With pre-season training camps entering Week 3 and Canadian Premier League rosters close to 80% full, we’re looking at who’s projected as the top players in each position.
Granted, the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural match — Forge FC vs. York9 FC on April 27 at Tim Hortons Field — remains six weeks away, but it’s never too soon to look into our crystal balls to predict who the top performers could be in Season 1.
This series is currently based on pedigree, past performance and expectations upon seeing these players put pen to paper with their respective clubs.
Expect CPL Editorial to revisit this list at the conclusion of the Spring campaign in order to see whose stock skyrocketed and, well, whose plummeted.
Here are our top five right centre-backs (in no particular order) who are projected to emerge as the best in the CPL.
Mason Trafford (Cavalry FC)
Cavs coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. went out on a limb earlier this month, telling Calgary radio station Sportsnet 960 he doesn’t see a better defender currently in the CPL than Mason Trafford. And, hey, he might just be right. Actually, he probably is right. Trafford comes to the Canadian Premier League with more than 250 professional appearances — and a single cap for Canada’s national team — including a number of tense U.S. Open Cup meetings with MLS sides.
At 32 years old, and with Canada’s national team in search of central defenders, Trafford could be an option to return to John Herdman’s setup if he performs this summer — especially if the good decision-making and long-rage passing the left-footer is known for continues in the Canadian Premier League.
Skylar Thomas (Valour FC)
Coach Rob Gale didn’t hide his elation upon signing an imposing centre-back who’s at a crossroads in his career. At 25 years old, the Canadian youth international will get his first crack at top tier soccer after proving himself in the United States’ second division, where he appeared almost 100 times for Toronto FC II and the Charleston Battery. At 6-foot-3, Thomas is dominant in the air, and is likely to factor in as a weapon on set pieces. Defensively, he’s going to win anything lumped forward and, despite his size, Thomas is exceptionally athletic and able to recover when a ball is played in behind. If he can improve his feet and distribution, Thomas has the potential to be in consideration for top defender by end of season.
Bertrand Owundi (Forge FC)
The Cameroonian centre-back still has much to prove after failing to stick with Minnesota United, but he comes to the Canadian Premier League and Forge FC with pressure to perform at a high level given he’s appeared for his national team and caught the eye of at least one MLS outfit. The 25-year-old is a physical presence who has shown an ability to pick out a pass in his half-dozen appearances for Charlotte Independence.
However, he might not be as positionally sound as a few other names on this list. As such, it will be interesting to see if he’s still considered a top Canadian Premier League CB when we revisit this list in July.
Jordan Murrell (Valour FC)
Another defender who coach Rob Gale evaluated at the youth international level, Murrell brings significant USL experience to Winnipeg, where he could be partnered with a familiar face in Skylar Thomas. The 25-year-old Murrell accumulated more than 70 appearances for Real Monarchs, Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Reno 1868 before returning to Canada via the Canadian Premier League.
If Mason Trafford is a ball-playing centre-back and Thomas is a ball-winner, Murrell is cerebral and positional, a central defender who’s constantly organizing everything around him. And, if Murrell is on his game, you might not notice him — something most centre-backs wear as a badge of honour.
Luca Gasparotto (York9 FC)
York9’s defensive linchpin might have the highest ceiling of anyone patrolling a CPL back line. The 24-year-old moved to Rangers in 2011 and eventually made a handful of appearances for the club’s first team. All the while, Gasparotto received multiple call-ups to Canada’s youth national teams. He also made the bench in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match in Belize.
Having toiled in the Scottish Championship, Gasparotto returns to Canada with as much or more experience than anyone on this list. Ask any CPL bench boss and they’d likely be overjoyed to have an up-and-coming — yet still experienced — centre-back like Gasparotto as an option.