TORONTO, ON – The impact of U SPORTS on Canadian soccer is inevitable, growing, and already impactful. During Canada’s run, albeit extremely short, at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, two former U SPORTS players were on the roster, and former York Lion Mark-Anthony Kaye saw the field.
At the same time, the U SPORTS-CPL Draft has already impacted the men’s national team, with former TWU Spartan and 2019 Cavalry FC selection Joel Waterman making Canada’s squad.
With the 2023 Canadian Premier League on the horizon, the draft enters yet another iteration, this time with the most available players after 199 registered for potential selection.
This year’s draft features expansion club Vancouver FC, who will have the top two picks. Meanwhile, FC Edmonton won’t participate after ceasing operations.
The draft is a snake draft of two rounds, and 49 Sports, partnered with Canucks Abroad, have made a mock draft in the leadup to the event on Dec. 15, streaming live on OneSoccer and the CBC Sports YouTube channel.
1. VANCOUVER FC: Chris Campoli (Ontario Tech, CAM)
Oftentimes, an attacking midfielder is the heartbeat of a team, and that’s just why a brand new club like Vancouver FC would want to turn to the best available player in U SPORTS with Chris Campoli.
The 2022 U SPORTS MVP has been selected in the CPL-U SPORTS Draft before, but never played and didn’t have his rights retained by either York United or the HFX Wanderers. With that, he’s back in the pool for another go around, and could make an instant impact.
While he may be on the older side of the draft at 21 years old, there is a significant opportunity for him to develop, especially if he gets solid minutes, which he likely would in Vancouver.
Although he has starred in the OUA and U SPORTS throughout his tenure, the 2022 season was his best, scoring 13 goals in 11 matches, while becoming the Ridgebacks’ all-time leading goalscorer with 31 goals in 35 matches.
2. VANCOUVER FC: Anthony White (Toronto, CB)
The second pick in the draft is just a reminder that a mock draft is not a draft ranking. While there are players that could impact the league at a greater level than Anthony White, the Toronto Varsity Blues defender could very well end up with Vancouver.
Firstly, Vancouver has been tied with the League 1 BC champion TSS Rovers through setting up the club, and White played a critical role in the Rovers’ defence en route to their first-ever League 1 BC championship.
Additionally, he played 12 matches with U of T this season, helping them harness their stingy style en route to a playoff berth, where they were upset by the Nipissing Lakers. Yet, his ability to play the ball out of the back, and command the space in the heart of defence is at a professional level.
Toronto only conceded nine goals this season, and the TSS Rovers conceded just seven times in League 1, good for second, only behind UBC’s Varsity FC.
With CPL experience in goal with Callum Irving rumoured to be signing with the club, White would bring a calming presence to the centreback position, while also returning to a professional atmosphere following youth stints at FC Nurenberg, DInamo Zagreb and NK Sibenik.
3. HFX WANDERERS: Logan Rieck (StFX, CM)
When Joao Morelli went down injured for the HFX Wanderers, the season quickly faded into mediocrity and struggles through midfield. Yet, with choosing StFX attacking midfielder Logan Rieck, the Wanderers would add a suitable backup in the position, and allow themselves to not rely on Morelli as much.
As well, the HFX Wanderers tend to stick with AUS players.
Rieck was dominant in his first AUS season with the StFX X-Men in his first season, scoring nine goals and six assists in just 12 matches, leading the conference in points and tied for third in goalscoring.
At just 20-years-old, he would likely sign a U SPORTS contract with the Wanderers, but could still prove valuable over the summer months, while potentially being convinced to sign a full-time deal.
4. YORK UNITED: Milo Djurcic (York Lions, CB)
If there’s one draft pick that makes the most sense in the entire 2023 U SPORTS-CPL Draft, it’s centreback Milo Djurcic to York United from the York Lions.
After struggling last season, the Nine Stripes were hit with the departure of stalwart centre back Dominick Zator, who went overseas to test himself in Europe, as he attempts to crack the Canadian Men’s National Team roster.
With Zator’s departure, there’s a Djucic shaped hole in the heart of defence, and who better to fill it than someone who not only brings outstanding footballing intelligence, but is familiar with the club, the facility, and surrounding area.
Djurcic is a large, calm defender who can lock down situations without much issue, while being one of the strongest at aerial duels, and not shying away from any tackle on the ground. As well, he is able to progress the ball out of the back, finding pockets in defensive midfield, or spreading the pitch from a deep lying position.
Offensively, he’s a target on corner kicks, scoring once this season, while consistently jumping up onto set pieces.
Playing alongside former Ottawa Fury defender Jadon Vilfort, Djurcic looked every part a professional through York’s season, playing an integral role in the program conceding just seven goals throughout regular season play.
5. VALOUR: Ameer Kinani (Striker, TMU)
It was just last season that Valour FC struck gold with midfielder Jacob Carlos from the TMU Bold, and that’s why we’ve got them going there again, but with a player that could change the outlook for the Winnipegers in 2022.
Ameer Kinani played a critical role in TMU’s run to the 2022 OUA Final, and the U SPORTS men’s soccer championships, thriving as a 1st year forward after transferring from George Brown College of the collegiate ranks.
With TMU, Kinani scored four goals, but played mainly as a secondary striker, either playing off of Zakaria Abdi, or between Abdi and Justin Santos in midfield. In League 1 Ontario, however, Kinani scored 17 times with ProStars FC, good for fourth most in the league.
At six-feet, he is not a dominant presence on long balls, but is a useful attacking player in nearly every area of the pitch, which would be a significant addition to a Valour side
6. PACIFIC FC: Keji Adeniyi
Last season, Pacific FC learned that they’re fragile in attacking depth. When Aljeandro Diaz left for Norway in the summer, and still won the league golden boot, there were clear issues.
While signing Easton Ongaro, one of the best to do it in the CPL, will help replace Diaz, the Islanders are still vulnerable to an injury if Ongaro goes down. With that, 49 Sports sees them going with a striker, and I’m going for UNB’s Keji Adeniyi.
Adeniyi thrived with the upstart UNB Reds this season, scoring eight goal and three assists in 11 matches. While he is entering fourth year and isn’t likely to sign a full time contract, he would add much needed striker depth for Pacific, and is a player unlikely to be hanging around in the second round.
7. CAVALRY FC: Eryk Kobza (Calgary Dinos)
Calgary’s Cavalry FC have tended to stick close to home with their U SPORTS-CPL Draft picks, striking gold with MRU’s Victor Loturi and finding success with Calgary’s Dominick Zator.
This year, 49 Sports has fourth year centreback Eryk Kobza joining Tommy Wheeldon Jr’s squad, as the 2022 Canada West Second Team All-Star comes off an impressive season with the Calgary Dinos.
Kobza, six-foot-three, transitioned into a centreback role this season, but likes to advance into more attacking pockets, after spending several years as a defensive midfielder. He can also play significant minutes, scoring three times in 16 games, playing 492 of a possible 1500 minutes as Calgary missed out on nationals on penalty kicks against UBC.
After being skipped over in the CPL-U SPORTS Draft last season, Kobza adjusted his playing style, and will hope to rejoin the professional ranks after playing a season with Podlasie Biala Podlaska in the Polish third division.
8. FORGE FC: Miles Green
Three time CPL champions Forge FC, haven’t often relied on U SPORTS players through their title winning seasons. Yet for the first time during the CPL’s tenure, the school down the block, the McMaster Marauders, were one of the best.
The Marauders captured the 2022 OUA Championship, and midfielder Miles Green was critical in that run, scoring six goals and two assists through 10 regular season matches, all while pulling strings in midfield.
As well, the attacking midfielder impressed during his summer League 1 season with Hamilton United, a club that carries a partnership with Forge FC. While he may not get an immense amount of playing time, or even a U SPORTS contract given how stingy Forge has been with drafted players, drafting him would be beneficial for both parties.
9. ATLETICO OTTAWA – Eric Lajuenesse (UBC, CB)
After defensive stalwart and club captain Drew Beckie retired, the centreback depth became fairly light for the 2022 CPL regular season champions. Yet, if there’s a chance to take the 2022 U SPORTS Rookie of the year, they should sprint to the chance.
Lajuenesse played nearly every minute for the UBC Thunderbirds this season, thriving as a rookie under the pressure of a program that always has conference and national championship hopes in mind.
Although he may not offer the tantalising attacking talents that some of the other names to watch come with, the former Vancouver Whitecaps Academy product had a goal and three assists, while playing all 21 regular season and playoff matches for UBC.
He also spent this season learning how to play with CPL experienced players, lining up alongside former Cavalry FC defender Daniel Kaiser on a UBC backline that conceded just 17 goals, the least in the conference.
ROUND 2 MOCK DRAFT:
10. Halifax: Aidan Rushenas (Dalhousie, goalkeeper)
11. York: Samy Ssebakua (York, winger)
12. Valour: Gabriel Weithaeuper-Balbinotti (UQTR, striker)
13. Pacific: Jordan Tisseur (Montreal, GK)
14. Cavalry: William Omoreniye (Calgary, wingback)
15. Ottawa: Luca Piccoli (Carleton, CM)
16. Forge FC: James Arango (Waterloo, winger)