I really didn’t think this was going to happen.
Back in September, I made my peace with the university soccer season being cancelled. It was very much the right move. It’s not really been talked about a lot, but universities are struggling mightily, like all schools, with the pandemic. Athletics are a nice-to-have. For students, for administrators, for everyone involved, it would have been too much this year.
That, however, leaves a professional league like the Canadian Premier League in an odd spot. What of the USPORTs draft? It’s become a fun little institution, and a fairly valuable one, with several teams, most notably Halifax Wanderers, making real finds amongst the university ranks.
CanPL rosters are small, but so is the salary cap. USPORTs draftees sign developmental contracts which are cheap and which grant the international students playing in the Canadian university system domestic status so long as they stay in school1An important addendum here, which will be relevant later in this post: that developmental contract apply so long as the player opts to return to school in August. The CanPL season ends in October–maybe later this coming year. If the player opts to remain with his team, he must sign a professional contract and he will no longer count as a domestic unless he actually is Canadian..
The league, in conjunction with USPORTs, finally fixed the worst part of the draft this week, wherein teams would have to re-draft prospects each year. The big change this year is allowing a drafted player to remain attached to a CanPL club during his time in university. This is excellent for development and the league deserves credit for fixing the mistake.
What will affect things this year, as it’s affected everything, is the pandemic. Most university players have not kicked a meaningful ball in more than 18 months. There are two main things to bear in mind this week, and in this draft guide:
- The pandemic makes scouting almost impossible. Anything we know about these players either comes from another source (usually summer soccer, but many of those leagues have also been cancelled this year) or from past knowledge. A year is a long time, players change, but CanPL clubs will very much be working off what they already knew about these players, which isn’t much, as well as off scouting work done by the league, where it could.
- Any player who gets drafted is going to arrive in camp rusty as a bad wagon. This is no fault of their own, and could well affect professional-level signings, too. But set expectations very, very low this year. It’s never a great idea to expect your team to draft a star out of USPORTs–it’s not the top destination for promising Canadian soccer talent2That would be the NCAA or, in places where the infrastructure exists, a League 1 Ontario or Premier Ligue du Soccer a Quebec, often in conjunction with USPORTs. Or a professional academy, though usually those players are identified long before high-school when most university coaches start scouting.–but this year it’s more likely we get a smaller crop of contributors than we have previously.
As usual, my mock draft here is really more about where I’d pick, and thus suffers from an Atlantic Canadian bias since that’s what I can watch most regularly, when the games are being played.
It’s very likely we see a lot of re-drafts, even given the rule change. Only 48 players have declared for this year’s bizarre draft, and many of them are players who have been on the radar or even on CanPL rosters before.
I’ll talk a bit about what I think each team needs or is looking for, and then offer my best guesses based on likely variables and my own taste.
The Eddies had a woeful tournament back in the summer and are doing a complete front office reset after Jeff Paulus stepped down. They’ve also historically laughed off the USPORTs draft, taking only guys with former Eddies academy connections. It’s very hard to know what the new regime will do, though it is worth noting new head coach Alan Koch is familiar with university soccer3However, he coached Simon Fraser, which plays in an American university league, the NAIA, and so is it’s own special case. NAIA players aren’t eligible for this draft..
- David Chung – Edmonton drafted Chung last year and will need to re-draft him despite the rule change because they didn’t sign him, meaning despite the league’s best efforts to save them from themselves, the Eddies will have managed to waste even picks in the USPORTs draft, including likely a top pick. Chung is an ex-Eddies Academy guy and may have some upside, but there’s nothing suggests he’s any kind of solid prospect compared to most of the guys on this list. If the new regime is feeling audacious they may go with Noah Cunningham here, who’d also be a re-draft but from 2018 instead, though it’s hard to see what he’s done at Alberta to merit being selected again. But that’s true of almost every Eddies pick.
Gino Temguia – Edmonton might draft Mélé Temguia’s brother first–it would be a lovely story, but also a pretty big reach. I think they will draft him, though, and I don’t actually mind it, especially at #16. He’s played mainly off the bench for a middling Laval side in RSEQ, though transferred home to Sherbrooke for this year, which is why he’s listed for Les Verts on the CanPL list. I think it makes a lot of sense, given the club’s identity, to unite the brothers, and adding another defensive mid is not a bad idea given the Eddies’ lack of tested depth there. Chung is also kind of a d-mid, so it may be they fight it out in camp for the spot. That’s not actually terrible value from the draft, even if there are much, much better names available.
Kareem Sow – Somebody needs to draft this guy high up. Sometimes order in this draft doesn’t mean much–coaches take guys they’ve had an eye on–but it’s hard to say if Mista even knows what a draft is, let alone anything about USPORTs. Sow is an absolute wrecker of a centre-back who’s played in back-to-back national finals under Carabins coach Pat Raimondo. He will be on more than one radar, but Ottawa should set out its flag as the team that will build connections in RSEQ, and Sow would also have a good chance to make the team in its first real year.
Dario Conte – There are a lot of Carleton Ravens on the draft list, which isn’t really surprising given the program’s stature and the CanPL presence in the capital. Conte’s had CanPL interest in the past but just absolutely bombed at nationals in 2019 and probably cost himself being drafted. I confess I’m never quite sure what he is beyond a solid enough ball-playing midfielder, rarely spectacular and not really strong enough defensively to make up the significant distance between aUSPORTs playmaker and a professional playmaker. That said, I could see Ottawa being a good landing spot for him. They’ll need cover in every midfield position, which might give Conte a chance to find a role in a system, which is what he needs to do both in USPORTs and in his professional development.
Rob Gale often drafts well, but the only pick he’s actually signed was Dylan Carreiro, and Valour just released him, too. He’s taken the other four picks from Cape Breton. It’s tough for Gale to scout, however, with only University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and it’s not a particularly strong program. So where do Valour go? Positional need? Deano Morley’s pipeline again? Little bit of both?
- Jose da Cunha – da Cunha might be one of the first “came for the draft” recruits in USPORTs, and won’t be the last, or the last in Cape Breton. He’s yet to actually kick a ball in Canada, and is one of several rookies on the draft list, but has significant experience captaining Estoril’s youth teams in Portugal, where he’s done very well.
Cool, just found him as you responded.
Only missed one game in his last year as a junior (U19) in 2019/20. Logged a lot of minutes and that team is in the National Junior league there. Their biggest loss was the game he didn’t play and the team made it champions phase that season
— Rob Henriques (@__RobH__) January 27, 2021
Drafting him would be smart work by Gale since he has five years of eligibility should he sign and will count as domestic for all of them. He’s a left-footed, ball-playing centre-back, and you can see him releasing Arnold Bouka Moutou into space.
- Guillaume Pianelli-Balison – Despite often making good picks, I also always get the sense that there’s a recency bias with Valour. I could, however, totally see Gale spending the lockdown brushing up on players he who caught his eye last year, and that could be UQTR centre-back Guillaume Pianelli-Balison. He was a rock all through the 2019 tournament, and developed in the French youth leagues before coming to Quebec for school, where he’s been nothing but consistent. I’m not sure if Valour will draft two centre-backs, but given Julian Dunn is unlikely to return and Andrew Jean-Baptiste isn’t always healthy, it might be a good idea, and Pianelli would be a solid, solid pick.
It’s hard to know what values York are chasing this week. They’ve gone almost frighteningly young this off-season, to the point I could talk myself into a strategy of drafting university players for their experience. I don’t actually think they’ll do that, though. Bear in mind that Jim Brennan knows League 1 Ontario and has used it to source talent before. That said….
- Stefan Karajovanovic – I think York may well re-draft the Carleton Ravens attacker, even though they didn’t sign him last year and thus he’s not grandfathered in4Only Jake Ruby and Gabriel Balbinotti are. Isaiah Johnston, York’s other USPORTs pick in 2019, signed a professional deal and is thus under contract.. There’s very little risk here and whatever you say about his performance at nationals in 2019 (nothing good), York are a club that will look at the big picture and Karajovanovic does put up numbers in OUA East. The caveat is that a lot of those numbers come against the weaker teams, but there is genuine skill and intelligence in Karajovanovic that suggests he could round into a CanPL piece with some more time.
Nicholas Osorio – I could see these two picks flipping, and there are a couple of other picks I could see York going with, including a local kid like Colin Gander, but Osorio is a name, and although his university career has been more fizzly than flashy, he’s still spent time with TFC II and in League 1 Ontario. Osorio the Younger is an attacking midfielder much like Osorio the Elder, and York actually kind of need that after Manny Aparicio moved on. Don’t overlook his fluency in Spanish as an asset, too, given the number of young South Americans flooding into that same midfield this winter.
Like Edmonton, Pacific usually draft local. This year, they have every reason to re-draft players they took in previous years but didn’t sign, so this is a fairly boring section, though they might try for another UBC possibility in Victory Shumbusho or one of the Kaisers. More broadly, I wonder a bit if the focus at Pacific isn’t shifting, with former USPORTs pick Zach Verhoven being released and Noah Verhoeven failing to win much time. At the same time, veteran UBC player Jordan Haynes signed and did alright on PEI.
- Tommy Gardner – The saga continues. Gardner’s been drafted twice now by Pacific, and is likely to be a third time. I’m not sure anyone else would, but there you are. In 2019, he hurt his knee. Last year, a league paperwork foul-up plus Gardner’s desire to finish school kept him out. He’s looked increasingly disinterested at UBC when I’ve seen him play, and his injury issues are enough to add some more doubt, but Pacific seem pretty set on the former TSS Rover and Whitecaps prospect. He would add some utility depth in midfield.
Jan Pirretas Glasmacher – Neither do I see Pacific giving up on Glasmacher after a similar hang-up last spring. They need the centre-back depth too badly to care about burning both their picks, and Pirretas was compared to Peter Schaale for his ball-playing ability and European youth background. His career at Thompson Rivers has kept him a bit out of the spotlight, but he’s well thought-of in Canada West and fits the ball-moving style Pa-Modou Kah wants from Pacific. Hopefully they can actually sign him this time.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has often used the draft the way I think it ought to be, that is to take a look at players one wouldn’t see otherwise. Cavalry already know what’s in the Foothills system. That said, with no games this past year, I suspect they’ll go closer to home in this draft, though they could also re-draft Gabriel Bitar again or throw a pick at an interesting prospect from PLSQ like Pianelli. Bear in mind that half the team’s centre-backs just left and they’re still a bit thin up top, too, though I’d expect more major signings there.
- Euan Bauld – Bauld got a camp invite last year and might have had more of a shot but for the pandemic ramping up at the wrong time. He’s had several years of solid experience with Foothills and is a regular, if underrated, stud in USPORTs. He’s solid but mobile and his combination of toughness and smarts suits Spruce Meadows perfectly. Sure it’s sort of in-house, but Bauld would still be one of the better picks of this draft, and he’d be popular in Calgary.
Moe El-Gandour – Likewise, Cavalry drafted the Mount Royal rookie last year and it was a bit of a weird pick then, too, but it’s been a weird year, and they saw enough of El-Gandour to pick him the first time. For the second round, there’s no real reason not to go back, though there are other semi-local options like Niko Baikas or Ethan Keen. El-Gandour is a sprightly, shadowy kind of striker with a good sense of where to be and enough quickness to get there. I actually really like his game and I really like what he could add, with time, to Cavalry.
I had my guesses for Wanderers all sorted, but then they signed young goalkeeper Kieran Basset and Suleiman Elromani didn’t end up on the draft-eligible list and now I’m back to square one. Elromani will probably just be invited to camp as he was last year, but Basset’s signing suggests Dalhousie’s Ben Grondin perhaps won’t be drafted, more’s the pity. Wanderers have a full roster already, but also have deep USPORTs connections, made deeper by the addition of Mesut Mert to the coaching staff. There are a variety of ways they could go, but in strange times with a limited list, these are my best guesses.
- Charlie Waters – There’s every chance Valour–or someone else–might re-draft him, but if they don’t, I think Wanderers would be happy to bring him into camp at the very least. Deano Morley at Cape Breton predicted Waters would excel in CanPL, and was surprised when Valour cut him last spring. Waters has certainly shown the skill in USPORTs, even if his injury history is a tad concerning. He’s a striker, but thrives in a fluid system where he can work off other players–think of him more like Joao Morelli or Omar Kreim than Cory Bent, his long-time partner at CBU.
Jamie Watson – Wanderers kinda quietly need a right-back given Jake Ruby is the only other on the roster, and it’s not often you can draft a university right-back with pro experience. Watson hasn’t actually played in USPORTs, and is instead the latest Scottish Capers recruit. He’s played real minutes for Raith Rovers in the Scottish League 1 before joining CBU, which isn’t a bad level for a CanPL player, let alone a prospect. Watson might actually go higher, and I’m not entirely sure Wanderers won’t look at other options for fullback, but he would fill the spot on the cheap for a couple years5Watson would lose several years of university eligibility for having played a season professionally..
Bobby Smyrniotis has a very simple draft formula: draft the best producer in OUA, and draft the best player at nationals. It works: he’s won my post-draft rankings both years, even if he gets a demerit for having cut Abou Sissoko and Jace Kotsopoulos. Bah! Of course, this year we don’t have a season to go on, so I’m going to guess that he’ll go back to his other simple-yet-effective pipeline at Sigma.
- Soji Olatoye – Sigma alum? Check. NCAA experience? Also check. On the draft list because Bobby has his eye on him? Probably. Olatoye is a pacey winger with two good feet who can come inside and combine or unleash a ferocious shot. He’s been with York since 2019, though he missed nationals that year due to injury. Before that, he put up decent numbers in NCAA with La Salle. What I really like in his highlights, though, is the way he adapts to space as it opens up. This is, of course, exactly what they teach at Sigma, and Olatoye is just ready-made for Forge, either to stretch the game on the right or serve as a Chris Nanco-esque option on the left.
Garven-Michele Metusala – I think CanPL teams have learned their lesson about overlooking PLSQ. Forge got a first-hand look at Wanderers on PEI and I’ll doubt they’ll let Halifax continue exclusively mining that pipeline. Metusala fits the profile of a player who’s succeeded in CanPL: he came through the Impact Academy, played solidly in PLSQ for several years, then got picked up by Greg Sutton at Concordia. He’s only 19 with a full five years of development if Forge want to platoon him with the Blues for a while. They might go with someone like Reggie Laryea here, but Smyrniotis has had the chance to pick him several times and thus far hasn’t, despite his Sigma ties. Metusala fits a similar profile to Johnny Grant as an athletic defender, and would add some depth for Forge in a spot they may need it on the right side of defense.
I always throw a few extra names on the list, and sometimes it pays off. There’s a lot of this draft is local knowledge, plus I tend to mix my picks between what I think teams will do and prospects I think teams should draft.
Here, I’ll throw a few other names out, with a focus on AUS guys, though there are only a few on the eligible list.
- Nikolas Baikas – Played for the SK Selects team that’s been bouncing around the Canadian soccer landscape, as well as for FC Manitoba in USL2/PDL. His USPORTs numbers are unremarkable but he has an interesting background, has trained in Uruguay, and was on the Canada West rookie team in 2018. When a guy like this pops up on a list, there’s usually interest, and it’d make sense if it were Valour or potentially one of the Alberta teams.
- Dan Kaiser – I really like Kaiser, a very straightforward, no-nonsense centre-back out of the Whitecaps Residency who’s still got a couple years left at UBC. I couldn’t quite decide which team might be more interested, but he would make sense for Pacific if they decide not to re-up on Pirretas.
- Jackson Farmer – If the Eddies really want to roll it back, they could draft Farmer, a former prospect from their NASL days who’s bounced around various amateur circuits since then, and is now in USPORTs. He went to the open trials in 2018 and didn’t catch on; honestly I’m not sure he’s CanPL level, but he is on the list and CanPL.ca had him going #1, though they acknowledge the reception on that was “lukewarm.” He did indeed have a CanMNT cap, but it came during the Benito Floro era when any centre-back with a pulse could get a run at, say, striker or on the wing.
- Christopher Malekos – If someone wants to be really smart and still draft from Carleton, they’ll take Malekos, who never gets noticed because he’s exactly that kind of centre-back. He’s positionally sound and has good feet, comes out of a good program, and probably deserves a CanPL shot.
- Victory Shumbusho – I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about Shumbusho, but he has to go on lists like this because he was a good Whitecaps prospect and scores for UBC, albeit he’s another who’s tended to do it mostly against weaker teams. He’s a handful up front, more Tosaint Ricketts than Jonathan David, but any team that needs a striker–Valour, looking your way–could do worse than bringing him into camp.
- Reggie Laryea – Reggie is not his brother. There will be no mazy overlapping runs from the younger Laryea, who’s a physical, no-nonsense centre-back who’s good at keeping his game that way. With Luca Gasparotto and Morey Doner gone, I could very much see him going to York, or to Forge if Bobby opts for a safer pick. It wouldn’t be a particularly bold pick, but Reggie’s good at the fundamentals and at making a safe first pass, and it wouldn’t be a bad pick, either.
- Colin Gander / Kai Martin – There are a lot of OUA defenders on the draft list, which should tell us something about where York and Forge are looking. Both Gander and Martin are ex-TFC Academy guys, with Gander at Guelph and Martin at Ryerson–both good programs. It’s hard to see both getting drafted, but one or the other might be an interesting flyer, and Gander is from North York.
- Jacob Grant – It will be a big deal for Memorial if Grant gets drafted–this is a program that badly, badly needs to be put back on the map as a potential recruiting destination. The Seahawks haven’t approached being good since the first half of last decade, but Grant has been a bright spot since joining: a livewire, inventive striker with a nose for scoring goals from the space no-one else sees. He’s not massive or as skilled as Waters, and would by no means be a sure thing in CanPL, but he’d also be a fascinating pick, particularly for Wanderers, as it would allow them to build community connections in Newfoundland (Grant’s a St. John’s boy).
- Tristan Nkoghe – I put Nkoghe on this list every year and so far he hasn’t gone. He had a very good rookie year in 2018 and one can’t help but wonder if that was his best chance to be drafted, but he had a poor nationals and an even poorer 2019 season. I still think there’s a lot of potential here–he’s a big, throwback winger with power and skill, and nobody wants to defend him. The question is whether he can find enough ways to influence games even at the AUS level. In a year where teams won’t have long lists, circumstances might give Nkoghe one last chance to get drafted and make an impact at camp. He’s capable, but I’m not sure about his ceiling compared to some of the higher-level Quebec-based players.
- Jacob Begley – Begley is an imposing defender with decent passing range. That’s always in demand. He’s extremely lanky even by the standards of someone who’s 6’5″ but he’s got a cool head in the tackle and won an OUA rookie nod with it in 2019. He reads the game well and can get himself out of trouble. The physical toolset is obvious, and he’d be an interesting pick for a team that values size. He also comes with his own cheering section.