Recovering the CanPL-USPORTs Draft

We know how this guy drafted even if he doesn't.

Whoops, missed some stuff there.

I’m not sure why the Canadian Premier League scheduled the latest edition of the very mobile USPORTs draft in December, during the World Cup and exam season,1About the one thing you could say for the January draft last year is it came at a good time for the students being drafted. or, as a Kings’ alum, “Nietzsche month”.

I was mostly offline during December, so owe you all an apology for missing it. The draft was kind of a wet blanket anyway. I remain unconvinced that CanPL coaches, and perhaps the league offices, seriously rate Canadian university players, for a variety of reasons, some defensible and some not.2The main one, that they’re too old, is understandable, and part of why the MLS draft is less and less reliable. But CanPL is not MLS and there is still a lot of talent in university soccer. CanPL.ca did publish a nice piece with quotes from several university coaches highlighting how much easier this draft has made recruiting, and that’s definitely true — and university soccer is better for the higher talent it’s now attracting.

Will that last if CanPL keeps on drafting Chris Campoli every single year with every single pick? I dunno. Despite Joel Waterman having gone from university rookie-of-the-year to the World Cup in three-and-a-half years, a lot of the top talent in university soccer remains somewhat overlooked.

Since I didn’t do a mock draft, we’ll do the usual run-down of the recent picks (starting with Wanderers) as well as a look at some players who I’d have given a look were I in any way to be trusted with a draft pick.

We do apologize for the delay. The office manager responsible has been sacked.

Wanderers
Pick 3: Anthony Stolar (CBU)
Pick 10: Aiden Rushenas (Dal)

In case you haven’t heard, Wanderers have a new head coach in Patrice Gheisar, who will know League 1 Ontario very very well, but the club had also committed to going local with at least one of this year’s picks, and sporting director Matt Fegan knows the local university scene very very well.

Both of these picks are defensible if deep3 local picks. I rate both of them as AUS players, and Rushenas was a Wanderers U23 prospect, and though he struggled a touch in the game he started last summer, he’s still young and has the pedigree to improve.

Both are reaches, though, especially when you figure that the level in AUS is a bit below the rest of USPORTs, and USPORTs is generally a bit below CanPL in terms of intensity and speed of play.

Stolar is a good AUS player, but he rarely dominates games, and I’m not sure he gives you enough going forward to be a professional fullback, at least not if Wanderers maintain any of their tactical style from 2022 (which they may not). Or Vaughan’s, for that matter.

So we’ll see. These are low-risk picks and I’m always okay with local guys getting a shot, but I also think this draft is the best mechanism the league has for teams to look at out-of-market domestic players, and neither Stolar nor Rushenas is an unknown for Wanderers.

Grade: C+
Nothing ventured.

Vancouver FC

Pick 1: Anthony White (UofT)
Pick 2: Ameen Kinani (TMU)
It is completely ridiculous that Van FC got to make both the first two selections, essentially stealing FC Edmonton’s pick while also getting their own, throwing the whole format out the window.

Not that order matters in this thing; it never has. And Afshin Ghotbi went with his own approach to both picks, anyway — there’s no real consensus with this thing, nor does there need to be. I always enjoy doing the mock drafts but they’re more about giving people a sense of the talent pool in this country than actually predicting anything, so maybe it’s better doing it after. At least I can’t be wildly wrong about the “top” pick.

I also don’t know much about either of these two players. White is your prototypical CanPL prospect, a guy who’s bounced around European youth systems for a number of years before eventually going to school, as has typically been the way of the Canadian player. Nothing wrong there, and he’s been a solid-if-unspectacular starter for a solid-if-unspectacular Varsity Blues side that had an off-year.

While you admire the initiative these guys take to go try out in Europe, a lot of them are known entities domestically — at the very least, the CSA has to approve the international transfer, even for youth players.

I saw a little bit of Ameen Kinani at nationals. The Bold weren’t especially impressive in Kamloops, but did have a couple offensive bursts and Kinani is certainly active all over the pitch. Like Stolar and Rushenas, I wonder about the level gap, but both White and Kinani have played in League 1, in Ontario and BC respectively, which is one big advantage they have over the Atlantic players.

Grade: B-
Keep expectations low, but an expansion team (any CanPL team) will need a full roster and both these guys can be useful depth if they impress in camp.

York United

Pick 4: Chris Campoli (Ontario Tech)
Pick Trivine Esprit (Ontario Tech)
It’s also ridiculous that Chris Campoli keeps getting drafted.

To be clear: nothing against the guy. In fact, he had another very good year in OUA, so you can make a decent argument his play deserves it. Props to him.

This will be attempt number three, however, and you have to think the last. York took him in 2021, Wanderers took him last year, and he’s so far come nowhere close to making a team.

Then again, Tommy Gardner made it on his third go.3There were logistical issues and injuries involved there, though, which is not the case for Campoli.

In USPORTs, Ontario Tech are a paper tiger — they play in the weaker of the OUA conferences and routinely put up big numbers on small schools, then flop in the playoffs against sterner opposition.

I did a fair bit of draft research before nationals and completely missed Esprit, who’s the quieter midfield partner to Campoli’s creator. He fits better with York’s youth focus and general identity. I’m still not 100% it’s a focus with any real planning, but that’s a bigger question than this draft.

I do like the idea of taking two guys from the same midfield, maybe banking on chemistry a bit, but it’s a fair ask for both to win contracts.

Grade: C

And that’s being charitable, hoping Campoli, who really is a promising and unheralded playmaker, can make it. Re-read what I wrote about him in 2020; he is very much a local player for York, and hope he’s ready now.

Valour

Pick 6: Gabriel Pianelli-Balisoni (UQTR)
Pick 11: Samuel Laplante (UQTR)

Valour are getting a little predictable.

Valour always do this, though. Neither Rob Gale nor Phil Dos Santos has done a great deal of scouting of the university pipeline and the local program at University of Manitoba isn’t particularly strong on the men’s side. So you get a fair number of picks from “big” schools.

Pianelli-Balisoni is a good pick, though. He’d have been a great pick two years ago when he was younger and thus had more time you could roll him over as a pseudo-domestic USPORTs player; Wanderers fans can tell you that, when good university recruits age out, they fill up your international slots fast.

Samuel Laplante plays for C.S. Saint-Hubert in PLSQ which means I’ve seen him live this year, but for the life of me I cannot remember a single thing about him in that game, sorry. I liked him better at nationals, and UQTR were very good defensively all year, they always are. Pianelli and Laplante are a big part of that. And CS. Saint-Hubert won the league, so….

Grade: B-

Zero points for creative use of mechanisms available to you, but Valour always seem to get good picks anyway, even if they never sign them.

Pacific

Pick 6: Eric Lajeunesse (UBC)
Pick 12: Brandon Torresan (Trinity Western)

Eric Lajeunesse is so similar to Joel Waterman I cannot believe he fell this far. USPORTs and Canada West rookie-of-the-year, centre-back who’s solid on the ball, and not only that, he was a rock for the national finalist Thunderbirds, who finally broke the quarter-final curse because for once they could defend.

It’s great that a local team picked him. I don’t think there’s a great deal of competition in this draft; indeed, these are university grads and they have and need some degree of say in where they go, but I’m still disappointed Wanderers didn’t get him.

Brandon Torresan is a low-key smart pick, too. The Spartans didn’t make nationals this year with only one Canada West slot (hey lost to UBC in the semis). But he’s a solid no-nonsense fullback — comparisons to Jordan Haynes are apt. That’s good use of a USPORTs pick.

Grade: A

The only top grade we’re handing out this year, Nietzsche be damned.

Cavalry

Pick 7: William Omoreniye (Calgary)
Pick 13: Eryk Kobza (Calgary)

Tommy Wheeldon Jr. likewise does the same thing with this every year, and doesn’t mind using the system for his own devices. Every pick can and will be used on a guy from Foothills. None of them will ever be signed directly and they will be redrafted as often as it takes to convince Tommy they’re not going to make it.

It’s an opportunity, of a sort. But it raises the question: couldn’t Cavalry have called these guys in the spring? They usually invite several Foothills guys to camp anyway. This approach always gives me a “meh, who cares?” shrug, and while I can’t exactly fault Tommy for it — Cavalry’s not an easy squad to get into — it’s unfortunate given the limited opportunities in this country, especially for Prairie players, especially now FC Edmonton is gone.

I generally like Kobza as a pick and Omoreniye is vaguely interesting, but the Dinos really weren’t that good this year so when you read that these guys were top on the team in something, bear in mind that’s top of the third-best team in Canada West’s considerably-weaker Alberta conference.

Meanwhile, former Cavalry pick Moe El-Ghandour had a whale of a season for UofC’s cross-town rivals Mount Royal.

Grade: C-

Shrug.

Ottleti

Pick 8: Junior Agyekum
Pick 14: Mohamed Bouzidi

Carlos Gonzalez hadn’t been announced as head coach when this draft was held last year, and I suspect it’s safe enough to assume Kwesi Lohey had a hand in it this year, which sees one of his Ravens in Mohamed Bouzidi drafted.

It’s not a bad pick. He was a rookie for Carleton this year, and did well enough in his freshman year, so why not give him a chance this year and, if he looks promising in a professional camp, let him develop with Carleton4Note, though, teams have to sign their picks to retain any exclusivity, which is how it ought to be but I’m never quite sure if the teams realize this…. If you don’t sign them, you have to re-draft them, and every re-draft is a missed opportunity to have a look at someone you haven’t seen before., which is a pretty professional program to begin with.5USPORTs programs can differ wildly in level of commitment. Most are at least somewhere in the neighbourhood of semi-pro, but just as in League 1, there’s a range, from local guys who play with a fair bit of pride to really honed programs. One reason CanPL tends to rate Carleton, Cape Breton, and UBC higher is that these schools tend to be the most similar to a professional set-up. It’s an important factor, and I try to accomodate some of that in my rankings, which is one reason I’m a bit lower on a place like, say Ontario Tech. But I also think a lot of schools get overlooked this way, especially the ones with a more developmental focus that tend to produce more rounded players who might rise to the higher level in CanPL. It’s a tricky subject, and a part of what still needs to be figured out with this draft. I’d start by expanding the number of picks.

Carleton tend to have a bit of the same vibe as Ontario Tech in that they beat up a lot of weaker teams, but seven goals for Bouzidi is not at all bad.

Agyekum was one of the top prospects in this draft class after being passed over last year. He’s a genuinely good two-way midfielder, and a big part of why the Wolfpack have a first-ever national title. He saved his best performance — some might suggest only performance — for the big game, but that might be as much a reason to draft him as not. Physically dominant, skilled, and domestic deep playmakers do not come around every day.

Grade: B+

Good picks, but somewhat unimaginative. There were better players available and Bouzidi is a project, albeit a promising one.

Forge

Pick 9: Miles Green (McMaster)
Pick 15: Milo Djuricic (York)

After several years with a fairly predictable strategy, Bobby Smyrniotis goes a little more local.

I’m usually sure of Forge’s picks, though — or at least, the logic of them — and I’m not this time. Green’s a local pick, from Hamilton himself, and playing for Hamilton in League 1 as well as for McMaster. Public relations points, sure. McMaster were wooden at nationals after a surprise run in an off-year for some big OUA programs. Green was lively, I thought, but nothing screamed CanPL prospect.

Speaking of off-years and big OUA programs… the York Lions!

The whole team, including rookie centre-back Milo Djuricic, didn’t look particularly ready in Ottawa in 2021. This year, they went out in the OUA quarterfinals. I’m not sure this York group is the group I’d look to, at least not yet.

Bobby knows Ontario soccer and so will know far, far more about both of these guys than I do, though neither is a Sigma prospect, which is the other way Forge sometimes go.

Grade: C

Tabula rasa.

Why Didn’t You Draft This Guy?

For fun, here are some names from the declared list I’d have looked at were I drafting.

Ethan Assadourian (GK) (Montreal)

Not playing at nationals will have hurt him, but played most of the RSEQ season and was brilliant, plus he’s young.

Someone will regret not signing him when he knocks out a CanPL team in the V-Cup.

Woody Bain (LB) (Saint Mary’s)

Had a slightly off year for the Huskies after a stellar rookie season in 2021, and just missed the cut-off for Wanderers U23, where I’d guess he’ll end up this summer.

Jacob Begley (CB) (Ontario Tech)

I maintain that if you must draft a guy from Ontario Tech on sheer statistical dominance, Begley’s your guy. He’s big, rugged, and actually not bad with his feet — that translates far more reliably to a higher level than smaller creative players.

Max Bodurtha (DM) (St. FX)

One of the best prospects in AUS — I’d have taken him over Stolar. Struggled at nationals, as did X as a whole. He had so many fires to put out and that’s not really his game. Expect to see him with Wanderers U23 again, but he really needs to be in a higher-level environment consistently.

Daniel Clarke (GK) (Cape Breton)

If Deano Morley is annoyed at CanPL coaches again this year (safe bet) it’ll be because they didn’t take Clarke. He was the better of the two Wanderers U23 ‘keepers this summer and the only reason you go with Rushenas over him is the domestic premium.6Though Clarke’s actually been in Canada since 2014, as a teenager. Which ought to mean he’d get citizenship sooner, but given the federal goverment backlog, who knows, and Wanderers have been bit by that bug before.

Kairo Coore (AM) (Cape Breton)

I’d guess there’s a decent chance Coore signs somewhere this winter. The only reason I can think he wouldn’t is that he was maybe slightly less-than-amazing with Edmonton last year, but there’s an adjustment to professional soccer, he’s young, and there were flashes even then. The Eddies were a really bad team; he’s one of the better pieces.

Thierry Côté (ST) (Montreal)

Repeat everything about Assadourian except for a goal-scorer. He’s already lighting up PLSQ. CanPL not having a team in Quebec is a massive problem.

Elijah Dos Santos (CB) (Thompson Rivers)

Dos Santos was the guy I most expected to get drafted off a great performance at nationals. Remember, TRU lost their best centre-back — Jan Pirretas Glasmacher had literally played every game for them over the past four years — in the quarter-final. They still won gold on the back of expert defensive performances. Dos Santos looked ready, too. He’s no slouch physically, strong on the ball, just a really good all-around defender. Very surprised one of the BC teams didn’t take him, but he’ll get reps in League 1 BC again this summer and is still young.

Tyr Duhaney-Walker (CB) (Acadia)

Was never going to go this year as he missed the 2022 AUS season. Was excellent in his rookie year, though, and will be part of a much better Axemen team next fall. Keep an eye on him.

Felly Elonda (AM) (Memorial)

Elonda is the best player in AUS and it’s not close. He’s not a defensive player but has clearly worked on that aspect of his game with Wanderers U23. Would have been a steal with a great story, too. He needs to be playing at a higher level yesterday and the only reason he hasn’t been is because seven CanPL clubs only realize the country extends past Tadoussac when they have to fly out here on Natal Day weekend.

Colin Gander (LB) (Guelph)

I thought Gander had a very good rookie season in CanPL — not without mistakes, but with real promise. I’m a bit surprised Wanderers went with Stolar rather than extend Gander’s rights. He’ll probably stick around with Guelph in L1O and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were good again. He’s still young, too.

Raphael Garcia (ROB) (Carleton)

Likewise with Garcia, though his rookie season was all the way back in 2019. It’s inevitable, in any league, that young players will come in and not quite make the cut. But CanPL is getting a bad rep for burning through prospects without really giving them a chance. Not something you can do if you want to be a selling league. Players develop over time.

Aaron Hidalgo-Mazzei (LB) (Saskatchewan)

A lot of times, CanPL teams draft guys like Hidalgo-Mazzei, who was signed to a depth contract last year and barely played. I don’t mind this, though it makes the league feel clique-y. Hidalgo-Mazzei wasn’t selected, however — another very quiet year on the Prairies, which will at least get a D3 league soon. Hopefully that helps guys like this.

Mihai Hodut (RB) (UBC)

Had a spectacular time at nationals, probably better than Dan Kaiser on the opposite flank — certainly balancing Dan Kaiser on the opposite flank. The Kaiser bothers have had lots of chances (and deserved them). Hodut, though, has been overlooked.

Quinton Honeyman-Wootton (CM) (Carleton)

I’m not as high on Honeyman-Wootton as some Carleton fans, but I do think he’s developed into a solid, dependable, skilled ball cycler in midfield, with occasional attacking spurts — think Pierre Lamothe, who’s turned into a solid CanPLer. Guys like this don’t necessarily feel essential, but in a CanPL with more than eight teams he’d get a shot.

Moses Kafeer (RB) (Carleton)

This guy’s a legitimate U20 international and I remain very surprised nobody’s taken a longer look at him in the Canadian system. If you want more on him, I wrote about him last year. He transferred to Guelph for this OUA season, and I wonder if that hurt him, but he did declare for the draft.

Antoine Leonard-Benoit (RB/RW) (Montreal)

Leonard-Benoit hasn’t always been a standout, and only had flashes at this year’s nationals — les Carabins were a touch inconsistent — but those flashes suggest a player who could do a lot more, and given he does so regularly for a very good CS Longeuil team, no reason to think that couldn’t happen in CanPL.

Cristopher Malekos (CB) (Carleton)

Malekos was drafted in Ottleti’s inaugural draft in the middle of the pandemic but has never actually been signed in CanPL, which is a pity. For me, he’s been the best centre-back in USPORTs for the past four years, and is right up there with Eric Lajeunesse. His play can fly a bit under the radar and it’s possible it just didn’t translate up a level, but again — players need time to develop.

Kai Martin (RWB) (TMU)

Had a pretty dour nationals this year, but he remains a TFC Academy graduate, and I remain a bit surprised he didn’t get a look somewhere, even just on the back of that résumé. You can see he’s got the technical package, as you expect from MLS academy players. Not sure he has the composure yet, but he’s young. This is supposed to be a league for young players, but he’s now been passed over twice and is rapidly approaching no longer being young.

Keji Adeniyi (W/S) (UNB)

I wasn’t sure Adeniyi, who won USPORTs player of the year, would declare for the draft — he is a very, very smart man and will have other post-graduation opportunities. But he did. Injuries have always been a concern in AUS, but he’s one of the players badly needs a chance to perform at a higher level, and I have no doubt he can do it.

Jakub Parizek (CM) (Cape Breton)

How often can you get a guy with real European experience on <$20,000/year? I wonder a bit if teams have been scared off by Jose Da Cunha, who turned out to be nowhere near ready for CanPL. But Da Cunha is a skill player, heavily reliant on reads and touches that take time to come at professional speed. Parizek already does everything faster. He wasn’t lights-out amazing in AUS this year, clearly acclimating to the league and style of play a bit. But you could see the quality. Keep an eye on him.

Quentin Paumier (CM) (Montreal)

Just far and away the best player in university soccer for the past two years. He was drafted by FC Edmonton last year, but didn’t play because he wanted to finish his exams (y’know, as he should) and the Eddies cancelled his camp invite. Paumier’s career has now outlived the Eddies so, on that measure, he really ought to get another shot. He was sensational at nationals this year again, and great in PLSQ too.

Caden Rogozinski (CB) (Mount RoyaL)

This is the reason I’m so hard on Cavalry’s draft strategy. They took Rogozinski last year. Didn’t sign him. He goes and has a splendid season for Mount Royal, who were unlucky not to go further in the playoffs. What kind of message does it send that Cavalry then decide to punt rather than reward Rogozinski’s season

Mikkel Rosenlund (WB) (Thompson Rivers)

I thought Rosenlund was the Wolfpack’s best player at nationals. Just tireless, and consistently as active defensively as he was offensively. He had the toughest marking assignment in the final and shut down Dan Kaiser no problem. He’s also played in League 1 BC and he looks ready.

Luke Rosettani (FW) (UNB)

Rosesttani would have been a serious sleeper pick, but he was one of the best players in AUS this year, and he’s just a pure goal poacher. If the ball finds him in the box, it’s going in. That skillset so often translates up a level.

Cristian Rossi (AM) (Trinity Western)

I’m surprised he didn’t get re-drafted, but maybe TWU’s (slightly) down season hurt him? He remains one of the better players in Canada West, and one with a legit resume. Hopefully League1 BC helps compensate for Canada West being a weird conference.

Doryan Soualem (CB) (Laval)

See above re: European youth experience. Soualem was passed over last year, too. You’d think Canadian soccer fans would have learned not to take North African players lightly now, but maybe not.

Jacob Spizzirri (CM) (Cape Breton)

I’m very surprised Spizzirri didn’t get drafted, particularly by York, as he’d be a local. He also transitioned straight from youth soccer into AUS, which is no easy feat, and looked like a veteran player in this league. There’s a valid comparison here to Isaiah Johnston, but it might be a year too soon for Spizzirri. Time will tell, but if York don’t get him, I’m going to dock them hard because he’s exactly the kind of player they need.

Mohamed Lamine Toure (AM) (Moncton)

If you really want to go off-board in AUS, you go to Moncton. It’s a French-language school that will therefore hang up the phone as soon as it hears CanPL’s Ontario accent on the other end of the phone, and a lot of the players are older, but Lamine Toure clowned a very good Capers defense in the AUS playoffs. He’s too good for this league, which is not surprising given he played with AC Ajaccio’s B team in the French third division this summer. He declared for the draft. CanPL passed. That’s Ontario for you.

Jamie Watson (WB) (Cape Breton)

I’ve been talking up Watson, a Scottish professional youth player, since before he even kicked a ball in Nova Scotia. He wasn’t actually all that good in his rookie season but put up a very solid 2022 campaign, becoming one of the Capers’ key players. As with others, international status might scare some teams off, but he’s one of the best wide players in USPORTs, a real modern wingback with the skill to back up his tackling. He’d slot right into CanPL. He’s played for Wanderers U23 and hopefully will do so again — he’s fun to watch.

Gabriel Balbinotti (AM) (UQTR)

Unlike a lot of guys in here, Balbinotti has real minutes in CanPL, with Forge at the Potato Cup in 2020. He hacked it for this league during the pandemic and has done nothing but score for fun at lower levels ever since. I don’t know what he has to do to get another look. He was clearly playing hurt at nationals and still single-handedly destroyed McMaster.

About Dylan Matthias 231 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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