FC Edmonton announced on Tuesday that it has signed 2021 CPL-U SPORTS Draft first overall pick Thomas Gardner for the upcoming Canadian Premier League season.
Gardner has signed a U SPORTS Development Contract (rather than a standard player contract), which allows players to retain their eligibility and return to school in the fall.
Drafted players who sign U SPORTS Development Contracts but decide to pursue university and their eligibility before the cutoff date can be “retained” year-over-year, meaning clubs won’t have to draft the player a second time – like Cavalry FC did for Carleton University attacker Gabriel Bitar in 2018 and 2019.
Gardner, 22, is a third-year midfielder with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and a former standout with the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency and USL side Whitecaps 2, where he was coached by current FCE bench boss Alan Koch.
All CPL-U SPORTS draftees are guaranteed invitation to their respective clubs’ training camps, but the Eddies made the decision to proactively sign Gardner “based on the club’s pre-draft roster planning and his collegiate playing career.”
RELATED READING: Thomas Gardner: ‘Surreal’ to be picked 1st overall in CPL-U SPORTS Draft
Gardner scored five goals and added four assists in 16 matches for UBC in 2019.
The midfielder is the only player selected in all three CPL-U SPORTS Drafts after being picked twice by Pacific FC in 2018 and 2019 – the latter of which was derailed by a knee injury shortly after being selected.
Edmonton held the first and 16th overall picks from January’s draft. They selected former Canadian men’s national team defender and UBC fourth-year Jackson Farmer with the latter choice.
Gardner is FC Edmonton’s 20th player confirmed for the 2021 CPL season.