Vancouver FC sign top two 2023 CPL-U SPORTS Draft picks

The first two picks in the 2023 CPL-U SPORTS Draft, centre-back Anthony White and striker Ameer Kinani, have been signed by Vancouver FC, the club announced on Wednesday. 

Vancouver received the top two picks in the annual draft, which was held last December, as the latest expansion side to join the Canadian Premier League (CPL). VFC selected White with the first overall pick out of the University of Toronto (U of T), followed by Kinani with the second overall pick out of Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). 

White and Kinani were invited to Vancouver’s preseason training, where they competed for a roster spot ahead of the 2023 CPL season. 

“The CPL-U SPORTS Draft plays a key role in Canada’s player development pathway, allowing university-level athletes to gain visibility from the professional clubs within our League,” said Rob Friend, President, Vancouver FC. “We’ve already seen success stories through this pathway, including Joel Waterman and Victor Loturi of Canada’s Men’s National Team as well as our own Gabriel Bitar. We believe both Anthony and Ameer will further showcase how critical this draft is in terms of identifying and developing more professional talent in this country.”

White, 19, joins Vancouver through the 2024 season on a standard player contract (SPC), with a club option to extend his stay through 2026. In signing an SPC rather than a CPL-U SPORTS contract, White has forfeited his U SPORTS eligibility. 

The native of Port Moody, B.C., who grew up representing Coquitlam Metro Ford Soccer Club, returns to the west coast after making 11 starts for the University of Toronto in 2022, which was tied for the team lead in his sophomore season with the Varsity Blues. Outside of the U SPORTS structure, he most recently helped TSS Rovers win the 2022 League1 BC championship last summer. 

White is the youngest first-overall pick in the history of the CPL-U SPORTS Draft.

“I am proud of all of the hard work it took to get to this moment and grateful to Vancouver for making this investment in me,” said White. “As a young player, it is a luxury to know where I will be playing for the foreseeable future, and I look forward to living up to the faith Afshin and everyone at VFC has placed in me.” 

The left-footed central defender, who stands at six foot one, has previously trained in top professional environments, such as with Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb and NK Sibenik, as well as FC Nurnberg in Germany. He has also trialled with the Vancouver Whitecaps. In 2019, White was one of 16 Generation Adidas players selected to train in Spain with Real Madrid and at the training centre of the Spanish national team.

White is composed and calm addition to Vancouver’s defence. He can play out of the back with precision, be it through a short- or long-range pass, and his ability to make, and execute, good decisions in any situation ensured he stood out as a U SPORTS player.

Anthony White in preseason action with Vancouver FC (Beau Chevalier / Vancouver FC)

“Anthony has impressed since his first kick at the first training,” said Afshin Ghotbi, Head Coach, Vancouver FC. “Mature beyond his age, Anthony possesses all the qualities, potential and ambition to become a top footballer.  We look forward to his development and performances in the upcoming season and beyond.” 

Kinani, 21, signed a 2023 CPL-U SPORTS contract with Vancouver. In signing such a contract, Kinani will gain the opportunity to earn professional experience with VFC, while maintaining his eligibility to return to U SPORTS competition.

“Ameer is a born goal scorer, who combines the bravery, intelligence and coolness of an international striker,” said Ghotbi. “He has an eye and nose for the goal, making him an exciting addition to our squad. VFC fans are in for a treat, watching the evolution of a true goal scorer.”

The Iraqi-Canadian striker joins the club following an impressive first season with TMU, where he scored seven goals in 13 matches. Kinani’s performance helped lead the Bold to the Ontario University Athletics Final last November.

U SPORTS wasn’t the only level where Kinani turned heads in 2022. He scored 17 goals for ProStars FC of League1 Ontario, the fourth-highest tally in the league and an impetus for a transfer from George Brown College to TMU. 

Internationally, Kinani has represented Iraq, where he was born and lived until a move to Canada at the age of seven, at the youth level. He earned a call-up to Iraq’s squad for the 2018 AFC U-19 Championship after the Iraq Football Association saw a highlight reel of Kinani posted on social media. The exposure at the youth international level led to an opportunity with FC Cartagena in Spain’s Segunda División B for Kinani, where he remained for a year and a half before making his return to Canada.

“With hard work, focus, commitment, and discipline, I believe Vancouver can do real damage in the CPL,” said Kinani. “I am a team-first player, and I will do everything I can to help this organization prove we deserve to be here, and to win.”

White and Kinani join strikers Mamadou Kane, Nathanial St. Louis and Shaan Hundal; midfielders Gael Sandoval, Elliot Simmons, Gabriel Bitar, Maël Henry, Nicky Gyimah, Min-jae Kwak, Cristian Mares and Nima Moazeni Zadeh; defenders Kadin Chung, Ibrahim Bakare, Pele Martinez, Rocco Romeo, Marcus Simmons, Kahlil John-Wentworth and Tyler Crawford; and goalkeepers Callum Irving and Jeremy Zielinski on Vancouver’s roster.

Vancouver will play its inaugural match on Saturday, April 15 in a battle of British Columbia against west coast rival Pacific FC at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C. The squad is scheduled to kick off its home schedule at Willoughby Community Park at the Langley Events Centre on Sunday, May 7 against Cavalry FC.