Easton named CPL vice president of soccer operations
By Matthew Gourlie
The Canadian Premier League continues to stock its front office with impressive hires.
Wednesday, the CPL announced that James Easton will be the head of soccer operations for the league. As the CPL’s vice president of soccer operations Easton is responsible for all on-field matters. That includes competition standards, player management and development, officiating and scheduling.
The CPL said he will also work closely with regulatory groups to ensure all aspects of the CPL are in full compliance to FIFA, CONCACAF and Canada Soccer standards.
“James is a long-standing champion of Canadian men’s soccer and he possesses an intrinsic understanding of what is required to make the CPL a long-term success on and off the pitch. To have James’ technical expertise, knowledge and vision in our corner will allow the CPL to deliver some compelling competition,” said CPL Commissioner David Clanachan in a release.
Easton, 52, had a distinguished — albeit short — professional career before working as a consultant.
“The CPL has injected Canadian soccer with new life and, as a lifelong fan of the sport, I couldn’t be more honoured to be a part of this grassroots movement that will bring greater opportunities for our athletes to play the game that they love at a professional level,” Easton said in a release. “This is an incredibly rewarding opportunity for all of us at the CPL to give back to the communities that have shown unwavering support for soccer in Canada, and I’m excited to help build a league that is strong, competitive and engaging for fans from coast to coast.”
Easton made his professional debut in 1983, the summer he turned 18, with the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies. He spent time in England with Leicester City, with Dundee United in Scotland and in Brazil but never played a first-team match. He returned to Vancouver in 1987 and joined the 86ers for the first season of the Canadian Soccer League. He would be part of the 86ers run to four straight CSL titles. He stayed with the 86ers for two more seasons in the American Professional Soccer League after the CSL folded, but retired in 1994 at the age of 29.
After earning his MBA in executive management from Royal Roads University, Easton founded ReThink Management Group, “a boutique, football-centric, sports and culture consultancy” in San Francisco.
Easton has helped produce soccer training videos, author soccer training guidebooks and develop on-line soccer training tools. He also was previously the head coach of Capilano University in Vancouver.
At ReThink he authored the 32-page “In A League Of Our Own” report for the CSA that made recommendations for the best pathway to develop young players to reach their potential.
In the report, which was commissioned in 2011, Easton was blunt in accessing how the men’s game in Canada got to where it is.
“The current crisis in elite Canadian men’s football has been decades in the making, the result of a collective failure to embrace technical and tactical changes and commercial advancements that have occurred in the game. Lacking a clear sense of purpose, weighed down by an amateur foundation, and suffering from years of benign neglect, the game at the top level in Canada has stagnated. Moreover, there are too many footballing interests covering the same ground or pursuing their own objectives. The system is disparate and the current “grab-bag” approach to player development, as one consultee termed it, mitigates against the creation of a viable national strategy that will return the maximum football benefit to the whole country.
In practical terms, this means that the country’s footballing potential will simply not happen if Canada continues to charge forward with no coherent vision for the future.”
Ultimately the report recommended four regional leagues with a focus on players aged 18-23, similar to the model used by junior hockey’s Canadian Hockey League.
In the report, Easton said a coast-to-coast national league “would give talented Canadians the opportunity to play in a professional senior environment and help expand the pool of players available for national team selection. It would also provide an ideal training ground for Canadians who have an interest in furthering themselves in the game as coaches, referees and administrators.”
Ultimately, the report’s concerns about a lack of suitable venues, along with competition from other leagues and uncertain consumer demand were cited as reasons to recommend another path.
Still, at the time, CSA president Victor Montagliani said the report and its recommendations were “more of a start than a finish.”
With the rapid progress of the quality and affordability of pop-up stadiums, the CPL feel they have solved the issue of suitable stadia. They also clearly believe the demand is there.
The three Canadian MLS teams have averaged more than 20,000 fans per match for consecutive seasons. Canadian MLS stadiums have been at least 90 per cent full for every season the teams have been in the league.
A week after formally unveiling Paul Beirne as the CPL’s president, the addition of an experienced player with Easton’s consulting background is another strong hire.
Easton earned six caps for Canada and was a starter in their 3-1 win over Peru in Lima in 1988 in front of 45,000 fans. It was Canada’s first win over a CONMEBOL nation (they still only have three to their credit, a win over Chile later that year and then the Gold Cup final win over Colombia). That squad was built on young CSL players and the core of the 1987 FIFA Under-20 World Cup team.
Easton’s father, Jim Easton Sr., played professionally for Hibernian and Dundee and was the player/manager for Queen of the South before moving to the NASL to play with the Miami Toros. He managed the Vancouver Whitecaps in their first two seasons in the NASL and the family remained in Vancouver afterwards.