Being selected in the CPL-U SPORTS Draft, even first overall like Anthony White, doesn’t guarantee a spot on a Canadian Premier League roster.
Draft picks go into training camp, some entering a professional environment for the first time, looking to fight for a contract against established players. Many have taken their opportunity and thrived, such as 2021 Cavalry selection Victor Loturi who was recently called up by the Canadian men’s national team. But many others return to their universities unsigned.
White, however, went into preseason determined to show the Vancouver FC coaching staff that he was a player worth keeping around. He was able to do that beyond even his own expectations, as the club announced on Wednesday that they are signing the 19-year-old central defender to a standard player contract.
Unlike a U SPORTS contract, a standard player contract means that White will forfeit his eligibility and will not be returning to the University of Toronto, where he spent the last two seasons, and instead will turn fully professional. He says that being in the Vancouver FC environment has only validated that decision, as has being around other players who are focused on soccer solely, and not the balance of soccer and school.
“I was a little bit shocked,” White told CanPL.ca. “I was expecting the U SPORTS contract originally, but I had some conversations with my coach Ilya (Orlov of the University of Toronto), and my agent, and the coaching staff here. Their plans for me, I like what they were talking about and my future at the club. The experience that I’ve had here so far, and the training environment, the team — everything has been positive. So there was no doubt I was going to sign if they gave me the opportunity.”
A left-footed central defender, and the youngest player to ever be taken first overall in the CPL – U SPORTS draft, White has drawn rave reviews for his passing range and ability to play the ball forward from the back. His ambition and footballing intelligence also impressed Vancouver FC coach Afshin Ghotbi during pre-draft conversations.
The feeling was mutual, as White was immediately impressed with the plans and expectations for the club heading into their inaugural season. That has only grown since he arrived in Langley.
“I hear there’s going to be a lot of support so I hope we can perform, and keep that support and keep growing the team,” says White. “That’s our expectation. Every day we’re living up to that, our training has been very good, and the expectation is very high.”
He says that being part of a project that is being built from the ground up has been a special experience. He gets to see that quite literally on a daily basis, as the club trains next to the construction site where stands are rapidly being assembled at the Langley Events Centre. Soon, that will be where the Vancouver FC play home matches for many years to come.
“Being able to train on the field right beside it is amazing,” says White. “It’s really inspiring and I can’t wait for the opening matchday.”
The club’s home opener comes on May 7 when they host Cavalry FC. The match will have special meaning for White, who as a BC native fully understands the significance of the moment.
“The Whitecaps were the only pathway to professional soccer previously before CPL came in,” White told CanPL.ca after he was drafted back in December. “So now that this is here and in Vancouver it’s a great opportunity for any local residents there. They can go watch the games, get inspired in a way, be a part of the atmosphere, the crowd in Langley … and hopefully end up [playing for the team] one day too.”
White played his minor soccer for Coquitlam Metro Ford, the same youth club as now-teammate Kadin Chung. Playing for Vancouver FC will give him the opportunity to live with family — for whom having White play for the local side is also incredibly special.
He says the last year has been absolutely transformational for the sport in the province. This summer, he got an opportunity to play for TSS Rovers, winning the inaugural League1 BC championship. White was the youngest player on the field in the final as Rovers won in a penalty shootout against Varsity FC.
White is excited to continue to play a part in the growth of the sport in the province. Doing so will require growth from him personally as well — the adjustment from collegiate to pro has been significant, he says. But Wednesday’s announcement makes it clear that Vancouver FC believes he is already well on his way.
“It’s definitely a big jump but I’m adapting well and every day I’m fitting in better and better,” he says. “I can’t wait to see where I am in two years from now.”