That latter number is new for 2021 — 2018’s three-round event had 21 picks, and last year’s unfolded before the arrival of Atlético Ottawa, so 14 players were drafted.
Every club approaches the draft with a different strategy, and it’s worked out better for some than others. Still, every CPL outfit (except, of course, Ottawa) has found at least one solid contributor this way in the past two years.
So, as teams put together their draft plans and consider which prospects might be worthy of an invite to training camp this year, let’s take a look back at the past two CPL-U SPORTS Drafts. Which CPL clubs have found the most value? Who’s still looking for their diamond in the rough?
We’ll break it down, team-by-team (again, except Ottawa), in the order of this year’s first round.
2018 Picks: Connor James (University of Alberta, 7th overall), Ajeej Sarkaria (Alberta, 8th overall), Noah Cunningham (Alberta, 21st overall) 2019 Picks: David Chung (Alberta, 4th overall), Jakob Bosch (Alberta, 11th overall)
As you can see, the Eddies have been nothing if not consistent with their drafting. They’ve used all five picks on players from the University of Alberta, all of whom come from the Edmonton area. Former coach Jeff Paulus was known for his staunch commitment to local players, and his draft strategy was no different.
Ajeej Sarkaria was a serviceable player for Edmonton in 2019; a former FCE academy player, the forward made 10 CPL appearances for the club and contributed an assist. Connor James, however, is the biggest prize from this group. The young goalkeeper (also from the FCE academy) has become the Eddies’ number one shot-stopper, making 28 appearances for the club across two seasons. He’s set to return for a third year in 2021, as well.
Both Cunningham and Chung are eligible for selection again in this year’s draft. However, with Alan Koch taking over from Paulus as coach, it’s likely the Eddies shake up their strategy a bit this time around. There are several players available with connections to Koch from his Vancouver Whitecaps days, who may well be getting a look.
2018 Picks: Dylan Carreiro (York University, 2nd overall), Lewis White (Cape Breton University, 13th overall), Jack Simpson (Cape Breton, 16th overall) 2019 Picks: Marcus Campanile (Cape Breton, 2nd overall), Charlie Waters (Cape Breton, 13th overall)
Valour has taken a unique approach to drafting, so far. Their first-ever pick, Dylan Carreiro, worked out beautifully: the York University attacker and Winnipeg native went on to play 31 times for his hometown club, ending up with three goals and three assists. He even captained the side in 2020 before parting ways with the club this off-season.
The other four players Valour has taken haven’t quite worked out for the club, with a quartet of internationals from Cape Breton University not quite able to make the team. That said, Charlie Waters especially was very highly-touted heading into the 2019 draft, and it’s a distinct possibility he gets picked again. All four players were top performers in their time in U SPORTS; the 2019 picks in particular may have gotten a closer look in a full-length 2020 season.
Still, Valour’s batting average isn’t particularly high — although their one hit was an undeniable home run. Carreiro is one of the most effective players to have come out of the draft to date.
It’ll be interesting to see if Valour’s inclination toward international players continues in 2021, with a very talented cast of prospects from abroad on offer this time (most of them, again, from Cape Breton).
York has had some moderate success in the draft; in fact, only one CPL club has given minutes to more U SPORTS Draft picks than York’s three (more on that other club later).
Daniel Gogarty was the biggest win of the group; the tall centre-back was very good for the club in its inaugural season, playing 24 times in 2019 and filling in very nicely for the injured Roger Thompson. He didn’t return to the CPL outfit for 2020, but Gogarty’s 2019 season was certainly strong enough to proclaim him a drafting success.
Both Emmanuel Zambazis and Isaiah Johnston have also seen action for the Nine Stripes — four and three games, respectively. York’s staff had their eye on the teenage Johnston for a while, and as a result he’ll be back with the club in 2021.
Meanwhile, both Zambazis and Stefan Karajovanovic will be back in the Draft pool this year.
2018 Picks: Thomas Gardner (University of British Columbia, 6th overall), Zach Verhoven (British Columbia, 9th overall), Nick Fussell (British Columbia, 20th overall) 2019 Picks: Jan Pirretas Glasmacher (Thompson Rivers University, 3rd overall), Thomas Gardner (British Columbia, 12th overall)
Pacific has played their hand similarly to Edmonton’s over the years, with four out of five picks coming from the University of British Columbia, and the fifth coming from Thompson Rivers — also in-province.
Zach Verhoven is far and away the biggest success story for the Tridents in this area, with the skillful young winger playing 31 times for the club across two seasons in the CPL. He left Pacific this off-season in favour of a different opportunity, but he was a very useful scoring threat and creative playmaker throughout his time with the team.
Pacific used two of their picks on Thomas Gardner, a UBC midfielder who remains highly sought-after among CPL teams — he’s back in the pool for a third time this year, and a few clubs may have their eye on him. Jan Pirretas Glasmacher, as well, is well-known in U SPORTS circles as a gifted defender who could help any CPL outfit. His name could crop up again on Friday.
2018 Picks: Gabriel Bitar (Carleton, 1st overall), Joel Waterman (Trinity Western University, 14th overall), Easton Ongaro (Alberta, 15th overall) 2019 Picks: Gabriel Bitar (Carleton, 6th overall), Mohamed El Gandour (Mount Royal University, 9th overall)
The Cavs are the other team to pick the same player in consecutive years, taking Gabriel Bitar with their first selection twice in a row. It’s unlikely they’ll do that again, but the Carleton forward is eligible once again, having not signed with the Cavs in 2020. He did, however, earn a contract in 2019, and he went on to play three games for Cavalry (two of them in the Canadian Championship) in the club’s inaugural season.
Joel Waterman is probably the best player ever to come out of the CPL-U SPORTS Draft, though. In two years since being picked 14th overall out of Trinity Western University, he played 25 games for Cavalry, earned a move to MLS side CF Montreal, started in the Concacaf Champions League, and was called into the Canadian national team. Certainly, Waterman is a prime example of the often-overlooked potential available in this Draft.
Let’s spare a thought for Easton Ongaro here, too: Cavalry used their final pick in 2019 on the towering striker, but he didn’t manage to make the team out of training camp. He went on to sign with FC Edmonton and, well, the rest is history.
HFX Wanderers FC
2018 Picks: Peter Schaale (Cape Breton, 5th overall), André Bona (Université du Québec à Montréal, 10th overall), Christian Oxner (Saint Mary’s University, 19th overall) 2019 Picks: Cory Bent (Cape Breton, 1st overall), Jake Ruby (Trinity Western, 14th overall)
No two ways about it: the Wanderers have by far the best draft record of any CPL team.
Every single one of the five players picked by the club has played a game for HFX (and four of them have played at least 10). Peter Schaale, of course, is the biggest success: the former Cape Breton centre-back leads all Draft picks with 32 games played for his club, and by now he’s surely one of the faces of the club. In 2020, he was reunited with former CBU teammate Cory Bent, who played in all but one of the club’s matches at The Island Games, scoring against Valour.
Christian Oxner, as well, remains with the club, having won the starting goalkeeper position in both of his two seasons and recording 28 games played. He was a nominee for the CPL’s Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2020 after backstopping the Wanderers to a Final appearance.
Fullbacks André Bona and Jake Ruby were solid contributors for HFX as well — the pacey Bona played 31 times in 2019, and Ruby saw action in seven games this past season (and he’s been invited back to training camp in 2021 with a chance to return to the club).
HFX has cast a wide net in drafting the past two years, and they’ve managed to find solid contributors with every single pick.
2018 Picks: Jace Kotsopoulos (University of Guelph, 3rd overall), Aboubacar Sissoko (Université de Montréal, 12th overall), Marko Mandekic (University of Toronto, 17th overall) 2019 Picks: Gabriel Balbinotti (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, 7th overall), Alex Zis (Guelph, 8th overall)
Unlike other clubs, Forge hasn’t yet drafted a player who won a regular starting spot, or come off the bench nearly every week. Still, both of their first-round picks have worked out pretty well.
Jace Kotsopoulos made a handful of appearances (five, to be exact) for Forge in 2019, earning minutes in some key moments of the club’s inaugural season. He played in Forge’s Canadian Championship tie against Cavalry that year, and he saw action down in Guatemala against Antigua GFC in the Concacaf League. He also scored twice in his limited minutes.
The former Guelph striker went on to sign for York United (then-York9 FC) before 2020, playing once for them at The Island Games.
Gabriel Balbinotti, meanwhile, was a successful pick this past year. He played five times for Forge at The Island Games, becoming part of the ever-rotating cast of attackers that Bobby Smyrniotis deployed in PEI. The UQTR striker showed a lot of promise, and seemed to impress Smyrniotis.
One that got away, though: Aboubacar Sissoko, who may not be remembered as a 2018 Forge draft pick. The aggressive midfielder made a name for himself with HFX Wanderers at The Island Games. Might Forge wonder what might have been had they held onto the former Montréal Carabin?