As I sit typing this, the USPORTs draft is likely happening. It’s just we don’t have results yet, because reasons. So this is an inherently post-modernist exercise right from the start.
That’s okay, I’m down with the po-mo. This isn’t a mock draft. It might be more of a “mock” draft, because I am also down with wordplay. It will almost inevitably be wrong, and it will almost inevitably already be wrong, albeit in ways we don’t know yet even if they already exist.
So. We now know the order the teams will draft, using the good ol’ EA Sports-certified serpentine model. We have a couple of lists/articles of varying official-ness, including one from Kurt Larson at the league. Spoiler alert: I disagree with Larson. My list is mostly my own opinion along with a sprinkling of prognostication based on what rumours and reports I’ve been able to scrounge off the web. So, you know, about as useful as any mock draft. I also don’t watch that much OUA or Canada West, so there’s probably an Atlantic Canadian bias that I’m not going to try and hide or indeed avoid.
I’ll do the first round, and take a shot at all three picks for Wanderers FC. Manager names are in brackets, because a lot of my guesswork is based on how I think these managers want to build their rosters. The suggestion right now is that USPORTs players will rank roughly with the open trialists heading into camp. So we’re talking bottom-end of the roster here, depth pieces that should fit a system, not stars who will define it.
More on what to take from the draft below and of course tomorrow, but for now, the fun:
1. Cavalry FC (Tommy Wheeldon) – Peter Schaale, Cape Breton
Schaale, a ball-playing centre-back, drew a lot of raves at this weekend’s national championships, and coaches always overrate combine performances, which is effectively what USPORTs nationals were for CanPL coaches. Schaale obviously doesn’t mind playing west or east because he also plays for Victoria in PDL. Wheeldon’s already strongly hinted that Nik Ledgerwood will be one of his first signings, and Schaale is the kind of player could learn a lot from a player like that. Because of the draft rules, Schaale would count as Canadian until his USPORTs eligibility ends in 2020, when it’ll be clearer whether he can start in CanPL. He also fits if Wheeldon signs a bunch of his current Foothills players–Calgary have some intriguing midfielders but not a lot of defenders, and Schaale would add valuable depth with upside he showed this weekend.
2. Valour FC (Rob Gale) – Omar Kreim, Montreal Carabins
Gale’s been dropping all kinds of ideas about roster building, but none have included a playmaker yet. Kreim was my pick for player of the weekend at nationals–Lajoie-Gravelle stole the headlines but Kreim’s work-rate and creativity were incredible, and his defensive effort against the Capers is the kind of thing that impresses scouts. Like Schaale, he has a couple years of USPORTs eligibility left, so would have two seasons to develop and prove himself. He might be the highest upside player in this draft, and I can’t see too many managers passing on him.
Slight caveat that I think Gale might be one of the managers to go seriously off-board, but I still think Kreim’s hard to pass up. Bitar could also go here if Gale decides he wants a high-upside Canadian attacker. (Watch for Valour to nab WSA Winnipeggers Caelann Budhoo or Evan Barker in the second round, both of whom had excellent nationals and will attract attention.)
3. Forge FC (Bobby Smyrniotis) – Jace Kostopoulos, Guelph
Kostopoulos is probably the best university player, certainly the best attacker, who wasn’t at nationals. His Guelph Gryphons didn’t make it, but that didn’t stop him leading OUA with 15 goals, although he went a little cold towards the end of the year. That’s not far off the totals Frédéric Lajoie-Gravelle put up in RSEQ but against better quality of competition in OUA West. Smyrniotis is a development guy; he knows streaks happen, and he’d have his eye on League 1 Ontario, too, where Kostopoulos scored a hat trick in his only game last year. He’s still got a year of eligibility, too, so would have time to acclimate.
There are a bunch of ex-Sigma guys you wonder if Smyrniotis will take, but I see that being more of a second/third round thing. They have a high pick, and Kostopoulos is too hard to pass up.
4. York9 FC (Jim Brennan) – Stuart Heath, Cape Breton
Jim Brennan is old-school, and spent his whole career in England’s lower leagues. Heath is a player who might well be playing in England’s lower leagues except he got recruited by Deano Morley to play in Cape Breton. He’ll also fit what I’d guess will be Brennan’s style as a guy who can play a long game while also providing a lot of hold-up ability. Plus, Heath is a natural leader and likely one of the more “complete” players in USPORTs, not only in that he’s capable of playing multiple positions but that his skills are developed and you’re getting a solid contributor right away.
If Brennan wants to go younger and/or for potential, expect Corey Bent, for similar reasons. But for me, it was noticeable how the Capers suffered when Heath went off. My read on Brennan is that he’ll value the leadership ahead of Bent’s occasionally drifty play.
5. Halifax Wanderers (Stephen Hart) – Gabriel Bitar, Carleton
I’m so tempted to go off-board here because I think Hart is one of the managers who very well could, but I also see Gabriel Bitar and/or one of the above sitting there, and I think: why not grab a player who’s got upside and develop him? Hart’s contacts come into play later–there are enough decent USPORTs players to grab a decent stud at #5.
Bitar is that, too: a fast, skillful striker who can score from distance and open up defenses. He’s also young–just 20–and has three years of eligibility left. The USPORTs draft is primarily a type of loan agreement–it allows players like Bitar to spend three years in a pro environment while getting minutes with Carleton. He’s a high-upside pick who can provide a spark as a depth player.
6. Pacific FC (Mikael Silberbauer/Rob Friend) – Tommy Gardner, UBC
Pacific FC are an odd club, complete with the only foreign coach in the league. Drafts? What drafts? Friend and Josh Simpson will be running this, as they have much of the operation so far, and have been very clear about a strong preference for local talent. Gardner is that, along with one of the better prospects in this draft: a wide-ranging two-way midfielder with professional experience. Fit is unlikely to be an issue.
Effectively, you’re using a USPORTs pick to snag a former Whitecaps player. Because Gardner was under 18, he didn’t sign a professional contract and so also has four more years of eligibility. He wants to finish school, but has professional ambitions, too. I’m only putting him this low because he had a pretty wretched weekend and fits with Pacific so well. Whoever gets him is making one of the smartest picks in the draft. If Pacific want experience, they could go with Caleb Clarke here, but he’s graduating. The only hiccough with Gardner could be money, but this is likely an arrangement that works swimmingly for both parties, so I doubt it.
7. FC Edmonton (Jeff Paulus) – Cristian Cavallini, York
Poor FC Edmonton. Long-suffering Canadian pioneers, waiting patiently for the CanPL, and they get to draft last in the first big event. (First in the second round, but there are no headlines in that.) In a way, Cavallini and Edmonton deserve each other. Cavallini was actually pretty decent this weekend, but York were not. Still, he’s one of my top prospects in USPORTs overall, an all-around striker like his brother and Puebla star Lucas Cavallini. He’s had a down year, but still scored eight times, and was brilliant for two years before that. He has a good coach in Carmine Isacco where he can work for his remaining two years of eligibility, and he understands the professional game via his brother.
If Bent is still available, I could see Paulus going with him here. He’s talked about liking 1v1 players, which Bent is. Cavallini is Canadian, though, and Edmonton are a team that’s done all it can for Canadian players. Cavallini both fits that model, and likely understands it himself as well.
Halifax Wanderers FC
Local readers of this blog who do not follow USPORTs all that closely may be curious to know where I would go off-board, and I’d like to think Stephen Hart, who knows Halifax soccer very well, is the sort who might well do that based just on his club knowledge. I don’t think many of the other coaches will go deep into AUS beyond Cape Breton and maybe UNB’s Evan Barker and Tristan Nkoghe. Hart might.
So, without further ado, two wild guesses to fill out the rest of the Wanderers draft. Note: I’m excluding Christian Oxner, who played with the Atlantic Selects team against Fortuna U21s, because I don’t think they’ll use a draft pick on him. I think they’ll sign him outright, and possibly already have, to be their backup keeper. I also don’t know that they’ll go for Hayfield–he’s had a so-so season and is very similar to Derek Gaudet, who will likely get a camp invite at the very least.
10. Tristan Nkoghe, UNB
Nkoghe didn’t get much of a chance to show off at nationals due to a red card in AUS playoffs, but he’s one of the more exciting rookies in USPORTs: a strong, physical winger who can score and create. A true wide forward. He’s here because Hart has been a big 4-3-3 guy in the past, and Nkoghe fits that system perfectly. He’s also a rookie, so there’s no rush in making CanPL right away. He doesn’t have the calibre of Gardner, but as above, he’d be a smart use of the system from a manager who’s made the most out of what he has many times.
19. Lewis Dye, St. FX
Late in the draft, so why not go way off-board? This is “my” pick, but it’s rooted in some logic: Dye’s a local player, known in NSSL and Halifax circles. Helpfully, he scored one of the best goals in AUS this year, and screamer from forty years to win a crucial game for the X-Men, and a lot of the CanPL scouting was video-based. He’s a very ball-playing centre-back who can also play right-back, and a possession recycling machine. Plus, he’s an 18-year-old rookie with loads of time to develop. If this is a draft about giving young Canadians an opportunity, Dye should be on some list, somewhere, even if he’s not a top pick.
Other second/third round prospects
CanPL rosters are entirely wide open, which means this draft is as well. There’s almost no point in prognosticating it, certainly not beyond the first round. Instead, here are a bunch of USPORTs prospects I think either might be drafted or who should be, along with which club might be the best fit (some of which is pure guesswork).
FC Edmonton – Noah Cunningham, Alberta
This could very easily be the eighth pick in the draft, or even the seventh–does it matter? Cunningham’s been on almost all the scouting lists, which tells you somebody in the league likes him. Heck, I could see him as the top pick if Wheeldon decides to go with a more local direction. He’s an ex-Eddies academy guy, though, and was well-rated when he was there. Would be a bit of a surprise if he doesn’t have a homecoming.
York9 FC – Dan Hayfield, St. FX
I think Hayfield ranks somewhere outside the top seven, but that he will get drafted. He’s the 2017 USPORTs player of the year. My thinking is one of the more old-school managers takes him, because he’s that kind of player. It could be Wheeldon, as he plays for Foothills, but Cavalry won’t pick until #14 and I think he’s gone by then, possibly because Brennan takes him instead of Heath. I have my doubts he can be as effective a poacher against professional defenders, but he does have goalscoring instincts and a lethal free kick. He wouldn’t be the worst late-game impact sub.
FC Edmonton – Caleb Clarke, UBC
Clarke isn’t really a UBC player–this was his one and only year, and he was injured for part of it. This is a pick about grabbing a former MLS player who was never given enough minutes by Carl Robinson and hoping he can resuscitate his career in CanPL. Whether he ends up in the draft or signs outside of it will go a long way towards determining how this draft, and USPORTs in general, is viewed by the clubs.
Cavalry FC – Daniel Kaiser, UBC
Kaiser’s another rookie with time to grow, and I thought he was quietly one of the more effective Thunderbirds this past weekend, even in defeat. Grabbing defenders in a draft is never a terrible idea because it can be easier to translate the skillset up a level. Kaiser’s more of a project, but he’s in the Foothills system and wouldn’t be the worst use of a USPORTs pick late in the draft.
York9 FC – Dylan Carreiro, York
Carreiro’s gonna go somewhere in here. He was terrible at nationals, but he’s got quality, is formerly a reasonably highly-rated TFC Academy player, and has years left to develop. Getting him into a professional environment could help. I think that likely happens locally–Smyrniotis could fit here, but Sigma and TFC have a bit of a chilly history and I’m not sure he’d value that academy connection as much as Brennan might.
Forge FC – Christopher Malekos, Carleton
I admit I have close to no clue how Smyrniotis will build his team–my hunch is he doesn’t rate USPORTs that highly, given a lot of Sigma grads have gone to NCAA, but that doesn’t necessarily say that much. Whatever the case, Malekos is a solid prospect who had a solid national tournament, as well as a OUA first-team all-star slot. He’s in only his second year, so can spend three years developing, and is Canadian.
Valour FC – Evan Barker, UNB
Not only is Barker a hometown Winnipegger, he was also one of the most impressive goalkeepers at nationals and in AUS this season. He might not be a starter right away, but he has plenty of potential and size, and three years of USPORTs left to develop.
Pacific FC – Charlie Waters, Cape Breton
Waters is sailing under the radar because he didn’t play this year. He was also just about as Hayfield in 2017 before blowing his knee out playing for Victoria Highlanders. So there’s a risk here, but Pacific have the connections to have the best picture on that injury, and but for that he’d not only be on most USPORTs draft lists, his Capers would likely be champions.
Forge FC – Ryan Parris, Acadia
Yeah. If there’s any other player in AUS I’d reach for, it’s Parris. He’s one of the better d-mids, a destroyer who can also distribute. If coaches have been scouting–and Smyrniotis is one I could see having a bit wider a breadth than others–they ought to note Parris. Sure thing? Nope. He’s a graduating senior and international, so more of a risk. I don’t think he’ll go, but he’s on this list because he maybe should. With better players around him, he’d shine.
Pacific FC – Mackenzie Cole, UBC
I actually think Pacific will almost certainly use the 20th pick on Cole, another Victoria kid. It makes a good headline, if nothing else, and he’s not a bad player in midfield for UBC, arguably better than Gardner this past weekend, with a couple more years to develop.
Valour FC – Jeevin Kang, UBC Okanagan
This is another reach, based mostly on that RedNation article I linked above. Playmaking d-mids don’t have flashy stats or highlight reels, but they can be hard to find and Kang is ex-Whitecaps Residency. He’s also been on the youth national team radar, which is why I put Gale ahead on him, as Gale has more CSA background than some of the other coaches.
Cavalry FC – Nick Jeffs, Carleton
He’s been fantastic for Carleton all season. Jeffs is ex-Ottawa Fury and NCAA Louisville, as well as FC Buffalo in the NPSL. Yeah, he’s been around. But that’s all experience, and his performance at nationals shows what he can do in a big game. Gets a plus from me for training with Danny Cepero.
How important is the draft, anyway?
Probably not as much as it’ll be made out to be tomorrow, when all these picks will be wrong.
As I wrote above, this is almost more of a loan/affiliate partnership where USPORTs players can be loaned to the CanPL for a bit for development. My guess is relatively few names on this list will play that much, even if they are drafted. The purpose is to expose younger, Canadian players to professional environments. While a lot of the chatter around nationals focused on the top performers, many of them are internationals. They have domestic status while they’re in USPORTs, but not after graduation, and CanPL is going to be a heavily Canadian league.
The real roster building starts in a few weeks, particularly in January and early February when the international transfer windows open and players figure out where they want to be for the next year or so. The USPORTs picks will go to camp. Some of them will make up the numbers, others will continue to impress, and I’d imagine we see a couple on rosters–maybe even a starter. If so, that’s a major victory for the quality of USPORTs as a league, but if you’re a university soccer fan, I’d avoid getting too excited. If you’re a CanPL fan, I’d avoid reading too much into tomorrow’s announcements.