Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Central Midfielders

While it’s abundantly important to focus on the growth of our own nation in the beautiful game, it’s also clear that one of the primary aims of the CPL is to develop talent that can be sold to other leagues around 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 fourth of this long-haul series, studying the very best central midfielders in Canada’s top flight. Here is our analysis.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. General Information
  2. Player Introductions & Brief Information
  3. Statistical Comparisons & General Player Stats
  4. Conclusions

GENERAL INFORMATION

After a data search for central midfielders in the Canadian Premier League under the age of 30, we narrowed our scope down to eight standout performers. Their general information has been presented below.

RankPlayerTeamAgeRoleRating
1Ollie BassettAtletico Ottawa24Box to Box Midfielder7.57
2Jérémy Gagnon-LaparéHFX Wanderers27Tempo Setter7.48
3Manny AparicioPacific FC27Box to Box Midfielder7.37
4Aboubacar SissokoForge FC27Box to Box Midfielder7.33
5Gabriel BitarFC Edmonton24Midfield Maestro6.91
6Sean YoungPacific FC21Tempo Setter6.93
7Zakaria BahousAtletico Ottawa21Midfield Maestro6.90
8Isaiah JohnstonYork United21Midfield Maestro6.88

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.

RankPlayerTeamEligibilityContract Exp.FootAlt. Pos.
1Ollie BassettAtletico OttawaEngland2023-11-30RightRM
2Jérémy Gagnon-LaparéHFX WanderersCanada2022-11-30LeftDM
3Manny AparicioPacific FCArgentina, Canada2022-11-30RightAM
4Aboubacar SissokoForge FCMali2023-11-30RightRB
5Gabriel BitarFC EdmontonCanada2022-12-30RightAM
6Sean YoungPacific FCCanada2022-11-30RightDM
7Zakaria BahousAtletico OttawaCanada2023-11-30RightAM
8Isaiah JohnstonYork UnitedCanada2024-11-30RightAM

Contracts in the CPL are relatively short-term and constantly re-assessed at the end of the season, which means that several players could leave their clubs at the end of the season if they wanted a move away. Since central midfielders also happen to be fairly versatile, we’ve outlined an alternative position for each. Quite a few dovetailed between ‘Creative Ten’ and central midfield responsibilities this season, and Aboubacar Sissoko spent the first few months as a dynamic right-back.

PLAYER INTRODUCTIONS

In this first section, we bring you context into who these players are, including their strengths, weaknesses and any key attributes.

1. OLLIE BASSETT

As the 2022 CPL Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year, Ollie Bassett has had quite the rise this season. His move from Pacific has turned out to be a dream decision, going from strength to strength in a box-to-box midfield role for the regular-season champs. Bassett excels with the ball at his feet, but also possesses a tireless engine to venture all around the pitch and create chances in the final third. The British midfielder fit like a glove into Atletico’s plans, and was essential to bringing the ball out from the back, shifting wide to receive, and helping to combine in wide overloads to unbalance the opposition’s defense. In the final third, he timed his runs to perfection to contribute with 8 goals and 3 assists. In possession, as part of Atletico’s quick play through the thirds, the 24-year-old always remained an engaging presence on the pitch, completing 77% of his progressive passes and passes into the final third. He rarely found himself dispossessed or gave the ball away for his team, always remaining a central cog to their ability to keep hold of the ball and control matches in their own sense of the word.

Out of possession, Bassett never quite hit the same highs, but always remained a positionally aware presence to have in midfield that could nicely handle his own in Atletico’s stern low-block. When in full flow going the other way, he was always difficult to stop. The players recognized this too, voting him this season’s Player of the Year.

2. Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé

Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé excels on the ball like no one else in our midfield cohort, with absolute pace and precision behind every progressive thrust. He could play to equal effect as an ‘8’ or ‘6’, working his magic and pulling strings from deep while simultaneously boosting the attack by joining on the fun and creating closer to goal. It seems crazy that the 27-year-old accumulated just 3 assists this season, especially given his 2.3 key passes and 0.22 xA per 90. His underperformance in assist-making speaks to the quality of Halifax’s finishing, which was an essential cause for debate in our Stephen Hart analysis and in our recruitment suggestions for the club moving forward. If Halifax are to keep hold of one player next season, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé would have to be extraordinarily high up on the list for what he offers on and off the ball.

Smooth as you like, Gagnon-Laparé completed 4 accurate long passes per game, 6.4 progressive passes per 90, and 2.5 passes into the penalty area. His defensive work rate also became a hallmark of his play, with 2.6 tackles per game and a 61% defensive dueling rate. He’d be a perfect Kyle Bekker replacement for Forge FC next season should the Hammers look into finding a carbon-copy of their Canadian captain; and could easily make a splash at a team outside the CPL.

3. MANNY APARICIO

Manny Aparicio enjoyed a magnificent start to the season, and at the halfway point looked like a genuine contender for Player of the Season. But a couple of red cards and the departure of Diaz combined to turn Aparicio’s season slightly sour, and meant he only featured in 19 matches between both the regular season and Playoffs. Nevertheless, Aparicio was never hit as hard by Diaz’s departure as players like Marco Bustos, and consistently showcased himself to be able to function effectively all on his own, even if no other player on the team was having an enjoyable day. It’s Aparicio’s numbers in the final third where he would probably want to improve after such a fine start, as he ended the season on just 2 goals and 3 assists and struggled to get into the right areas to combine with what often felt like a strikerless system in the absence of Diaz.

Nevertheless, the 27-year-old would be an incredible box-to-box option for any MLS club, and would be equally capable of playing in a ‘Creative Ten’ role closer to the striker. He performed both roles for Pacific to equal effect all season long, utilizing his exceptional on the ball presence to help advance the team closer to goal, switch play left to right, or dynamically carry the ball up the pitch all on his own. He ended the campaign on nearly 12 passes into the final third per 90 (11.89), 2.59 passes into the penalty area, and 10.2 progressive passes, which is all well ahead of every midfielder on the list, and right up there with the likes of Rezart Rama. Often trying the extravagant as he worked his magic and made his presence known, Aparicio just provides a cutting edge for Pacific that most teams simply can’t offer.

4. ABOUBACAR SISSOKO

We’ve opened this article with two exceptional box-to-box midfielders, but there’s no one better at the art of running around the pitch and getting around than the marathon man himself – Aboubacar Sissoko. Sissoko is a top-notch progressive runner, an astute seeker of space, and frequently contributed to Forge’s attacks this season regardless of playing as a right-back or as a central midfielder. He played remarkably well in an ‘Inverted Fullback’ role at the start of the season, playing almost like a midfielder as he dynamically carried the ball through the thirds, and progressed the ball from deep. But he flourished after Rama’s introduction to the team, where he was moved into a midfield three alongside Alessandro Hojabrpour and Kyle Bekker. Playing in the high possession, high tempo play of Forge FC, Sissoko won more fouls (2.5 per 90), took more touches in the opposition’s box (1.9) and made more crosses (1.4) than any other player in this study.

Spending half the season at right-back also helped to give him some positive defensive numbers, where he was only dribbled past 0.5 times per game this season. Sissoko’s energy and versatility makes him an ideal option for any club, and you can guarantee that he will work his socks off for the greater good of the team and put the needs of others above his own.

5. gabriel bitar

After the first four names on this list, there’s a significant drop-off to the rest, where the next set of names are probably at the right level for now. Each have their own dynamism to add to any CPL club though and could continue to grow as young players making their way through the game. Gabriel Bitar is one such player that impressed this season after a return to the league with FC Edmonton, making himself one of their key threats in carrying the ball forward and making magic happen in the final third. Bitar was magnificent in both attacking and defensive transitions, and made himself a combative warrior for the Eddies out of possession. He also scored some absolute firecrackers this season when striking from distance, making himself someone that was never afraid to catch the eye.

His in-possession stats would however need to drastically improve if he were to move to one of the echelon of CPL clubs or beyond, but he’d be a great fit for the defensive resilience and explosiveness on the break seen at Atletico Ottawa.

6. sean young

Sean Young is a precise pass master that makes the simple tasks on the pitch look all the easier. He’s superb on the ball from build-up to creation, and positionally aware enough out of possession to handle his own in both 1v1 battles and in compacting the pitch with his team. He’s perfect for a club like Pacific where he can help to set the tempo without needing to be a key danger man, and then react when possession changes hands to win tackles and anticipate opposition attempts. He could certainly up his contributions in the final third, but his defensive stats are significant for Pacific, and he’s always made himself a difficult presence to bypass in Merriman’s midfield this season. Now that Jamar Dixon is retiring from the sport, Young should be set for an increase in minutes and importance next season.

7. ZAKARIA BAHOUS

A dynamic dribbler and capable creator, Zakaria Bahous made the left-midfield position his own in the second-half of the season, after starting the season as a substitute right-wing-back. His superb on-the-ball dribbling and pizzazz was a key reason why Gonzalez ended up switching to a 4-1-4-1 out of possession rather than 4-4-2, ensuring he could stick an extra number in the midfield areas to compliment Ollie Bassett’s nice tempo setting and box-to-box mobility going the other way.

Bahous has only carried on as an important threat for Ottleti in the second half of the season, playing a pivotal part in their transitional moments across both semi-final legs. Perhaps most surprisingly from our data search, he also more than holds his own in defensive phases and loves to get stuck into challenges. No player in this cohort made more tackles + interceptions (4.08) or defensive actions (9.24) than Bahous across his minutes this season, making himself an integral component to Atletico’s defensive resilience under Carlos Gonzalez.

8. ISAIAH JOHNSTON

Isaiah Johnston is the final name to make our list, after an early-season transition from attacking midfield into a double midfield pivot. Noah Verhoeven and Matthew Baldisimo found minutes harder to come by in the second half of the campaign due to Johnston’s box-to-box mobility and defensive nous in 2022, even sometimes playing more as a ‘Shuttler’ for the club. A creative player who is capable of dribbling out of trouble, Johnston still has to refine his on-the-ball vision and awareness, ensuring his progression and passing numbers spike next season. But the 21-year-old is certainly on the right path to growing his game at York United, and with a contract that expires in 2024, he’s one of a few players who has a solid long-term plan for himself should he want to stay in Toronto.

HEATMAP COMPARISONS

The various positions that each player has played in across the season become highly evident in the heatmaps. This includes Bahous featuring as a wing-back on both sides, Johnston and Bitar playing as a ’10’, and Sissoko featuring as a right-back. Manny Aparicio’s heatmap covers the most width and depth, often playing in a ‘Creative Ten’ role where he had freedom of positioning. But he was always quick to involve himself in every phase of play, often dropping toward the ball in build-up phases and then vigorously pressing from the front.

All heatmaps are courtesy of SofaScore – our favourite platform for CPL stats.

statistical comparisons

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.

DEFENDING

The following table breaks down who I would personally recommend on various defensive categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each element.

1v1 DuelingPos. AwarenessPressingAerial AbilityDiscipline
J. Gagnon-LaparéS. YoungA. SissokoA. SissokoO. Bassett

Aboubacar Sissoko is perhaps the most energetic of all our players in defensive phases, making a decent number of tackles and interceptions despite Forge’s high possession, and rarely finding himself dribbled past. But when comparing percentages and volume of defensive numbers together, the likes of Sean Young and Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé stand out.

RankPlayerTkl + Int.Def. Act.Def. Duel %Aerial %Drb. PastYC
1J. Gagnon-Laparé3.669.0461.751.40.940.29
2S. Young3.729.0160.840.00.990.24
3G. Bitar3.306.4367.727.81.060.10
4A. Sissoko2.385.336053.50.550.17
5Z. Bahous4.089.2458.028.61.400.22
6M. Aparicio2.697.4454.152.51.960.14
7I. Johnston2.636.9359.931.30.880.47
8O. Bassett2.165.4554.718.21.240.13

As a dynamic dribbler and creative outlet, you may be surprised to see Zakaria Bahous fare so well in the defensive side of the game, and this bodes well for his continuation in a defensively-minded Atletico Ottawa team, or his potential to expand his horizons and seek pastures new. He’s not afraid to get stuck into challenges, and has enough positional sense about him to fulfill multiple roles. Manny Aparicio’s numbers are also quite decent as he buzzes around the pitch, and his aerial percentages impress even despite his 5’8 height. Bitar leads the way on defensive dueling, which will help if he makes the jump to a higher pressing team next season.

ATTACKING

The following table breaks down who I would personally recommend on various attacking categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each.

Goal ContributionChance CreationAtt. DuelingDribblingProg. Running
O. BassettJ. Gagnon-LaparéA. SissokoG. BitarA. Sissoko

As both a set-piece threat and open play creator, Ollie Bassett is tough to top when it comes to goal contribution. But he’s not the most fruitful of our players in his attacking duels, attacking actions completed, or in creatively advancing the play in the final third.

RankPlayerG + AAtt. ActDuel %DrblKey PPPAProg. R
1M. Aparicio0.303.2639.73.301.342.841.81
2A. Sissoko0.262.2943.62.460.742.701.96
3G. Bitar0.323.2944.34.890.581.001.70
4O. Bassett0.391.9541.21.711.492.081.04
5I. Johnston0.192.7036.83.940.751.641.64
6Z. Bahous0.122.2045.92.970.871.980.77
7J. Gagnon-Laparé0.101.0341.50.792.252.410.44
8S. Young0.061.2737.11.571.281.321.27

Gabriel Bitar has made the most of his attacking moments this season, dynamically dribbling the ball under pressure and progressively running up the pitch to enhance Edmonton’s unsteady attacking endeavours. Manny Aparicio also stands out for his incisive passing into the penalty area, and his destructive dribbling through traffic. He’d be an easy second or third choice in each of the categories listed above, despite not being selected to top any of the five. Aboubacar Sissoko is a player who’s involved in everything Forge put together, and unsurprisingly, it’s his off-the-ball work rate that stands out. Finally, it’s worth noting what might have been for HFX this season had Joao Morelli managed to stay fit. Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé’s creation numbers are quite outrageous, and Hart’s team just needed someone to finish off the chances.

POSSESSION

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 PassingCarryingVision & AwarenessBuild-UpBall Control
O. Bassett G. BitarJ. Gagnon-LaparéO. BassettO. Bassett

Ollie Bassett is exceptional on the ball, and particularly difficult to dispossess. The way he ghosts and glides past opposition players and picks out the right areas of the field to receive have made him incredibly effective for Atletico Ottawa this season. But again, it’s Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé that we have to give some credit to for his intelligence and tactical nous in possession.

RankPlayerPass C.Pass %Prog. PP. Final 1/3P. Lost / TchDis.
1J. Gagnon-Laparé44.485.06.417.560.261.57
2O. Bassett31.583.06.345.920.240.53
3M. Aparicio38.778.010.211.90.280.73
4S. Young42.685.55.527.20.271.39
5A. Sissoko33.679.37.236.40.261.66
6I. Johnston24.980.94.364.580.311.31
7Z. Bahous24.782.65.064.40.401.22
8G. Bitar16.472.53.544.740.351.65

Gabriel Bitar is perhaps the only player yet to prove that he could play in a possession-based side, having boasted a poor passing percentage and a high rate of possession losses per touch. Pierre Lamothe, who failed to make our top eight, stands out in the percentage points within this category, showing himself to be a pivotal passer for the future of HFX, and perhaps more than just a carbon-copy of Gagnon-Laparé.

CONCLUSIONS

After this long-haul search of central midfielders in the CPL, four key figures stand out as being above the level of the league. Ollie Bassett is perhaps the most obvious to catch the eye when you watch him play, and his defensive awareness does not necessarily manifest in crunching into tackles and accumulating positive defensive stats like some of his peers.

RankPlayerTeamRatingDEF.ATT.POS.
1Ollie BassettAtletico Ottawa7.57842
2Jérémy Gagnon-LaparéHFX Wanderers7.48171
3Manny AparicioPacific FC7.37613
4Aboubacar SissokoForge FC7.33425
5Gabriel BitarFC Edmonton6.91338
6Sean YoungPacific FC6.91284
7Zakaria BahousAtletico Ottawa6.90567
8Isaiah JohnstonYork United6.88756

Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé is also one of the standout performers, even despite not catching the eye to the same extent as the lavish and dynamic Manny Aparicio or the CPL Player of the Year in Bassett himself. Aboubacar Sissoko is a genius for what he accomplishes off-the-ball, and an incredibly tenacious player that any club would be lucky to have.

Then there’s a severe drop-off to the likes of Bitar, Young, Bahous and Johnston – each young players who could improve with time and stake their claim for an MLS move in the future. For now, if any club is looking to sign a player from the CPL, Ollie Bassett has to be right up there at the top of the list.


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
-> Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Defensive Midfielders

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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4 thoughts on “Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Central Midfielders

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