The Pandemic Draft: CanPL teams mostly punt on 2020 USPORTs picks

"See ya, boys." *presses floor 5, "No Access", disappears into Life Sciences never to be seen again.

Drafts in soccer aren’t traditional. The way development in this sport works, it’s better for players to enter a professional environment in their teens than in their mid-20s, after they’ve graduated from post-secondary education.

But Canada is not a traditional soccer country. We have massive gaps in our development and talent identification infrastructure. Our new league has a behemoth task in trying to establish that professional infrastructure so that a promising player in Saskatchewan or Kamloops or Ecum Secum1Yes, it’s a place. No, there are not any soccer players there that I know of. But that’s rather the point. isn’t overlooked. It’s a task the CSA cannot do, and we know that because it has tried, mostly through the provincial bodies, and failed. It is a task a small league, running on what amounts to a shoestring, likewise cannot do on its own.

And yet, in the university soccer system, we have, in this country, a pre-existing network of essentially semi-professional players and coaches scouting, in all likelihood, the high school down the road from wherever you live. It is, lord knows, an imperfect system, but neither is it an unprecedented system–there is a reason half the clubs in South America have “Universidad” somewhere in their name.

So the CanPL university draft. It’s a great idea, and it may never have been intended to be more than that, but it has been surprisingly effective, producing legit starters in the league and even a significant transfer fee.

It’s less surprising, in times of plague, that CanPL teams didn’t–and couldn’t–dive too deep into the weedy network of university soccer to pluck out talent. In 2020, they mostly went with guys they knew. As, indeed, did they in 2018 and 2019, too. A draft is fundamentally a way to acquire talent you don’t already know about. It is particularly this in a country as wide and disparate as Canada.

Most teams punted. And punted on a CanPL – university relationship that goes deeper than a handful of local schools for at least one more year. Most draftees are more notable for their experience in League 1 Ontario or other semi-pro leagues, and this is fine, obviously, for the teams drafting them, who value that infrastructure. But neither does it really solve the Canadian soccer conundrum.

Teams did actually draft players, though. So we’ll save the verdicts for the end. Let’s first go through who your team got, starting with Wanderers.

Wanderers

Stefan Karajovanovic

If you look at drafts in, say, MLS or even the NHL, you don’t necessarily see a lot of creative players come into a league that way. That might be part of why Karajovanovic didn’t make York after being drafted last year2Though note that there are other variables in the USPORTs draft, like money and academic interests, that can affect a player’s signing.

Karajovanovic, though, remained one of the more highly-touted, and best-known, prospects in this year’s draft. he’s played a couple years with AS Blainville in PLSQ, Quebec’s semi-pro league that’s become a steady pipeline to CanPL, and Wanderers in particular.

He’s got good instincts not just in his passing but in his movement. He’s very smart about moving laterally, popping up in the little holes that result as a defense gets shifted around. That’s how he scores so many goals for Carleton–he had eight in twelve for the Ravens in 2019 playing off erstwhile Cavalry man Gabriel Bitar–but you also get more of those spaces in university soccer, especially against weaker OUA East teams like RMC and Trent.

To adapt to the professional game, he needs to do everything faster. A bigger problem might be fitting into Wanderers’ squad. If he makes the team, he’s probably Joao Morelli’s back-up as that fluid option behind Akeen Garcia or Cory Bent. In Alex Marshall and fellow USPORTs/PLSQ alum Omar Kreim, Wanderers already have two guys who can fill that role, and Karajovanovic’s biggest challenge may be that Wanderers already have 16 players under contract, more signings on the way, and bigger needs at the back than at #10.

Kareem Sow

Speaking of which.

Even though he went second, this is my favourite of Wanderers’ two picks. Sow is a wrecking ball of a defender, and though he’s a clear fourth in Wanderers depth chat, he also adds something they lost when Chrisnovic N’sa first converted to right-back and then left: that is, someone who can step out and just break an opposing striker.

Sow did exactly that with Les Carabins, including to now-teammate Cory Bent in 2018, when he forced him out of the university final with a concussion. He is mean, and will earn the yellow cards he’ll get. But he’s also another who came through the Montreal Impact academy and got a bit lost when it closed–he would have been heading into his senior year there and had been playing well at his age group.

If Hart does want to play a 3-5-2–and drafting Sow might be another indicator that he does–having an aggressive centre-back who can step out either to tackle or make a pass is important, and Sow can do both, as well as deputize at left-back, where Wanderers remain a bit thin.

I put Sow #2 in my mock draft not because I really thought Ottawa would draft him (though he is from the area) but because, as with Schaale and Omar Kreim in 2018, Sow is that good. Those first two are both with Wanderers now–Schaale fell to sixth in 2018 and Kreim elected to finish school before signing as a free agent. There are different ways in, but Sow is another member of that 2018 final who can and will thrive in CanPL.

FC Edmonton

Tommy Gardner

Garden’s had a very weird path that fully encompasses everything this draft is: broken, a bit bizarre, but ultimately pretty much a good thing.

His star was brighter in 2018 when he was fresh out of the Whitecaps 2 system, coming off half a really good season with TSS Rovers before he got hurt, which meant he didn’t play a part of UBC’s spectacular collapse that year. Pacific drafted him, and he got hurt again. Long-time followers of Gardner will be familiar with how this works.

Pacific re-drafted him last year and might well have again this year except Edmonton nipped him in what is probably the first time a CanPL team has outright scooped another in this draft. I am enjoying it.

Nor is it a bad pick if you overlook Gardner’s injury history and fairly woeful 2019 nationals. He’s flexible and skilled in a couple of midfield roles, though probably projects as more of a utility #8 at this level. He’s obviously been looking ahead to CanPL for a while, even going so far as to get quoted last year dumping on USPORTs as a league. Fair to say he needs to win that spot in Edmonton.

If he can keep his game simple and effective–and avoid getting hurt again–he will. Gardner’s at his best when he can be the guy in midfield who will just chase stuff. He never pulls out, which is perhaps why he’s had so many injuries. I think his style will fit in Edmonton, and he feels like an Alan Koch player, not least because Koch would have coached him in Vancouver.

Jackson Farmer

It was, in hindsight, more likely that he would go than I gave credit for in my mock draft. I’d overlooked that Koch had coached him, too, in Vancouver. Any illusion of the Eddies expanding their draft horizons were just that. They’ve now drafted five guys from the school down the street and two more CanSoc vets who’ve been on the radar since they were teens.

A lot of these guys have had their chance. Farmer played briefly for the Eddies before, in NASL, as well as for the selects team that bridged the gap between NASL and CanPL. He was talked about a lot when CanPL launched and probably would have been a perfectly serviceable centre-back. He probably still could be.

He was also at the open trials in 2019 and all seven coaches had a chance to sign him and didn’t. His CanMNT cap is likewise illusory in that it came from Benito Floro and was inexplicable even at the time, with all due respect to Farmer, who answered the call and did what he could. He’s shown little at UBC to suggest his level is actually any higher than a solid USPORTs/PDL hybrid player, which is mostly where he’s played. We know this guy, and we know what he can and probably will do for Edmonton, but he doesn’t move the needle and drafting him doesn’t expand the Canadian player pool.

It’s possible he’ll have a chip on his shoulder and a fair bit to prove. Certainly, this is likely to be his last chance–at 25, he’s not young and he likely benefited from the pandemic limiting scouting. He’ll only have to be a third or fourth centre-back and I think he can probably do that, and do it on the cheap. He’s a shoo-in for Least Valuable Player next year3If you’re new to the Merchant Sailor awards, it’s not as bad as it sounds. You even get a vintage snow-shovel, presuming you are willing to brave the badgers to get it. They’re very nasty..

Ottawa

Christopher Malekos

Notwithstanding that I thought they’d draft Sow, and that Sow is probably the better player, I really like the Malekos pick. Everyone knew Ottleti were likely to draft local, and it makes sense, but rather than go for one of the better-known Carleton Ravens, they went for a steady, under-the-radar centre-back in Malekos who keeps the game simple and does a job. This is a good bet for any CanPL team, but even more useful on an expansion team where it’s likely a USPORTs pick can and will play.

Malekos is so underrated that even Malekos was surprised he got drafted.

Even in USPORTs, he’s kind of one of the quiet pieces who just makes a very good Ravens side tick with smart positioning and solid tackling only when he needs it. He’s not flashy at all–few centre-backs are–but he hasn’t had a shot yet in any pro environment4He has played for the Ottawa South United and in PLSQ, but the OSU program, while solid, is fairly new., and central defenders who can make a decent first pass don’t grow on trees. It’s very likely nobody will notice him in CanPL, either, but he’s long shown in USPORTs that that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Reggie Laryea
The brothers look really, really similar, eh? (Photo: York University)

Drafting two centre-backs may mean they compete for a spot, but given Ottawa are essentially starting from scratch again, I could see Malekos and Laryea operating as a cheap, young #3/#4 behind Brandon John and someone else. And it’s not out of the question that either of these picks could round into a starter sooner than later.

Laryea is a tiny bit more fun to watch than Malekos–maybe some part of his brother’s game rubbed off? He’s still a stay-at-home defender who’s unlikely to do anything too risky, but Laryea is a bit better at getting out of pressure and has the same raw athleticism as Richie to make up ground in a dash. He’s not as tall as you’d expect in a central defender and I could even see him converting to right-back, albeit as a more defensive player than Richie5It’s worth remembering Richie used to be a #10 before he came to TFC., though he’s got plenty of the strength and positional sense you see in some of the best central defenders, no matter how tall they are.

York

Chris Campoli

Last year, a duo of Ontario Tech players–Fali Sallback and Jean-Paul Ajala-Alexis–got a fair bit of attention putting up a pile of goals in OUA, but neither got drafted.

Campoli was the guy feeding them the ball. I tend to think it’s a smart bet to look at the big scorers and find the guy setting them up, especially when that guy doing it is doing it for a middle-tier program that isn’t star-studded. Campoli’s 6g/7a in 14 games in 2019 compares reasonably well to Karajovanovic’s numbers, and as with him, I’m big on giving Canadian playmakers a chance in this league.

He’s popped up on a few different youth radars. from TFC’s younger teams to Canadian U15 camps, but has never really had a shot at a top level anywhere. He sets up goals wherever he goes, though. Brennan and York clearly had their eye on him, and given he came up through the local Woodbridge Strikers program, it’s fair to say they know what they’re getting, even if Campoli’s not caught a lot of eyes before.

Danial Rafisamii

Doing things your own way is drafting Danial Rafisamii. About the only thing I can find on him, outside USPORTs, are some stats from when he played U14 in Downsview.

He’s a defensive mid, though I’ve spotted him in a couple of videos playing what looks like a shuttler role.6The only video I can find on him is in teammate Jacob Begley’s highlights pack. Worryingly, the only time you notice Rafisamii–who wears #20 for Ontario Tech–is when Begley’s putting out fires caused by Rafisamii being out of position. He’s not huge, either, and will have to make a big adjustment in how he reads and reacts in the pro game to compete as a #6, especially in a York team that tends towards attacking play. As with Campoli, York have presumably seen enough of him to see potential, but it’s a bit hard to see what they’re seeing, and while I’m big on opportunities, there were better players on the board. Especially where Rafisamii is local, they could have called him into camp on a trial.

Valour

Yuba-Rayane Yesli

Valour were the only team in the draft that really needed a goalkeeper (most CanPL teams only carry two on the roster; Valour currently have none signed) and so drafted probably the best ‘keeper available in the former Impact Academy grad.

Yesli’s not actually played in USPORTs yet but he has spent a year or so in Italy with Serie D side Vibonese, which got promoted, though I can’t find anything to suggest Yesli played there, either.

The bigger thing is he’s still young, and the biggest thing is that he’s 6’7″ and goalkeeper is one of those spots where pure size absolutely matters. His academy background suggests he’ll have decent fundamentals, and he’ll probably be Valour’s back-up this year, which is always a fun job to occupy. There’s a good chance he’s starting by June just on attrition.

Tony Mikhael

This was an interesting pick–I didn’t expect Carleton’s back-line to be quite so popular. Mikhael was Malekos’ centre-back partner in 2019, and is in some ways a similar kind of player, if maybe a bit less rounded than Malekos, although that’s natural for a younger player.

He came up through OSU Force, as did Malekos, which is still a reasonably decent youth program, and was highly-rated when he was there. Like a few others on this list, he hasn’t had a lot of high-level opportunity, save a slightly surprising call-up to Lebanon’s U22 side last year. I like the pick on that level–it’s hard to know what he is yet, but he’s also a player who could improve a lot more with exposure to a higher level, and his couple of seasons for Carleton will have given him solid time in a solid program. I like that CanPL teams are willing to pick up a player mid-way through his development, and the new development contract rules mean Mikhael can potentially return to finish his school and play with Carleton again if he doesn’t make Valour this year.

Pacific

Christopher Lee

If this guy’s nickname isn’t Dracula I will be severely disappointed.

The Canadian Christopher Lee is a former Whitecaps Residency grad–this is a Pacific draft pick, after all–and a current (well, until Friday) Whitecaps U-23 team left-back.

The U23 team is kind of the replacement for Whitecaps 2, though it hasn’t really played at anything like the same level of competition, so it’s hard to know where Lee fits relative to guys like Gardner and Victor Blasco who had played meaningful minutes for Whitecaps 2.

At some point, Pacific need to diversify that pipeline, but the link here is Pa-Modou Kah, who would have coached Lee during his Residency years, so it’s safe to assume he has a fairly good idea what his pick is capable of. He was a USPORTs rookie, so there’s no real book on him from UBC as yet, though it’s not impossible he gets returned to play there through his development.

Lee only 19, and you have to look at this pick through with an eye to Marcel de Jong’s status. Pacific’s captain is expected to be back, but there’s no way he can play a full season. Jordan Haynes, who used to be UBC’s left-back, is the back-up, with one of the better USPORTs-turned-pro stories even if he gets overlooked a lot. Lee could conceivably push him a bit, and if de Jong were to get hurt (or get moved to centre-back), Pacific will at least be willing to give a young guy like Lee some minutes.

Victory Shumbusho

Another Whitecaps-to-UBC product, and another who’s time in Vancouver coincides with Kah’s. This isn’t a bad thing, but Shumbusho’s university career is a bit more spotted and he’s not as young as Lee.

What he is, is a handful–a strong, fast striker who can also play wide and run at defenders. Strikers like that are never a bad bet in a draft because you can expect they’ll score at least a couple just on pure competitiveness. Marcus Haber made a career out of it.

I don’t really rate Shumbusho after two bad national tournaments in a row. Similar to Carleton, UBC are a massive school that can rout opponents like UNBC and Okanagan, so you have to judge a bit more on games against top opponentsp7This is absolutely something I apply to my AUS analysis as well, by the way. There are a bunch of guys who play for Dal or St. FX or Acadia who are good, consistent players in AUS and NSSL, but even though those schools are smallish, they’re going up against teams like Mount Allison and UPEI. Nationals are the only chance for USPORTs and also summer amateur players get to compete against the best. It’s just another hurdle to scouting in a massive country., and Shumbusho has struggled there. More reassuring was his 2019 season for Victoria Highlanders in USL2/PDL, where he put up 4g/4a in 10 games. That isn’t bad, but it should be noted that a lot of USPORTs guys do well enough in PDL and there is a gap there, though not an insurmountable one, as Cavalry proved.8Cavalry are a bit of an exception, mind, as that Foothills team was loaded up on talent auditioning for CanPL.

Shumbusho’s another safe pick in a year where that probably makes sense. He’s the kind of player who should be able to compete in camp and be useful as an asset late in games, and he has another powerful story that’s so much a part of this draft. That’s not necessarily a bad haul for this draft even if there may have been more interesting options on the board.

Cavalry

Victor Loturi

I don’t really understand this pick. Loturi has already played for Cavalry–he had minutes mainly in the cup in 2019–and they cut him at the end of the season, at which point he enrolled at Mount Royal. Good on him going to get an education, but with the pandemic, it’s unlikely he’s had meaningful minutes since we last saw him in CanPL.

Loturi was an interesting prospect in 2019 as a sort of all-action, athletic #8, but I didn’t really see much in those cup minutes to suggest he’s close to CanPL ready. That’s not necessarily a problem given he was only 18 at the time, and if Cavalry sign him, they platoon him with Mount Royal using the new rollover contract rules so that he can make a small amount of money while also continuing his schoolwork. It’s a bit hard to see why he couldn’t have done that with, say, Foothills, which is probably a better level for him right now, but exposure to the pro environment and training might help Loturi, because the main issue is he just needed to be bigger, faster, and stronger.

Ethan Keen

Keen’s a Foothills guy, so Cavalry very much stayed 100% in-house this year. He’s a U21 and has only put up 133 minutes in PDL, less than your average USPORTs player, so this is very much a pick about the future, and another where it’s likely Cavalry will take advantage of the new rules. He’s a left-back, and will very much be a depth/learning piece if they sign him at all.9Here’s the thing about the rollover developmental contracts: you have to sign them, and once signed, they count against the 23-man roster limit. That 23 number, not the money, is going to be the real limit for a lot of these guys, especially on a team like Cavalry that will want as much depth as it can get to take a run at the title. If Keen or Loturi aren’t signed, they’d have to draft them again.

Keen’s an interesting example of a player who probably benefited from Cavalry’s existence in the first place, since it cleared out a lot of Foothills’ roster and led to him getting a chance. He only put up 133 minutes for them in 2019, and 2020 didn’t happen, so he’s still fairly raw even at the PDL level. I get a sense that some CanPL clubs are trying to go very young, and sign teenagers, as Cavalry have done with Aribim Pepple (another beneficiary with Foothills) and Loturi. It’s a worthwhile idea, but the low roster makes it difficult, and I’d rather see teams do something closer to what Wanderers do, and sign or trial local guys at camp, than use the USPORTs draft to pick players like Keen who have never actually played in USPORTs.

Forge

Garven-Michele Metusala

Metusala isn’t a sure thing, but he fits the profile of the kind of player who’s been coming out of Quebec soccer of late and also the profile of player Forge like. He’s fast and athletic–I think mostly a fullback though I’ve had some trouble confirming–with enough skill to be flexible and fit in Forge’s mostly-possession system.

As with most of the others, he won’t necessarily be signed–Forge has been a bit of a tough landing spot for USPORTs picks–but it’s hard to think of a better approach than to draft what you need and see what you get. Metusala has ample experience, first in the Impact system, then in PLSQ and now at Concordia for a season as well, where the Blues were surprisingly decent in 2019. I don’t watch enough RSEQ to tell you if that’s all down to Metusala, but Greg Sutton recruited him, and as a long-time TFC fan, I irrationally trust Greg Sutton. That’s all I need.

Jose da Cunha

Nobody in a draft is a sure thing, but da Cunha might be close. He captained Estoril’s U17 and U19 teams, the latter to a spot in the national tournament group, and you’d expect with that background that he’s close to professional-ready.

Usually what happens at this point in a European prospect’s career is he gets signed to a professional reserve team or loaned to a lower-division semi-pro club. It can be a make-or-break stage. That a player like da Cunha, who would absolutely have had options in Europe, chose to come to Canada and enter the USPORTs draft says a lot about what this draft can become if the league can fully figure it out.

Like Metusala, he fits Forge’s system perfectly. He may not replace David Edgar, but he can provide depth behind, in particular, Dan Krutzen as a ball-moving, intelligent, left-footed centre-back, and guys who captain youth sides tend to be vocal with plenty of leadership potential. I really think Forge have hit a home run here, just based on résumé.

Even if he’s not quite ready yet, he has five years of domestic status and USPORTs eligibility now, so Forge could always sign him and then send him back to Cape Breton. It’s hard to find a downside to this pick, and why try? This is exactly how to use this draft: acquire an asset you wouldn’t have seen otherwise and see what he can do at camp.

Final Grades

The part everyone comes for.

I’m a bit on the fence, as I always am, with these. This year, it’s how much to weight the pandemic, as well as teams taking slightly differing approaches to the updated rules that allow longer-term arrangements.

Even then, it feels like a very safe draft, especially given some of the less-conventional players left on the board, like Scottish professional Jamie Watson and UQTR centre-back Guillaume Pianelli-Balison, or even a darkhorse guy like Niko Baikas or Jacob Grant, whose selection would have meant interesting outreach to areas underserved by the traditional Canadian soccer pathway.

So I’m actually not that inclined to be forgiving. Pandemic or no pandemic, there are only so many times CanPL clubs can keep drafting the same guys from MLS academies before the notion that CanPL is going to help identify and develop Canadian soccer becomes a bit of a ruse. We know the MLS teams aren’t enough.

Canadian teams ought to be braver.

Forge: A+

There’s no guarantee either player will work out, of course, but Bobby Smyrniotis managed, once again, to both experiment and fill needs for his team, and thus two players who very likely wouldn’t have had opportunities in CanPL otherwise will get a chance to impress in Canadian soccer.

While da Cunha would surely have found a home somewhere in Europe, we should be happy European youth prospects see the USPORTs draft as a way to get a look. The domestic status is a useful quirk, of course, but the real benefit to drafting a player like da Cunha is the chance at a transfer fee if he works out. Too many players in this league get compared to Tristan Borges, and it feels odd to do it for a centre-back, but it’s a fair comparison: European youth program to CanPL minutes to transfer.

Throw in that Forge still managed to get two intelligent, ball-playing defenders and it’s just a complete win. No other club even comes close. This is the third year Forge have topped my grades, and while I’m a bit disappointed that they released both Abou Sissoko and Jace Kotsopoulos, it’s the opportunity that counts, and it’s not like I can argue against two championships.

Wanderers: B+

Looking back at some of my draft posts from last year, I noticed I’d wondered about Karajovanovic going to Wanderers in 2019. Coming out of the rebuild, it would have made sense to draft a guy who reminds me a bit of Kodai Iida.

Now, though, he can be a depth piece on a team that’s already mostly built. That’s a good thing, even if it means he’ll have to compete for a spot at camp. Again, opportunity rules the day here.

Sow is much the same, but with the added bonus of a higher ceiling. He’s a different player than Peter Schaale, but I can see him having a similar impact, not least because his hard-nosed play will delight fans at the Grounds who love to cheer every tackle. He rises to big occasions, and that’s worth a solid grade.

The only thing holding me back is that while that Carabins team was very good, it is important to pull talent elsewhere. Wanderers are fairly good about inviting local players to camp, but I’d like to see them dig deeper into AUS, and I rate Charlie Waters a touch above Karajovanovic, though it’s very close.

Ottawa: B

Okay, so they went local. Figured they’d do that. I’m pleasantly surprised they took Malekos–surprised, too, because I’m not 100% sure he’s CanPL level, but I’d like a look, right? Getting minutes on what is essentially an expansion team will help him get that opportunity.

Ottawa could be higher but for perplexingly drafting two centre-backs. They need help everywhere and will need depth pieces everywhere. Not enough Canadian attackers get opportunities and I’d have liked to see someone like Charlie Waters or even Stef Karajovanovic given some real minutes on a team that can afford to put its trust in a young semi-pro player.

That said, both Malekos and Laryea are solid, solid players who could easily have been missed without this draft. With time, Ottawa could have a skilled, mobile, Canadian defensive pairing that could last years. I can’t go any lower than a B for that.

Valour: B-

I usually like the way Rob Gale drafts. This year, it felt like he went for need, and I can’t argue with that.

Both the picks feel a bit like reaches, but when you sit back and think both make a bit more sense. Yesli is a project, but he’s huge and you can afford your back-up ‘keeper to be young and huge. Mikhael is probably a project, too, but again–opportunity. His USPORTs résumé is solid enough–why not have a look at him? At worst, he’s depth behind other centre-backs and a piece for the future.

I am adding the minus for leaving two better centre-backs in Jose da Cunha and Kareem Sow on the board. I doubt da Cunha knows where Winnipeg is, but that’s the point of this draft: get him in before he finds out!

Edmonton: C

Hold onto your hats, folks, we’ve hit the other side of the bell curve.

That said, after getting an F last year, the Eddies are up to a C from me this year because they at least managed to get two serviceable players on Friday. That’s a legitimate way to approach the USPORTs draft. While both Gardner and Farmer (we could do some puns there, but won’t) are known entities, they’re also known entities. It seems likely both will sign and that’s good.

Alan Koch was only hired a month or so ago and hasn’t had a lot of time to assemble a list yet, and it’s understandable he went with guys he knows a bit better who can fill a workhorse role. The trouble for Edmonton is they don’t really need more middle-of-the-road known entities. They have an academy for that, notwithstanding the club parting ways with its director on Friday as well. They have Chance Carter in much the same role as Gardner, spent a tonne last year playmakers like Keven Aleman and Erik Zetterberg and some more on Shamit Shome this year, and are solidly three deep at centre-back.

At some point, though, you have to ask yourself why a team in Edmonton–a city with a good but fairly small soccer community–isn’t trying to use the USPORTs draft to acquire talent from elsewhere. Then you look at the players on the board.

Scooping Pacific on Gardner–who’s potentially still a useful piece–keeps this grade from being lower, but so far the new era looks a lot like the old era.

Pacific: D

I suppose I owe points to them for not re-drafting the same guys again, whether by choice or not. That said, whither Jan Pirretas Glasmacher? People rave about this guy, and his pedigree kind of suggests why. Was there a falling out?

I’m also taking a full letter grade off here for positional need, which I don’t usually weight that highly for this draft, but while Shumbusho and Lee are both good picks in different ways, if Pacific go into the season with three centre-backs again, one of whom did not look up to it on PEI, they’re in trouble the exact same way they’ve always been in trouble. While Lee at least provides cover for de Jong, not too many CanPL teams can afford three left-backs, and Shumbusho is another striker in an already bloated attack. With 19 guys already signed, Pacific are running out of flexibility and they can’t retain these two picks long-term if they don’t use a roster spot on them.

It increasingly feels like the Pacific draft list is the UBC roster. In year one, it was kind of a fun joke. In year three, it’s embarrassing, and suggests the club is basically overlooking the university pipeline even while guys like Schaale, Joel Waterman, Jake Ruby–all of whom played right under their noses10Schaale played for Highlanders in the summers., play and even get sold on from other CanPL teams. That was supposed to be what Pacific were all about, remember?

Instead, they released former USPORTs pick Zach Verhoven this winter, who was one of those very success stories. They get good mileage out of Jordan Haynes, who played for UBC and signed as a free agent, but that’s a sterling example of how you can still get all UBC and ex-Whitecaps guys you and use this draft to source other talent.

All of these guys have had opportunities. All of them could have been acquired other ways.

York: F

York very clearly has its own way of doing things. Yes, I believe that the team has scouted Campoli and Rafisamii, and I’m sure they have oodles of data on them because the club tells us repeatedly how much data it has.

I want to trust them on this, and I like that they’re giving young guys a chance, but the club’s management of USPORTs players has been poor. Emmanuel Zambazis–remember him?–was back in the draft this year, and went unpicked. Dan Gogarty, a solid if unspectacular centre-back York could really use now Luca Gasparotto is gone, got released mid-season in 2019. Isaiah Johnston didn’t get a lot of minutes on PEI, a prime opportunity for him to get some. Karajovanovic is now in Halifax.

There’s always a new flavour of the week. While I’m all about opportunity, there is such a thing as just reaching way off board. As fun as the USPORTs-to-CanPL stories are, there are a lot of guys in university soccer who just aren’t that good. And a lot of guys who are, and show it fairly regularly.

Campoli shows signs that he might be one of them–certainly, his stats are good in the limited university sample size. Rafisamii is a complete flyer.

The trouble is I have next to know faith either will get much of a chance at York ahead of the latest legion of South American 22-year-olds with, we’re told, knock-your-socks-off advanced stats.

Cavalry: F

I sorta see the logic in what Cavalry are doing, paying guys who are currently pretty marginal and hoping to develop them in the future, but it doesn’t jive with the reality of this draft as it is right now. I sympathize, because were it up to me CanPL would have an MLS-style system with supplemental roster spots, but as it stands, if Loturi and Keen aren’t signed to the 23-man roster this year, they’ll both go back into the draft next year and we’re right back where we started.

Trouble is, I don’t see Cavalry handing out those roster spots when they’re an older team with a shot at a title, which brings us back to the age-old problem: how to get players a real opportunity? Cavalry already have a U20 team they use for development, plus a partnership with Foothiils. They know about these guys. They can call them any time. They already get exposure to the pro game by osmosis. They should be paid even as prospects, but CanPL ain’t in that financial reality yet.

So while I see what they’re trying to do, I also think they’re making the same mistake they made with Gabriel Bitar in drafting a guy who wasn’t quite ready (and Bitar was a helluva lot more ready than either Loturi or Keen), giving him only spot minutes, and then being forced to burn an asset on him every year. This year, they didn’t, and Bitar’s chance is probably gone as a result.

Cavalry’s draft record looks a lot like the pitch at Spruce Meadows after a heavy rain. You can sort of see what’s supposed to have happened, but it just hasn’t. Bitar was a defensible miss, but they also signed him and let Ongaro walk up the QEII to Edmonton. Last year’s pick, Moe El-Gandour, also went undrafted this year. Aside from Waterman, it’s pretty barren.

I’m all about opportunity, but in some ways, it’s worse to offer opportunity and then squander it. We’re early days in CanPL, and none of these processes are even close to perfected, but so far, Cavalry have failed to actually develop, well, anyone to a point they’re better than they were in early 2019. That’s enough for me to hand out a failing grade when they punt on this year’s draft, pandemic or no.

About Dylan Matthias 165 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.

1 Comment

  1. Great story well thought out. It was very obvious that regionalization was the road taken. It is expected by the teams out west but I was surprised by the 2 teams in Ontario staying so close to home. Funny how many players get in the USPorts draft in the CPL without playing a game in USPorts or even Canada for that matter.
    Of course I’m a little bias.

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