What the first CanPL signings mean for the league

Yes, Darth, bring the boy to me. Oh wait, it's just Kyle Bekker. Never mind, then.

There is an art to writing misleading headlines for the digital age.

The answer to the implied question there: not much.

That’s why I waited a while to do this post. In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s out-of-the-blue signing announcements, there was, of course, much speculation as to what it all meant. Natural enough. I do think the inaugural signings can be analyzed–Porter and Bekker are good players for this league–but it is, broadly, too early to draw much conclusion about the level of play in the league or the success of teams’ roster building.

To summarize quickly for anyone who (like me) missed the news break:

  • York9 signed ex-MLSer Kyle Porter, who can play anywhere up front, is good 1v1, and can score as well as create.
  • Forge FC went with ex-Sigma guys, as expected. Kyle Bekker is probably the biggest signing of the day–he never quite made it at TFC but has been very good in NASL ever since. Chris Nanco is a former Sigma and Philadelphia Union prospect still looking to find his level. One d-mid (Nanco) and one playmaker (Bekker) for Smyrniotis.
  • Cavalry didn’t draft many local USPORTs players, but went local with its inaugural signings in Nik Ledgerwood and fellow Foothills nomad Sergio Camargo. Ledgerwood’s the least surprising name on here.
  • FC Edmonton picked up occasional CMNTer Randy Edwini-Bonsu, who is all kinds of fun to watch, and repatriated ex-Eddie Allan Zebie, a veteran defender.
  • Valour FC nabbed ex-TFC draft pick Skylar Thomas because somebody had to. I really like this signing–see below.
  • Pacific FC signed another local Whitecaps Residency player–surprise!–in Kadin Chung, Alphonso Davies’ former left-side partner on youth teams.
  • Wanderers went a little off-board and picked up Zachary Sukunda, a journeyman of several European youth systems, Australia, and FC Montreal. He’s an attacking fullback.

It’s impossible to know, tactically, what any of these signings mean for the teams in question. Sure, Kyle Bekker’s a playmaker–but whether he plays deep or more advanced will make a big difference in how Forge FC line up and where he plays will depend a lot on who else they sign, so… who knows?

My guess is that only about half of these guys are intended to be starters. The league obviously wanted each club to release its inaugural signings at the same time, and some seemed a little more ready than others. It makes sense that Bekker would be an easy signing to announce for Bobby Smyrniotis, whereas I imagine most of Stephen Hart’s acquisitions will come once the winter transfer window opens and players start to figure out where they’re going to be next April or June.

(That’s another sub-plot to keep an eye, by the way: how many CanPL teams will wait to make a couple of big signings until June, when more players tend to be out-of-contract and available?)

Duane Rollins wrote an interesting piece over at Canadian Soccer News that asks some good, tough questions about CanPL roster building. If I may borrow his metaphor, if it’s a question of steak or sizzle, I’d say these signings are the sauce: you want it handy, it’s a big part of what’s to come, but it better not be the only thing on offer. Questions remain about how CanPL teams will build not just the rest of their rosters, but the core of their rosters. But I’ll hold off on those questions until the new year when transfers move a little more freely.

Bekker is very much a core piece, for instance. TFC fans will remember him for, shall we say, lacklustre defensive performances, but since he dropped down a league he’s become much more workmanlike and much better at playing deeper in midfield. I always got the feeling, when he was first drafted (third overall! the memorable Kevin Payne era!) that the hype and ego (maybe it was just the hair?) got the better of him. He’s a veteran now, and the exact kind of Canadian player that CanPL should be attracting–not a huge name, but a fringe national team guy and a leader. I’d still duck if I was sitting behind the net at Tim Hortons Field when Forge get a free kick.

A lot has been made this week of FC Edmonton missing out on Tosaint Ricketts, who was released by TFC. To me, that whole thing read very much like a “we don’t have him yet” kind of thing, and this is what I mean by the transfer window stuff above. Ricketts has been everywhere. He’ll try to get the most money he can somewhere, as he well should given he’s a professional coming to the end of his career. Likely, he won’t get it, and CanPL may look that much more attractive in January or February. This is how football works–November is window shopping.

So Edmonton might want to keep a spot open for the native son, though it looks like Jeff Paulus is moving fast. I’d expect next year’s FC Edmonton to look a lot like last year’s FC Edmonton, and that’s a good thing for continuity and for the city’s soccer culture. Adding Edwini-Bonsu is a good move, too. He’s not a sure thing–his career has taken a major nosedive since getting occasional bench minutes with Vancouver–but he’s the kind of player will do more or less the same thing wherever. He runs a lot, he creates havoc, he probably misses more chances than he really should and doesn’t always make the right decision. He’s the exact kind of player who has and will struggle to stick in Europe but who could be a valuable piece closer to home.

If Pacific FC are going to trot out 11 guys from Vancouver every week, then Kadin Chung was a must-have. He’s a legit youth national-teamer with a future. He’s never quite stuck at Vancouver or FC Kaiserslautern, but that’s sometimes the case with fullbacks, who more than most positions need to fit a system and tactic. Chung’s a terrific attacking fullback. Bekker and Porter are getting most of the headlines from this first bunch of signings. Five years from now, it’s Chung’s name is going to stand out among the trivia answers.

That’s the thing about Thursday’s signings–not all of these guys are 100% starters. Chung may well be, but if Skylar Thomas isn’t, that’s probably fine. He’s still a smart signing for Valour FC, though he seems to struggle rather a lot to get his hoodie down in his unveiling video, what with his hiding his headphones in there. I really rated Thomas when TFC drafted him. He probably never had MLS potential, and he got caught in TFCII’s identity crisis, but he’s the kind of CB you build around. Maybe he’s your #3, even, and he’s not super young anymore, but he has years and years of solid production ahead of him.

Kyle Porter is another guy who never quite stuck in MLS, though he got a longer shot than Thomas or Chung ever did. Since then, he’s been drifting through the American leagues, never quite as effective. He’s played with some great players and I’ve always thought he makes his teams better, mostly through his ability to create 1v1. He’s from Toronto, but it makes sense for York to sign him on more than just a local level–he’s the kind of player who could be very effective in CanPL, especially in year one when teams are still figuring out their shape and structure. Porter can punish mistakes.

Sergio Camargo and Nik Ledgerwood fill similar roles for Cavalry, off field if not on. Both are journeymen–Ledgerwood in Europe, Camargo in the US–and both are Canadians who are versatile enough to play multiple positions. Ledgerwood is a sure thing, and familiar to anyone who’s watched Canada in the past. He’s older now, but his game’s never been about pace. He’s a great organizer and doesn’t make mistakes wherever he’s player. Camargo is a little more of a wildcard–formerly a highly-rated TFC academy product with real attacking flair who’s never quite realized it and never quite found another role, either. He plays deeper in midfield now, and is more of a midfield connector than playmaker. He wasn’t great for Foothills last year, but Wheeldon knows what he’s getting. My guess is while Ledgerwood belongs to that core group of signings, Camargo is more of a depth piece.

It’s tough to know what to make of Zachary Sukunda. He’s a lot like Chung, if slightly less known for having been at FC Montreal instead of in the more accessible Whitecaps system. His European ambitions did not work out; his most recent stop in the Australian regional leagues is less than impressive. But he’s only 23, and domestic attacking fullbacks with professional experience aren’t always an easy find. My guess is that Hart is taking his time, and that Sukunda joins Andre Bona and Peter Schaale as guys who can do a job on the back-line but who may not start every game.

You can ask questions about every signing on this list–Sukunda’s an unknown, Porter’s actual level, REB’s career trajectory, Ledgerwood’s age–but to an extent that’s true of almost any signing, and CanPL teams are in a position where they have to make a lot of signings in the next few months. Generally, if a manager bats .500, that’s pretty good. Each team will likely have 4-5 foundational players–no team has more than two players of any kind signed. There is far, far more to come.

Each of these players has the honour of being an inaugural signing, though, which is probably why they announced them simultaneously. An inaugural signing isn’t necessarily a team’s star player–Vancouver’s was Jay DeMerit, an important but not headline-stealing centre-back; TFC’s inaugural signing is now managing York9. Thursday was a day mostly about the marketing pizzazz, so let that run the day. The signings that come next matter far more in terms of what the soccer will look like.

About Dylan Matthias 76 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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