TORONTO, ON – The annual 2023 CPL-U SPORTS Draft went Thursday, as each of the eight Canadian Premier League Teams bolstered their rosters with some of the best U SPORTS men’s soccer players in the country, as they look to find the next Joel Waterman or Victor Loturi.
With two new selections for each team, as they selected from a pool of 199 eligible names, 49 Sports rates how every team did in the draft, while also taking a closer look at each of the selections.
FORGE FC: Miles Green (McMaster), Milo Djurcic (York) – 9.9/10
Forge FC had the last picks in each round but come out of the 2023 CPL-U SPORTS Draft as winners, picking two players that could become regulars, if not stars, in the league as early as next season.
Miles Green was the catalyst that pushed the McMaster Marauders to the OUA men’s soccer championship in 2022, while Milo Djurcic established himself as the best centreback in U SPORTS and is a professional-ready option, having stood out with the York Lions.
Green, who has ties with Forge, having played with League 1 Ontario’s Hamilton United, scored six goals and two assists through 10 regular season matches with McMaster, all while pulling strings in midfield.
Meanwhile, 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 spread 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.
YORK UNITED: Chris Campoli (Ontario Tech) Trivine Esprit (Ontario Tech) – 8/10
It’s another Ontario Tech double for York United, and through that they’re adding a player that could be among the CPL’s best. Chris Campoli, who York previously selected in 2021 but didn’t sign, is heading back to the Nine Stripes.
Campoli was, by all accounts, the best player in the country this season, and it wasn’t very close. The Ontario Tech attacking midfielder 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.
While he may be on the older side of the draft at 21, there is a significant opportunity for him to develop, especially if he gets solid minutes, which he no doubt will in York’s midfield.
Midfielder Trivine Esprit earned a nod to the OUA second all-star team for his performances as a freshman with the Ridgebacks, scoring a goal and an assist, all while playing a vital transition role slotted in behind Campoli in midfield.
It’s rare for a CPL club to opt for two from the same school, but if the partnership of Campoli and Esprit can elevate their game to the CPL level, they could be a dominant midfield.
VANCOUVER FC: Anthony White (Toronto) and Ameer Kinai (TMU) – 7/10
For their first pick in club history, Vancouver FC selected University of Toronto Varsity Blues centre-back, Anthony White. While the selection may be a bit off the board, he brings a lot of critical quality to Vancouver’s backline.
He played 12 matches with the Varsity Blues this season and was vital in their stingy style that likely could have pushed them deep in the playoffs before an upset by the Nipissing Lakers in the quarter-finals. White has good control with the ball at his feet and is dominant in aerial duels, key characteristics for any centre-back.
Plus, adding to his familiarity with his new team, he’s already won a title in the Vancouver area, capturing the League 1 BC title with TSS Rovers FC in the inaugural League 1 BC season. Rovers conceded just seven times in League 1, good for second, only behind UBC’s Varsity FC.
White will get the chance to play in front of an experienced CPL goalkeeper in Callum Irving while rejoining a professional club atmosphere after youth stints with FC Nurenberg, Dinamo Zagreb and NK Šibenik.
Ameer Kinani was one of the most impressive OUA players this season with the Toronto Metropolitan Bold, leading them to the OUA Final and a 5th-place finish at U SPORTS nationals. After transferring from George Brown College, Kinani hit his stride in U SPORTS, playing as either a deep-lying forward or out wide.
He spent the season linking up with fellow TMU attacking talents Zakaria Abdi and Justin Santos, who could see a CPL pitch one day. Aside from his constant deliveries into the box, Kinani scored four OUA goals, building on his League 1 Ontario summer campaign, where he scored 17 with ProStars FC.
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, but is a valuable addition to Vancouver. Additionally, he brings some international experience, having played with Iraq’s U19 national team for the U19 Asia Cup. In addition, the Canadian national futsal team recently called him up for a camp in Montréal.
PACIFIC FC: Eric Lajuenesse (UBC), Brandon Torrsan (TWU) – 6.5/10
As they have more often than not throughout their CPL Draft history, Pacific FC stays within BC with their selections, plucking centre-back Eric Lajeunesse out of the UBC Thunderbirds and left-back Brandon Torresan out of the TWU Spartans.
Lajeunesse may be the most tempting defensive prospect in all of U SPORTS, and he may be poised to follow the Joel Waterman pathway from U SPORTS to the CPL, MLS and Canadian national team.
The Vancouver Whitecaps Academy graduate 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. He also earned U SPORTS and Canada West rookie of the year honours, scoring a goal and three assists, while playing all 21 regular season and playoff matches.
As well spent this season learning how to play with experienced CPL players, lining up alongside former Cavalry FC defender Daniel Kaiser on a UBC backline that conceded just 17 goals, the least in Canada West.
As their second draft pick, the Tridents went with TWU Spartans left-back Brandon Torresan, who played just four matches this season but impressed in 2021 through 11 games with the Spartans.
Although Torresan isn’t likely to crack into the CPL this season, look for Lajeunesse to play a third centre-back role in replacing Amer Didic and Thomas Meillure-Giguere on occasion while developing in a professional club atmosphere.
CAVALRY FC: William Omoreniye (Calgary), Eryk Kobza (Calgary) – 6.25/10
Cavalry FC are sticking close to home with their selections, bringing in Calgary Dinos winger/fullback William Omoreniye and defensive midfielder Eryk Kobza, two players that could very well make their way into Cavalry’s squad for 2023.
Omoreniye had a stellar rookie season with the Dinos, making an instant impact on the side that missed out on nationals in a penalty kick loss to UBC. The former Calgary Foothill led the Dinos in points with seven, scoring four goals and three assists while making his presence known in the defensive half. For his efforts, the Calgary native earned a nod to the Canada West All-Rookie Team.
With their second selection, Cavalry opted for Eryk Kobza, who has been one of the most consistent midfielders throughout his time in U SPORTS.
At six-foot-three, he transitioned into a near 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.
Staying local and familiar has paid off for Cavalry in the past. Just look as far as Victor Loturi picked out of the MRU Cougars, despite not seeing a U SPORTS pitch. In 2023, they’ll hope for a similar result with their Dinos duo.
VALOUR FC: Guilliame Pianelli-Balsioni (UQTR), Samuel Laplante (UQTR) – 6/10
Winnipeg’s Valour FC offers the two biggest surprises of the CPL-U SPORTS Draft, dipping into the UQTR Patriotes twice with Guillaume Pianelli Balsioni and Samuel Laplante.
Pianelli-Balsioni, a veteran centreback, brings added solidity to the Valour backline after helping the Carabins top the RSEQ and win the RSEQ title with an astute defensive style. As well he’s a target on set pieces, scoring once in his 12 appearances this season.
Meanwhile, Laplant is an active attacking left-back who likes to push up the pitch but can also slide into the left midfielder role when his side is seeking more defensive shape. While neither are exciting attacking talents, they offer chemistry and defensive awareness, which will be very useful if Valour opt to sign them.
HFX WANDERERS: Anthony Stolar (Cape Breton), Aiden Rushenas (Dalhousie) – 5/10
Committed to drafting from the AUS in 2023, the HFX Wanderers are bringing in right-back Anthony Stolar from the CBU Capers with their first draft pick and Dalhousie Tigers goalkeeper Aiden Rushenas with their second-rounder.
Stolar, a native of Mississauga, Ontario, played eight games for the Capers this season and did well to contribute offensively while also focusing his positioning on the defensive side of the ball. He helped CBU to concede just seven goals all season on one of the stingiest backlines in the nation.
Ahead of his rookie season at CBU, Stolar played with LEague 1 Ontario’s Scoroscopi FC, playing 17 games and scoring three goals.
With former Vaughan Azzurri head coach Patrice Gheisar taking over as HFX’s manager, it is no surprise that he has gone with an AUS player that also caught his eye in League 1. While Stolar is likely bound for a U SPORTS contract and to return to school in the fall, he could impress in the CPL.
Joining HFX as their second selection is Dalhousie’s Aiden Rushenas, one of the best goalkeepers in the AUS this season, while also training with the Wanderers throughout the year. He had four clean sheets with Dalhousie, posting 48 stops in 11 matches. Although he may not be an exciting attacking talent as many hope for in the draft, he is an intelligent addition for Halifax.
Atletico Ottawa: Junior Agyekum (TRU), Mohamed Bouzdi (Carleton) – 5.5/10
Atletico Ottawa are the only club to select a player out of the U SPORTS National Champion TRU Wolfpack, picking Junior Agyekum with their top pick, followed by a selection from the local school with Carleton’s Mohamed Bouzdi.
Agyekum was critical to TRU’s success this season and impressed at nationals, where the Wolfpack elevated their game to go toe-to-toe with the best of Canada before winning gold after advancing through three rounds on penalty shootout wins.
The central midfielder came through the Whitecaps Academy before signing with the Wolfpack. This season he played 15 matches, starting 13 while holding down the defensive midfield and helping advance the ball to more attacking players such as Patrick Izett, who had an outbreak season.
From Carleton, Bouzdi settled in quickly to the U SPORTS level, scoring seven times in just five starts and 10 appearances, quickly establishing himself within head coach Kwesi Loney’s lineup not just as a rookie, but for the future. With Loney holding down an assistant coaching position with Atletico, the draft pick makes immense sense for all parties, and he could very well pot a few goals for the 2022 CPL regular season champions.
CPL-U SPORTS Draft Results 2023:
- Anthony White – Toronto – Vancouver FC
- Ameer Kinani – TMU – Vancouver FC
- Anthony Stolar – HFX Wanderers
- Chris Campoli – Ontario Tech – York United
- Guillaume Pianelli-Balisoni – UQTR – Valour
- Eric Lajeunesse – UBC – Pacific FC
- William Omoreniye – Calgary – Cavalry
- Junior Agyekum – TRU – Atletico Ottawa
- Miles Green – McMaster – Forge
- Aiden Rushenas – Dalhousie – HFX Wanderers
- Trivine Esprit – Ontario Tech – York United
- Samuel Laplante – UQTR – Valour
- Brandon Torreson – TWU – Pacific FC
- Eryk Kobza – Calgary – Cavalry
- Mohamed Bouzid – Carleton – Atletico Ottawa
- Milo Djurcic – York – Forge FC