The 2018 Metfone C-League season involving 12 teams that kicks off on Saturday could well be the most diverse in recent memory.
Signings this year come for the first time from countries as far afield as Antigua and Barbuda, Lesotho and the United States.
Only two of the dozen teams in the fray, Electricite du Cambodge and National Police Commissary resisted the temptation of importing players, but the rest have filled their rosters between two and the maximum five allowed per team.
Japanese players head the list with 16 in all, followed by Nigeria’s 10, and the Korean Peninsula is equally represented, with five each from the North and South.
Other nationalities roaming the pitch will include Brazil, Cameroon, Iran and Ivory Coast.
That welcome diversity is seen the touchline as well, with Spaniard Oriol Mahedano coaching Angkor Tiger, Englishman Sean Sainsbury with Phnom Penh Crown, Conor Nestor of Republic of Ireland joining Svay Rieng, Malaysian Fisol Lasak in charge of Western Phnom Penh and Japan’s Yuki Matsuda managing Soltilo Angkor.
Two teams promoted from League 1, Visakha and Soltilo are the newcomers this season, while the Siem Reap-based Cambodian Tiger have renamed themselves Angkor Tiger.
Defending champions Boeung Ket face Asia Euro United in the opener on Sunday against the backdrop of last Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Myanmar’s Shan United in the AFC Cup Group Stage after suffering a 9-0 humiliation at the hands of Ceres Negros of the Philippines a fortnight ago.
Coach Keo Kosal will be hoping for a positive start in the defence of their title as they seek an unprecedented hat-trick of championships in the history of the Cambodian top flight.
In the second fixture of the day, Phnom Penh Crown will face newly promoted Soltilo.
The six-time champions have two interesting foreign additions to their squad this season: Jorrin John from Antigua and Barbuda, along with Sunny Jane from Lesotho.
The 27-year-old John came through the youth ranks of Aston Villa and Leicester City and represented England at U16, U17, 18 and U19 levels before turning to Antigua and Barbuda to pursue his international career in October 2014.
Sunny Jane has seven appearances for the Lesotho national team including one against Seychelles in the African Nations Cup qualification.
Army call in reinforcements
In Saturday’s final game, National Police lock horns with Western Phnom Penh.
The marquee matchup of the opening Gameweek on Sunday will be repeat of December’s Hun Sen Cup final between Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng and NagaWorld.
Svay Rieng proved too wily and strong for Naga in that clash, and Naga coach Meas Channa will be desperate for a piece of silverware having gone close twice since taking over from Prak Sovannara in 2014.
As well as acquiring talented Japanese player Tatsuro Inui, Naga have signed George Bisan from Cup-winners Svay Rieng.
Even before making their first move on the pitch, Vishaka FC have already created quite a stir by signing five North Koreans, including the four headed by the versatile Choe Myong-ho that represented the National Defense Ministry last season.
The pick of the lot is 30-year-old Pak Song-chol, who has made an impressive 39 appearances for the North Korean national team, including in World Cup qualification campaigns.
Visakha will be up against Electricite du Cambodge, who came out of their debut MCL season last term with a third place in the Hun Sen Cup after upsetting Boeung Ket 5-4 in a penalty shootout.
Angkor Tiger have drawn a tough tie against National Defense Ministry, who lost out on a first league title on penalties against Boeung Ket two months ago.
As a consequence of that disappointing turn, the Armymen unloaded all four North Koreans from their squad to Visakha.
But the Armymen brought in three South Korean and two Japanese players as reinforcements.