MONTREAL – To say Pacific FC has their eye on the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbirds soccer program would be an understatement.
UBC is back at the top of U SPORTS soccer again this year, competing in the 2019 Men’s Championships in Montreal – just as they were last season when the CPL club snatched three Thunderbirds in the inaugural CPL-U SPORTS Draft: Thomas Gardner (6th overall), Zach Verhoven (9th) and Nick Fussell (20th).
Pacific FC interim coach James Merriman was in attendance at the University of Montreal on Friday to catch up on a couple of his team’s picks from last season – Gardner and Fussell – and to take a look at a few others ahead of the second CPL-U SPORTS Draft, set to take place on Monday.
The UBC team is littered with CPL and pro connections. Jackson Farmer (who has one Canadian senior team cap) is joined by Kadin Chung’s brother, Logan, and former Whitecaps 2 left fullback Jordan Haynes.
But, it was Gardner who commanded most of the attention.
The 21-year-old was slated to enjoy a season of CPL action under his belt with Pacific last year, but was ruled out for three months with a knee injury shortly after being drafted in the first round in 2018. He’s hoping to restart that journey in 2019.
“Last year, I was unfortunate with an injury,” Gardner recalled to CanPL.ca. “I was trying to go to Pacific, but I was ruled out for about three months with a bad injury. But, Pacific remains a place I’d love to go to.”
He continued: “It was really disappointing, because I have a lot of buddies on Pacific, too, and they were saying how good it was over there, and how exciting it is – it’s playing soccer professionally, right? It’s what we all want to do.”
With five goals and four assists in 16 matches this season, Gardner, an attacking midfielder from North Vancouver, B.C., is certainly keen on trying again with Pacific. But, with the nature of the draft, he could be plucked by another team, too.
“I’m still open for anything,” Gardner said of his future. “It’s the draft, and you don’t have an option, really, so I’m open to anyone … but I’ve played professionally before, and even if university soccer is a lower level, I feel I’ve still grown, and I feel I’m ready for the next level. I watched Pacific FC games all season, because my buddies are all there, and it looks like a great level. It’s competitive, and everyone is working hard, and technically, they’re all really solid, so it’s definitely interesting.”
UBC standouts shine in consolation match
A 2-0 win over StFX University on Friday in a consolation game ended UBC’s 2019 U SPORTS adventure, and while Gardner was certainly under the spotlight, his teammates Fussell and Haynes were equally brilliant. In particular, the latter, 23-year-old Haynes, pulled together a man of the match performance.
“We have some talented players coming down,” Haynes said of the draft-ready players on UBC. “We definitely had a good year and it was a great experience for me – I had a great year.”
Through 18 appearances with UBC, the Vancouver native has proven a smart defender with a wicked delivery from out wide – good enough for eight assists.
“If someone was willing to give me the opportunity again, seeing the players I’ve played with have the chance to do it, I would be more than happy to do,” Haynes told CanPL.ca.
Fussell is a more raw central midfield prospect. As a second-year, the 20-year-old is younger than many U SPORTS players in contention for CPL Developmental Contracts.
“It’s tough coming off a loss and playing in these consolation games,” Fussell said. “But we’re still willing to work and looking to prove ourselves.”
Proving yourself is the focus for many in Montreal, with CPL coaches rubbing shoulders with players and eagerly watching university soccer’s biggest showcase.
“It’s always going to be a great opportunity and I’d love to do it,” Fussell said of a potential jump to the professional level. “I watched the league almost all last year and it looks like a top league.
“I think I can do it, I believe I can do it.”
CanPL.ca will be in Montreal for the entire 2019 U SPORTS National Championships ahead of the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft on Monday, Nov. 11. Stay tuned for more features, interviews, and a full day of draft coverage.