2021 CPL-U SPORTS Draft Roundup
The first fully digital CPL-U SPORTS Draft has now concluded, with all eight Canadian Premier Leagues conducting two selections each over the course of a two-round snake draft, with 16 selections being made in all.
The inaugural CPL-U SPORTS Draft saw thirteen selections earn 15,249 minutes of game time in the inaugural CPL season, many of whom also saw action at The Island Games. Last year saw the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft bring fourteen selections, with four of those athletes then going on to sign a mixture of developmental and professional contracts.
Despite the cancellation of the 2020 U SPORTS Men’s Soccer season, Canadian Premier League Commissioner David Clanachan felt it was important to continue the draft annually and support professional playing opportunities for university students:
This is a groundbreaking partnership that was formed with U SPORTS, and it’s actually laid track for other sports to do the same. I think it’s important that we provide opportunities for university players to start on a professional career if they want to. I think Canadians in general have embraced this.David Clanachan
This year’s draft saw 48 possible selections make the list, a handful of whom are former draftees and 19 of which are eligible as domestic U-21 category players. In accordance with a new league rule to prevent repeat selections, the Halifax Wanderers retained the rights for Jake Ruby while Forge FC retained the rights for Gabriel Balbinotti – though since they’re still free agents at the end of the day, it’s still up in the air whether they’ll re-sign.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the 2021 CPL-U SPORTS Draft played out:
1: FC Edmonton – Thomas Gardner (University of British Columbia)
The first overall draft pick becomes the first player to be selected in the draft no less than three times: 22-year-old Thunderbirds midfielder Thomas Gardner has been selected by FC Edmonton.
Gardner arrives to the club having had a history with new Eddies gaffer Alan Koch, who coached the Thunderbirds midfielder during his time with the Whitecaps 2. The 2019 U SPORTS season saw Gardner score five goals and complete four assists in 16 matches for the Thunderbirds.
He is technical and creative. I’ve had the priviledge of working with him before a few years ago with the Whitecaps, and I’m very familiar with him as a player and as a person. We’re excited to bring him into our group and we firmly believe he can be very successful in the CPL.Alan Koch
The 22-year-old was selected sixth overall in 2018 by Pacific FC, missing out a trial opportunity due to a knee injury. The following year saw him selected twelfth overall by Pacific, with the COVID-19 pandemic seeing him pass over a playing opportunity.
The move marks a stark contrast to previous FC Edmonton draft picks, with former head coach Jeff Paulus having stuck with local FC Edmonton Academy products over the past two seasons.
2: Atletico Ottawa – Christopher Malekos (Carleton University)
The first-ever Atletico Ottawa draft pick is Quebec-born defender Christopher Malekos, who stands at a tall six-foot-three and brings the expansion side plenty of physical presence:
He is physically dominant and excellent in aerial duals and tackles. He plays very simply and efficiently. He’s a key player on set pieces and has the ability to score goals. He’s perfect for us.Mista
The 22-year-old is described as a standout for both Carleton University and PLSQ side Ottawa South United, with Malekos playing a key role in the Ravens side at the 2019 U SPORTS National Championship and earning his first U SPORTS First Team All-Star recognition a year prior.
3: Valour FC – Yuba-Rayane Yesli (University of Montreal)
At an imposing six-foot-seven, Yesli would immediately cement himself as the tallest-ever Canadian Premier League athletes if he can turn his draft pick into a contract.
The 21-year-old Montreal Impact Academy product and former CS Fabrose man comes to the club after some scouting from midfielder Masta Kacher, who trained with the Carabins goalkeeper in Montreal prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What a fantastically physical profile for a goalkeeper. He’s got the whole world in his hands, he’s got all the tools to be a modern goalkeeper. He’s had a great upbringing in a professional academy in the MLS and was a top performer in the PLSQ.Rob Gale
Gale revealed that the the club will certainly consider making him one of their two goalkeepers, with the gaffer having previously stated that this side was looking to also bring in a potential MLS loan goalkeeper, with Matt Silva still in discussion with the side as well.
4: York United – Christopher Campoli (Ontario Tech University)
York United has gone local with its choice in six-foot-tall attacking midfielder Christopher Campoli.
The 19-year-old Woodbridge native arrives following a strong season with Ontario Tech that saw him score six goals and provide six assists, with the youngster appearing for the side sixteen times overall.
We like him because he’s an intelligent player who’s very technical. He sees the pitch well from tight areas and he has an eye for goal, and with that quick turn of pace he’s the type of player we’re looking for in the middle of the park.Jim Brennan
Capable of playing on the right wing, Campoli was voted the Ontario Tech’s MVP player, and should prove an interesting prospect – though if Isaiah Johnston is any indication, York United don’t always move quickly to offer a contract.
5: Pacific FC – Christopher Lee (University of British Columbia)
Pa-Modou Kah’s first draft pick went local with 19-year-old Whitecaps Residency product Christopher Lee, who arrives to the side as a left-back who can also be deployed in centre-midfield if required. If offered a contract, he will count as a domestic U-21 player for the 2021 Canadian Premier League season.
James Merriman and myself had the pleasure of working with Chris when he was very young, and when I stopped playing I had the pleasure to watch him. Being able to see a left-back at such age with technical ability and good crosses, and also being a product from the Whitecaps, he’s from this region so it made sense.Pa-Modou Kah
The head coach made note that with Pacific FC Captain Marcel de Jong at an age where his minutes may need to be managed, the club wanted to have a young talent to learn directly from the veteran left-back and potentially fill in as necessary.
6: Cavalry FC – Victor Loturi (Mount Royal University)
A familiar face to Cavalry FC fans, 19-year-old midfielder Victor Loturi has been selected by the Alberta-based side. The five-foot-eleven youngster made four appearances for the side across the inaugural Canadian Premier League season, and had previously played under Tommy Wheeldon Jr. with the Calgary Foothills, too.
It’s not an unusual one for our fans, is it, because they’ve seen him in 2019. For us it’s been a long and winding road for him to get back to where we are.Tommy Wheeldon Jr.
The right-footed youngster is a local Calgary product who has represented Alberta across several age groups, and had a pre-existing connection to the club given that now-retired defender Jay Wheeldon had coached him at the youth level with the Calgary Foothills.
7: Halifax Wanderers – Stefan Karajovanovic (Carleton University)
21-year-old striker Stefan Karajovanic is a name that should be familiar to draft fans: last year he was selected fifth overall as York United’s top pick, with the Gatineau-born forward trialing with both York United and Atletico Ottawa before getting another shot at the league with today’s selection.
We wanted to have a little bit of variety in and around the penalty area, somebody that’s a little more direct who can make things happen with his dribbling, and he certainly fits that profile.Stephen Hart
Stating that Karajovanovic can make things happen is an understatement: he’s scored an astounding 35 goals in 37 appearances with the Ravens, and has impressed with current PLSQ title holders AS Blainville, too. All-told, the two-footed goalscorer seems well-positioned for a chance at the professional level.
8: Forge FC – Garven-Michee Metusala (Concordia University)
The reigning Canadian Premier League champions opted to bring in six-foot-one defender Garven-Michee Metusala, who spent three years with the Montreal Impact Academy and was the assistant captain for Team Quebec in 2017, helping the side to a bronze medal at the Canada Games.
[He] fits a lot of the boxes that we look at in a player. He’s a guy who’s versatile, has a big upside. A Young player who can play a few different positions which I think is very important in this league. He’s got a good technical base and good ability on the ball, and I think that fits the style of football that Forge FC likes to play.Bobby Smyrniotis
Capable of playing with both feet, Metusala also spent the last season playing a shortened season with AS Blainville, who ultimately finished top of the league. Coming in with a strong pedigree, it’ll be interesting to see if the first-year university defender can prove his worth in a team set for Concacaf League action.
9: Forge FC – Jose Maria Ribeiro da Cunha (Cape Breton University)
The ninth Cape Breton Caper picked over the first three CPL U-SPORTS Drafts is also the first international selection made today: six-foot-one Portuguese centre-back Jose Maria Ribeiro da Cunha arrives with a lot of mystery, given that he hasn’t been able to play for the Capers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s a young left-footed centre-back who can play in the middle and has a good upbringing in Portugal through the youth systems there with Estoril Praia and Sporting Lisbon in his past. From what we’ve seen, and we have some very good contacts in Portugal, we have some good reports on him and I look forward to having him in.Bobby Smyrniotis
The left-foot defender is described as a modern day centre-back who’s quite comfortable on the ball. At just 19 years of age, he’d be one of the side’s youngest athletes – though certainly not one of the smallest. If he does sign a developmental contract, his minutes will count to the club’s domestic U-21 minute count despite him being Portuguese.
10: Halifax Wanderers – Kareem Sow (University of Montreal)
Described as a technically-sound player who is well-composed on the ball, Stephen Hart is ready to give 20-year-old defender a chance out on the east coast.
He will now join former Carabins players Omar Kreim and Pierre Lamothe while on trial at the Wanderers, where the familiarity could prove to be a very solid advantage. When we spoke with new Halifax Wanderers midfielder Pierre Lamothe, here’s what he had to say about the east coast side’s defensive pick:
Kareem is a very good person, always there to help others and he’s the best guy in the locker room. As a player, I had the chance to see him grow in the Impact Academy. When he joined us in Montreal [for the Carabins], I was very happy. He developed a lot during the last few years, and he’s got great potential. He’s still young, and has all the attributes to play in the CPL.Pierre Lamothe
The third-year Mechanical Engineering student is a former Impact Academy product who has impressed at the U SPORTS level with the Montreal Carabins, where he won the U SPORTS Men’s Canadian Championship in 2018.
11: Cavalry FC – Ethan Keen (Mount Royal University)
Cavalry FC went local with both its picks, selecting first-year Mount Royal full-back Ethan Keen in the second round.
The youngest draft pick made this year was a member of the Calgary Foothills in 2019, making seven appearances for the USL League Two side before enrolling at Mount Royal University. Head Coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has high hopes for the local athlete:
He’s a player of great potential who was born to run. He’s very athletic, very technical, and he’s good with the ball at his feet. He fits the modern day full-back that we like as you’ve seen with Mo Farsi and Nathan Mavila, and he gives us coverage there.Tommy Wheeldon Jr.
With Keen reportedly efficient in one-vs-one situations, it’ll be interesting to see if he can make waves in the same manner that the aforementioned full-backs have – of course, step one will be trialing with the side.
12: Pacific FC – Victory Shambusho (University of British Columbia)
We included Shambusho as a prolific goalscorer to watch out for at last year’s draft, with the right-footed dynamic attacker now earning the nod to try out with Pacific FC.
The Thunderbirds forward scored ten goals for the side in the 2019 U SPORTS season, with Victory having earned two All-Canadian selections and one Canada West Rookie of the Year Award during his time with UBC. The former Whitecaps Residency program member has spent time with the Victoria Highlanders, too.
We are getting a resilient, hard working player with a great attitude and great character who will be working hard from day one. We are looking forward to him fighting for a place, and reconnecting with him because I saw him at the Whitecaps Academy as well.Pa-Modou Kah
The twelth overall pick seems like he will be a good fit with the attack-minded nature of Pacific FC, though only time will tell if Victory is true to his name.
13: York United – Danial Rafisamii (Ontario Tech )
York United went local with its second pick as well, announcing another Ridgeback in Danial Rafisamii. In his rookie campaign with Ontario Tech, the midfielder helped the team to its first-ever OUA quarter-final.
We like Danial, he reads the game well and has a little bit of bite in him as well. He’s comfortable in possession when numbers are around him, and he has a great range of passing for us that we like, and his first touch is always to look forward. We feel that he could be a great addition for our team, and another player who we’re looking forward to bringing in and training with our squad.Jim Brennan
Rafisamii has made 13 appearances for Ontario Tech overall, with York United describing him as a tireless and energetic engine in midfield.
14: Valour FC – Tony Mikhael (Carleton University)
Rob Gale selected 20-year-old Tony Mikhael for the club’s second pick, with the six-foot-tall centre-back having impressed over at Carleton. Comfortable as both a centre-back and also a full-back, he arrives to the club as a youngster with a lot of upside.
We’re excited to get Tony in, another U-21 minutes eligible [player]. Speaking to all the coaches in U SPORTS, he commands a lot of respect and is a real smooth operator out of the back. He’s not just a running kind of defender, he’s very good with the ball and a real Cadillac in there for us.Rob Gale
Mikhael was also called up to a Lebanese national team camp in November, suggesting that Gale may have made quite the astute draft pick.
15: Atletico Ottawa – Reggie Laryea (York University)
The only York University Lion to make today’s selection, Reggie Laryea carries a recognizable surname: the younger brother of Canadian international Richie Laryea, this 22-year-old was speculated to be potential Forge FC draft pick given his Sigma FC ties.
Capable of playing as both a centre-back and a defensive midfielder – a la Matthew Arnone – Laryea offers Mista the kind of defensive versatility that begets high value in a salary cap-driven league.
He’s very athletic, fast, and powerful with an excellent passing range. He’s versatile, and well-positioned on the field with tremendous potential to improve with us.Mista
The fifteenth-overall draft pick also previously played for Akron University, with his two seasons at York University allowing him to showcase some solid one-on-one abilities and a good eye for passing, too.
16: FC Edmonton – Jackson Farmer (University of British Columbia)
At 25, Farmer is certainly one of the older players in the draft – but the flip side of that is that he comes in with a high pedigree. The Edmonton local previously played for Koch at the Whitecaps 2 setup and the Calgary Foothills in 2018, and even has a sole national team appearance from 2013 after being called up by Benito Floro against Mauritania.
Jackson was the right pick for many reasons for us, our club prides itself in giving Edmontonians opportunity. He’s from Edmonton, and it’s a big part of us giving him that opportunity. Having worked with him before, I know what he’s capable of too.Alan Koch
The six-foot-two defender now has a golden opportunity to prove his worth at the professional level, and it certainly appears like he’s worth taking a shot on.
With the 2021 CPL-U SPORTS Draft now concluded, the sixteen selected players are now invited to trial with the sides who picked them. The clubs can then offer them a developmental contract (which allows them to retain their U SPORTS eligibility when they return to university) or offer them a fully professional contract.
This year saw the University of British Columbia lead the selections with four, with Carleton having three, and both Montreal, Ontario Tech, and Mount Royal each seeing two selections. York University, Cape Breton, and Concordia University had one athlete selected each.