Vancouver, BC- The 2021 U SPORTS-CanPL Draft takes place on Friday at 3:00ET on OneSoccer, and the third edition of the draft will be the most challenging yet. No U SPORTS men’s soccer teams played competitive games this season, while Canadian Premier League sides only played in an abbreviated bubble season. With so little match play in the last 12 months, making picks in the U SPORTS Draft is more challenging than ever.
With COVID-19 shuttering most soccer activities in 2020-21, players have had to opt-in to this year’s draft, narrowing down the CPL sides’ selection pool. While only having 48 players to select from could prove detrimental, the advantage of this system is that CPL teams can be confident that they would sign professional contracts.
The draft consists of two rounds of eight, for a total of 16 players selected. Those who get selected will have the opportunity to sign outright pro deals or a developmental contract that would retain their U SPORTS eligibility. As listed below, the draft order is based on the 2020 Island Games final rankings and will reverse in the second round.
Pick #1: FC Edmonton – Jackson Farmer (UBC)
Jackson Farmer of the UBC Thunderbirds has ties to FC Edmonton, having played under their head coach Alan Koch while with the USL’s Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. While I would not consider him the top talent in the draft pool, if Edmonton does not pick him here, he will go to someone else (Pacific/Cavalry).
At 25-years-old, he is one of the oldest players available, but he brings pro-level and international experience, something most cannot offer. He helped them to Canada West’s second-best defence through 20 games with the UBC Thunderbirds in 2019. Alan Koch, combined with Farmer’s proximity to Edmonton, makes this pick a near certainty.
Pick #2: Atletico Ottawa – Dario Conte (Carleton)
It’s crazy that Dario Conte has not yet been selected in previous drafts, but with one year of U SPORTS eligibility remaining, he seems like the perfect selection for Ottawa. A midfielder, Conte has been the linchpin in transition for the Ravens over the last few seasons, often serving up chances for Gabriel Bitar, who has twice been selected by Cavalry FC. Conte earned U Sports 1st All-Star team honours in 2018 and was also awarded the OUA’s East MVP award in 2018 and 2019. Although he has been with the Ravens over the last four seasons, he has trained in pro settings with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the now-defunct Ottawa Fury. This would be a strong hometown selection for Atletico.
Pick #3: – Valour FC – Mohamed El-Gandour (Mount Royal)
Cavalry selected him in the 2019 U SPORTS Draft, but El-Gandour could not crack the Alberta side’s lineup. However, he could be a good pickup for Winnipeg, a team that has struggled to score goals. El-Gandour averaged the fifth-most shots in Canada West in 2019 (2.92) and showed promise with Cavalry’s reserve team this past season. I would not say that El-Gandour is the strongest player at this position in the draft, but his offensive instincts and the fact he is U21 are reasons I would select him at this spot.
Pick #4: York United – Reggie Laryea (York)
After selecting Carleton’s Stefan Karajovanovic in last year’s first-round, York United will likely skip over the Ottawa striker this time around, choosing to stay right at home with Reggie Laryea. He has U SPORTS, NCAA and Ontario League 1 experience and close ties to the United team that has worked with the York University side in the past. The younger brother of Toronto FC’s Richie, Laryea would fit well in the York region’s familiar surroundings.
Pick #5: Pacific FC – Victory Shumbusho (UBC)
Pacific FC has not had the best of luck in the draft over their first two seasons, something they will want to change in 2021. Depending on what happens with the first four selections, this pick could be effortless; if Jackson Farmer is available, he’s theirs.
Assuming someone selects Farmer higher than fifth, I have Pacific going to Victory Shumbusho. The UBC Thunderbird forward has intrigued me for years, having been dominant at the U SPORTS level after coming from Alan Koch’s WFC 2. Pah-Modou Kah’s side already has skilled players like Marco Bustos to provide chances, and with 15 goals through 20 UBC appearances in 2019, Shumboshu could fit Kah’s project well. The likelihood of this pick is also high, with PFC only having chosen outside of UBC once, in last year’s first round.
Pick #6: Cavalry FC – Euan Bauld (Cape Breton)
After losing Dominik Zator, also a U SPORTS graduate, Cavalry FC has a hole on defence. Enter Euan Bauld from the Cape Breton Capers. The CBU Capers has one of the finest programs in the AUS and have had an abundance of players selected high in the draft over the last few seasons. CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor Clarke profiled the program’s success HERE. Bauld has played under Cavalary manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. while with the Calgary Foothills of the USL League 2 and was also on trial in Calgary last season. Multiple sources have indicated that they believe Bauld will go to Cavalry at #6.
Pick #7: HFX Wanderers – Cian Lynch (Cape Breton)
Cian Lynch has tremendous upside, even though he has yet to play in a U SPORTS match. The Irish-born forward played a few years in Ireland, then moving over to SCAD to play American collegiate soccer before joining CBU this past offseason. Upon his commitment, CBU Head Coach Deano Morley said, “He is strong, physical, holds the ball up well and is a natural finisher in-front of goal.” While he could certainly go higher in the draft, seeing him in HFX colours seems most likely.
Pick #8: Forge FC – Guillaume Pianelli-Balisoni (UQTR)
Forge FC took a hit of the defence this offseason, losing experienced Canadian centre-back David Edgar to retirement. While Pianelli-Balisoni is far from a replacement, he could fill part of the gap left by Edgar. He has been a part of an astute UQTR defence that barrelled its way to the 2019 U SPORTS championship, the first in the program’s history. Head Coach Bobby Smyrniotis had a keen eye on UQTR in 2019; selecting forward Gabriel Balbinotti and bringing in his former U SPORTS teammate is a strong possibility. Pianelli-Balisoni is one of the best defenders available in this year’s class.
Pick #9: Forge FC – Artem Tesker (Univ. of Toronto)
With back-to-back picks, Forge can afford to go for something a little off the table with this selection, and that is why I see them taking a shot at the University of Toronto’s Artem Tesker. If they go this route with the selection, I doubt the Varsity Blues midfielder sees the pitch in 2021. However, after 18 appearances in his first full season with U of T, and playing in head coach Ilya Orlov’s organized system, he could be a project pick for Forge. With CPL teams retaining rights to their selections for more than one season, Tesker becomes palpable.
Although there was no 2020 U SPORTS season, Tesker did play with League 1 Ontario’s Alliance United in a few matches. Kyle Becker has been the lynchpin for Forge over the last two seasons, but with him on the wrong side of 30 and transfer rumours flowing, it could open up doors, potentially for Tesker.
Pick #10: HFX Wanderers -Charlie Waters (Cape Breton)
Charlie Waters in an intriguing player who could go anywhere from the top selection to down here in Round 2. He was on trial with the Wanderers in 2020 and is former teammates with Peter Schalle and Corey Bent, two mainstays on the Wanderers roster. At 23-years-old, it is the perfect time to be making the jump to pro. HFX do have options at forward, led by CPL golden boot winner Akeem Garcia, so this is a depth selection, but could prove fruitful given he scores ten goals and five assists through 10 CBU appearances in 2019. If he were to join the team, he would have to be signed to a U SPORTS developmental contract, as being born in the United Kingdom, he does not count as a domestic player.
Pick #11: Cavalry FC – Kareem Sow (Univ. de Montreal)
Cavalry certainly took a step back in 2020, and a second-round pick won’t fix that, but it could help. Cavalry has done an excellent job this offseason; despite a healthy amount of turnover, making this selection tough. After seeing PLSQ striker Mohamed Farsi’s success in 2021, Cavalry could add defensive depth with UdeM’s Kareem Sow. The Montreal defender would come into a tight battle for spots on the backline, but with his versatility in the centre of defence and in the midfield, combined with him being U21, he could prove valuable for Cavalry. The club is in a good situation right now, and adding Sow would only add more quality.
Pick #12: Pacific FC – Chris Lee or Daniel Kaiser
Pacific has never selected a player outside of British Columbia – why start now? With Lee, Pacific would be getting a very raw player. Yes, Lee is skilled and has been tantalizing through his time with the Whitecaps Academy, but he could be too young and untested to flourish in the CPL just yet. On the other hand, Kaiser has played on a stingy UBC backline for three seasons, offers U21 minutes and is former teammates with many of the UBC Thunderbirds who are on Pacific. For instant success, go with Kaiser; for future success and a gamble, go with Lee.
Pick #13: York United – Gabriel Bitar (Carleton)
Twice a pick of Cavalry FC, Bitar has yet to crack a CPL lineup full-time, but with the shakeup at York United, formerly York 9, this could be his chance. His teammate York selected his teammate, Stefan Karajovanovic, in 2019, but the striker, widely thought to be one of the best in U SPORTS, was unable to agree with the nine stripes. That leaves Bitar, another Carleton striker with a similar size and profile to Karajovanovic. With 43 goals through 37 appliances, the experience university striker could be in the pro game right now, and York would add a roster player in the second round. Speaking to CanPL Fantasy, U of T Head Coach described him as good at holding up the ball and dribbling at players in the possession phase while also being a strong finisher around the penalty area. He is not super fast in transition but still quick enough to get behind.
Pick #14: Valour FC – Yuba-Rayane Yesli (Univ. de Montreal)
Valour’s goalkeeping situation is far from ideal. While they used James Pantemis on loan from Club de Foot Montreal in 2020, Matt Silvia is the only netminder on their roster. Yesli, standing at six-foot-five, will be one of the tallest players in the league and is coming from Montreal’s winning culture. He played in Italy before going to university and has plenty of experience from overseas and in Quebec. This player would fill a need while potentially developing into a star when he takes over the number one position.
Pick #15: Atletico Ottawa – Stefan Karajovanovic (Carleton)
Widely regarded as one of Ontario’s best players, selecting Karajovanovic at Pick 15 would be a steal for Ottawa. There is every possibility that he gets selected higher, but from what I have heard, he has his sights set on Atletico. While he was a York selection last season, sources told 49 Sports that he was training with Atletico ahead of The Island Games. He has scored 35 goals in 37 matches for Carleton and would slide right into the main roster for Atletico.
Pick #16: FC Edmonton – Jamie Watson (Cape Breton)
Another pick from the CBU Capers, Jamie Watson, would add pro experience to FC Edmonton, who at this point need strong players of any sort. While he has yet to play a U SPORTS match, he joined the Capers with much fanfare and high expectations. If Alan Koch’s side selects him, I would guess he signs a U SPORTS developmental contract while continuing his degree at CBU. Upon joining the Capers, Coach Morley said “He has all the ingredients you could hope to find in a full back, he is big and strong, tackles hard and is tough in the air; but he is also an excellent technician, composed on the ball, and has tremendous athleticism to spring forward into attack and deliver quality into the box.”
Other considerations: Christpher Campolli (Ontario Tech), David Chung (Univ. of Alberta), Thomas Gardner (UBC), Tristan Nkoghe (UNB), Nicolas Osorio (Toronto) , Alex Meczarski (Ryerson)