EDMONTON – FC Edmonton didn’t have to look too far to find their three draft picks in the inaugural CPL-U SPORTS Draft. Head Coach and Director of Soccer Operations Jeff Paulus selected three local players from the University of Alberta. In addition, all three draft picks are products of the FC Edmonton Academy.
With the club’s first round selection, 7th overall, FC Edmonton chose goalkeeper Connor James. James just finished his 5th and final season with the Golden Bears, and holds Canada West records for matches played (67), wins (47), and clean sheets (31). The Edmonton native was also named a U SPORTS 1st Team All-Canadian this season.
“For me, Connor is the top keeper in U SPORTS and his record-breaking year at the University of Alberta validates that,” says Paulus. “Already a consummate professional, Connor is an example of the success that comes with the dedication it takes off the pitch to reach the highest levels.
“He is a fearless shot stopper, quick and agile, with an ability to play with his feet. He is also a leader who will help organize the team in front of him.”
The CPL-U SPORTS Draft was conducted as a snake-style draft, giving the Eddies had back-to-back selections. With the 8th overall choice, FC Edmonton took Golden Bear forward Ajeej Sarkaria. Sarkaria broke the conference career points record in just his third year with the U of A, racking up 37 goals and 25 assists in 42 matches. A U SPORTS 2nd Team All-Canadian this year, Sarkaria has led Canada West in points in each of his three campaigns with the Bears.
“Ajeej is a complete striker who is able to get behind the back line, and equally comfortable stepping into the midfield playing as a false 9,” Paulus says. “Ajeej is a clever striker who reads the game very well.
“He has the technical ability and awareness to play as a number 10 and the size and strength to play as a target striker. He has added some playmaking abilities to his skill set, as we saw this past season with the U of A.”
With their third and final pick, 21st overall, FC Edmonton selected defender Noah Cunningham. The 6-foot-2 centre back was a 2nd Team U SPORTS All-Canadian in his third season with the Bears, and has spent time with the PDL’s Victoria Highlanders.
“Noah is another example of a player who has embraced the ideals and goals of the Academy and embraced the off-field practices required to become a professional,” says Paulus. “He is an incredible leader and organizer from the defensive line, a very good 1-v-1 defender, and dominant in his aerial duals.
“Being an Academy grad, Noah also looks to play out of the back and has a fantastic passing range.”
Selected players have been invited to participate in preseason camp with the opportunity to sign either with a Standard Developmental Contract for non-graduating student-athletes wishing to preserve their eligibility, or a Pro Contract for graduating seniors.
The truly unique partnership between the Canadian Premier League and U SPORTS gives top Canadian university players an opportunity to play professional soccer while continuing to maintain their education and university sports eligibility.