his ‘peak age’, with the others still young enough that they’d have room to grow and develop their games.
|1||Diego Gutiérrez||Valour FC||Chile||2023-11-30||Left|
|2||Alessandro Hojabrpour||Forge FC||Canada||2022-11-30||Right|
|3||Andre Rampersad||HFX Wanderers||Trinidad & Tobago||2022-11-30||Right|
|4||Elliot Simmons||Cavalry FC||Canada, England||2022-11-30||Right|
|5||Cedric Toussaint||Pacific FC||Canada||2024-12-31||Right|
Three of our five standout stars also have contracts expiring in a month. But due to the rarity of stellar ‘sixes’ in the league, you’d have to believe their clubs will do everything they can to secure their signatures.
In this first section, we bring you context into who these players are, including their strengths, weaknesses and any key attributes.
1. Diego Gutiérrez
Valour put up a valiant effort to claim a spot in the 2022 CPL Playoffs, and had every player managed to exercise the work ethic and solidity of Diego Gutiérrez, Phillip Dos Santos’ team might have been able to pull it off. That’s a big ask, of course, with the Chilean an absolute warrior out of possession. Fantastic at coming across into the half-spaces to break-up play and limit opposition attacks, Gutiérrez made 3.9 tackles + interceptions per game this season. The left-footed midfielder also used his box-to-box mobility to inject moments of precision and pace into the attack.
Even despite being a defensive disruptor, Gutiérrez magnificently accomplished his tasks from build-up to creation, completing 9 progressive passes per 90, to an 83% success rate. He even completed 10 passes into the final third per 90, wonderfully utilizing his long-range passing ability to break through the thirds. This all paints the picture of Diego Gutiérrez to be capable of far more than what might appear on first glance. That first glance will always give you the hustle and bustle out of possession. But when you give him the ball, he more than handles his own. Whether he could handle the responsibilities of being a single pivot or holding down the midfield all on his own remains relatively untested, but the signs surrounding his mobility and dominance suggest that they’d be more than capable.
2. ALESSANDRO HOJABRPOUREmbed from Getty Images
Entering the Forge scene as a CPL Playoff winning defensive midfielder, Alessandro Hojabrpour featured in more of a box-to-box central midfield role in his first few matches for the Hammers. He quickly showcased an excellent awareness of space, and the position allowed his exceptional precision passing to take place higher up the pitch. But quickly into the season Bobby Smyrniotis adjusted his plans to accommodate for all the injuries at centre-back, pushing Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson into defense, and Hojabrpour into his customary ‘number six’ role.
Hojabrpour flourished in the position, helping to manage Forge’s control over matches, whilst anchoring an adventurous midfield, and leading the charge in the immediacy of defensive transitions. His awareness of space to hold down central channels became a hallmark of Forge’s tight control over matches, roaming around the field to both cover for out of position fullbacks, and secure the midfield on his own.
In possession, Hojabrpour always made his presence felt, playing in somewhat of a ‘Deep-Lying-Playmaker’ role alongside the expressive Kyle Bekker. Fantastic on the ball in spraying passes from deep and engaging positively in the build-up, Hojabrpour found himself dispossessed only 0.46 times per 90, in the process of completing 88% of his passes. Only his mate Kyle Bekker made more accurate passes in the opposition’s half than the 22-year-old (25.6 per 90), helping to spread his influence and command everywhere on the pitch. Playing with the assuredness of someone far older, Hojabrpour has to be on the radar of top MLS sides, and seems destined to make a move to that next level sooner rather than later.
3. ANDRE RAMPERSAD
The most accomplished of our defensive midfielders, Rampersad has the mobility, expressiveness and awareness to make himself an exceptional option for any MLS side or beyond. He’s formidable in defense, nicely holds down a midfield, and possesses enough range and creativity in possession to make the jump. Like any sound defensive midfielder, his heatmap covers a broad spectrum of the pitch, showcasing his class in covering for teammates anywhere on the pitch, and his ability to effect and influence the match in possession. He ranked in the top five for CPL midfielders in both clearances (1.81 per 90) and interceptions (1.52) this season, demonstrating a degree of his excellent positioning in defensive phases.
Rampersad nicely selected moments to join attacking phases and spread his influence in possession, even completing the highest percentage on through-passes (61%) and passes into the penalty area (57%) within our defensive-midfielder dataset. Evidently a key leader for his team, HFX will desperately want to keep hold of Rampersad ahead of the changes set to come in 2023. But that task may be difficult, recognizing his resolute ability between the phases.
4. ELLIOT SIMMONS
Cavalry have a plethora of midfield options to choose from, and Simmons’ continued selection in the side shows his importance and promise. The 24-year-old is a master of positioning and awareness, nicely shifting left to right to cover ground laterally. Part of Cavalry’s superiority in defensive transitions, Simmons won 66.5% of his defensive duels this season and made nearly 3 tackles per 90.
Typically bypassed in possession phases, Simmons is more of a defensively-minded ‘Anchor’, and rarely ventures forward into the attack. It would be interesting to see how his game could evolve at a different club, but for the time being, he remains a stalwart in defense, and a difficult wall to bypass in Cavalry’s midfield.
5. CEDRIC TOUSSAINT
From starting the season as a peripheral player at York United to a pivotal part of Pacific’s plans, it’s been quite the season for Cedric Toussaint. Pacific made quite the acquisition in Toussaint, trading him for Matthew Baldisimo halfway throught he season. In the 21-year-old Canadian, Pacific acquired a more defensively proactive footballer, with more variety to his play, and someone three years younger than what they had before. The move has worked like a charm, and Toussaint has impressed in a half-baked Deep-Lying role, where he’s integral both in and out of possession.
Nicely selecting moments to join the attack, Toussaint accumulated the most key passes per 90 of our cohort (1.01), helping to inject variety into the attacking play of both York and Pacific throughout the season. He
He’s still only 21, but the early signs from his time at Pacific are incredibly encouraging, and showcase a player that can fulfill a number of different midfield roles depending on the circumstance.
Even despite being defensive midfielders, you can see just how much ground the likes of Hojabrpour, Gutiérrez and Rampersad covered this season. As a left-footed player playing on the left-side of a double pivot, Gutiérrez spikes highest on his natural side. Hojabrpour meanwhile showcases a tendency to drift over to the right-half-spaces and combine with Sissoko and Rama, but that is also where the midfielder would play when not in the role of the ‘6’. Simmons and Toussaint have covered the least amount of ground this season, which is partially down to accumulating fewer minutes for their teams.
All heatmaps are courtesy of SofaScore – our favourite platform for CPL stats.
The following sections break down who I would personally recommend on various categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each feature. We recognize the need to find a player who fits your team’s style of play and the role in need, so we endeavour to break the game down into different elements that could help guide your scouting process.
The following table breaks down who I would personally recommend on various defensive categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each element.
|1v1 Dueling||Pos. Awareness||Pressing||Aerial Ability||Discipline|
|D. Gutiérrez||E. Simmons||D. Gutiérrez||A. Rampersad||A. Hojabrpour|
We’ve purposefully chosen defensive midfielders who more than hold their own in the defensive side of the game – as an integral facet to their game. Some are savvy in their positional sense and covering (Simmons, Hojabrpour, Rampersad), while others love to get stuck in and throw themselves into challenges (Toussaint, Gutierrez).
|Rank||Player||Tkl + Int.||Def. Act.||Def. Duel %||Aerial %||Drb. Past||YC|
Elliot Simmons comes out on top in the most categories across the board, including boasting the second highest dueling percentage, and accomplishing the most tackles + interceptions per 90. For any team searching for a savvy, defensively-minded ‘Anchor’, Elliot Simmons has to be on the list. Then you have players like Toussaint and Gutiérrez who roam around the pitch looking to proactively break up the play. Neither are afraid to make fouls or put themselves at risk of being dribbled past, as part of an aggressive mindset to win the ball at all costs.
The following table breaks down who I would personally recommend on various attacking categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each.
|Goal Contribution||Chance Creation||Att. Dueling||Dribbling||Prog. Running|
|A. Hojabrpour||D. Gutiérrez||A. Hojabrpour||D. Gutiérrez||A. Rampersad|
Before jumping into all of the data, it’s important to remember that the key task of most of our ‘defensive midfielders’ is to hold their position. The likes of Alessandro Hojabrpour and Elliot Simmons are not meant to participate in the bulk of the work done in attacking phases, instead preparing for defensive transitions through meticulous positioning and covering. We would then expect our ‘Shuttling’ types to be the ones to spike higher in attacking stats, and to some extent that holds true.
|Rank||Player||Att. Act||Att. Duel %||Drbl %||Key P||PPA||Prog. R|
Diego Gutiérrez comes out on top for his dynamic dribbling and box to box mobility, with Cedric Toussaint a notable passer of the ball in the final third. Simmons and Hojabrpour are quieter as expected, but both remain capable of splitting defenses and contributing when called upon.
The following table breaks down who I would personally recommend on various on-the-ball categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each feature.
|Forward Passing||Carrying||Vision & Awareness||Build-Up||Ball Control|
|D. Gutiérrez||A. Rampersad||A. Hojabrpour||A. Hojabrpour||A. Hojabrpour|
Alessandro Hojabrpour is magnificent on the ball, as you’d expect for the holding midfielder in a possession-based 4-3-3. The 22-year-old found himself dispossessed just 0.46 times per 90 in 2022, losing possession with less than 15% of his touches.
|Rank||Player||Pass C.||Pass %||Prog. P||Pass F. 1/3||P. Lost / Tch||Dis.|
But when looking at the progressive behaviours of our midfielders, it’s hard to overlook the efforts of Chilean midfielder Diego Gutiérrez, who completed nearly 10 passes into the final third and 9 progressive passes per 90 in 2022.
Elliot Simmons dissipates down in the possession numbers, as a less influential figure on the ball for the Cavs. Clearly confident on the ball, Andre Rampersad holds his own with the best in the business, despite being more of a defensive presence for HFX.
When asking the question of what player to sign, it’s important to examine the most relevant information for your context. If you desire to find a true ‘6’ who can hold down the midfield and play as a lone wolf – anchoring all on their own, Andre Rampersad might be your best bet. If looking for someone slightly more savvy in possession, Alessandro Hojabrpour is worth the swing. If you’re looking for someone to play in a double pivot and dynamically venture box to box, Diego Gutiérrez is one of the best that the CANPL has to offer.
But overall, when combining our TMS Player Ratings with the statistics outlined in the previous sections, here is how our defensive midfielders stack up.
|1||Diego Gutiérrez||Valour FC||7.25||2||1||2|
|2||Alessandro Hojabrpour||Forge FC||7.21||4||4||1|
|3||Andre Rampersad||HFX Wanderers||7.18||3||2||3|
|4||Elliot Simmons||Cavalry FC||6.89||1||5||5|
|5||Cedric Toussaint||Pacific FC||6.83||5||3||4|
Despite his evident qualities in defense, Elliot Simmons might be at the right level for now, serving as a stalwart at the heart of the Cavalry midfield. Cedric Toussaint is also in the right place having found his home with Pacific. At 21 years old, he will only continue to grow the possession-based, tactical IQ elements of his game that can complement his defensive proactivity and box-to-box mobility. If looking for the complete package, Diego Gutiérrez might offer the most.
So there it is! Our complete scouting database of defensive midfielders inside the #CANPL. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, and follow on social media @desmondrhys and @mastermindsite. For any further information on the players above, feel free to reach out! Thanks for reading and see you soon! 👊⚽
-> Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Right-Backs
-> Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Centre-Backs
Not convinced? Check out these CPL players who have already made the move across the pond…
-> Why Victor Loturi caught the eye of Ross County – Player Analysis
-> Diyaeddine Abzi – Player Analysis
-> Why Alejandro Diaz caught the eye of Sogndal Fotball
-> Aribim Pepple – Player Analysis
-> Why William Akio caught the eye of Ross County – Player Analysis
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