Who to pick? CPL coaches predictably varied in draft-day philosophies

MONTREAL – Every Canadian Premier League team enters the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft with their own ideas, thoughts, and roster needs.

It’s what makes the week-long build-up to the draft so interesting for outside observers, and what fuels the hopes of all of the available talent, not just the players making headlines in, let’s say, the 2019 U SPORTS Soccer Championship, taking place in Montreal this week.

See, for every prolific goal-scorer, there’s a quiet, effective defender, putting in the work and impressing those who may be in the market for exactly that.

As we approach the draft, enjoyed a few conversations with some CPL coaches, and, as predicted, the focus of their draft-day selections were as widely varied as the clubs themselves.

York9 and Valour were particularly tight-lipped, keeping secrets close to their chests. Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and Bobby Smyrniotis of Cavalry and Forge seemed to indicate they’re in the market for depth, having built strong, robust rosters that won the Spring and Fall titles, and the North Star Shield, respectively. HFX coach Stephen Hart and Pacific coach James Merriman were rather specific in their wish lists, and Jeff Paulus of FC Edmonton threw a bit of a curveball with his approach.


But, we’ll start out east, where Hart, mostly taking in the Cape Breton Capers, as well as a few UQTR and Montreal Carabins matches, has one particular hole to fill for the Wanderers.

“Basically, we’re under no illusions about our ability to score goals, so our priority right now is to build a team from the front, and see how that materializes,” Hart mused. “I don’t care who scores the goals – I just want people who can score the goals. We signed Akeem Garcia, so if that means someone to compliment him, that’s fine, or other players who can contribute in different positions, but we need more people to score goals.”

On the flip-side? Pacific FC will be looking to bolster the backline, having recently released Hendrik Starostzik and Emile Legault.

“We are looking for defenders, for sure,” Merriman revealed. “We’ve released two of our three centre backs, so definitely a central defender, and maybe a full-back, anywhere across the back four. But, above that, we’re looking for quality; players who can come in and take the chance to get minutes, who can play at the next level. It’s a bit open after that, but definitely one defender … maybe two. And, we want to stay as local as possible, meaning left coast, but we wouldn’t say no to someone across the country we really liked.”

Local-first is an approach Paulus definitely appreciates; in fact, Paulus was adamant that he’d only bring in U SPORTS players who are ready on day one … otherwise, he’s got his own pipeline of talent to choose from.

“I have to weigh who I see here vs. my own U-20 kids,” Paulus affirmed.

“I’m looking for a player who can step in as a starting player. Otherwise, I’m not looking for squad players. Mostly, I’ll be looking locally; we’ve got young players who commit to FC Edmonton’s U-20 reserve team, some since they were 15 years old, so for us, we want to respect the young players who commit to our program, so that’s always the first place we’ll look. This draft gives us a second opportunity to see players we don’t normally see, but I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m quite high on our local players.”

As for the two finalists of 2019? They’re looking to reinforce what they can, though in different ways.

“The biggest thing we’re looking for from this draft is the best available player,” Smyrniotis said. “You look at what’s missing in your squad, and you fill that with different aspects, whether it’s a local or international signings, so the best way to look at this is, there’s a lot of players here to look at, and picking the best available, and looking at some depth in our positions. That’s what we did last year with Jace (Kotsopoulos) – you look for depth in your positions, and Jace was great for us in that regard.”

Wheeldon Jr. is taking a more specific view.

“We’re looking to have a lower turnover of players, because we built a fantastic core, so any player we bring in would fill the domestic under-21 profile, or would need to have game-changing abilities that could potentially come off the bench and make a difference,” Wheeldon Jr. said.

“We’re okay, defensively, so we’re looking at wide players, with a bit of pace, goals, or pedigree. You can never have too many who have the ability to score goals, but I think our spine is strong, so we’re looking for depth out wide more than anything.”