U SPORTS standout Gardner looks ahead to CPL preseason with Pacific FC

VANCOUVER ISLAND — The inaugural CPL – U SPORTS draft is in the books, with Pacific Football Club (PFC) selecting three UBC Thunderbirds with the sixth, ninth and 20th picks overall.  PFC’s first-ever pick Thomas Gardner and his two teammates will join the Vancouver Island club for the 2019 pre-season.

The league’s partnership with U SPORTS, Canada’s governing body for university sport, is paving a clear pathway for top-level, student-athletes such as Gardner to potentially reach the professional level.

“The Draft comes down to one thing for me,” said Gardner. “That’s the opportunity to showcase what I can do and push onto bigger things.

“The CPL isn’t just a great opportunity for me, it’s a new path for a lot of young Canadians to try to achieve a goal of becoming a professional soccer player,” added Gardner. “The CPL offers a fresh start, provides a chance to show yourself and possibly go on to other leagues.”

Gabriel Bitar-Twitter-2
(Canadian Premier League)

The 20-year-old, North Vancouver native began playing at the age of three. He was inspired by his father who also played. Gardner began his career with Metro Vancouver’s North Shore side before being part of the Whitecaps Residency and progressing to Whitecaps 2 of the USL Championship.

The technical midfielder has proven his talent at multiple age groups, including a stint with the Canadian U-15 national program. Gardner was then selected to the U-16 National Team for a tournament in France, featuring against France, Turkey, and the Ivory Coast.

Once out of Whitecaps FC academy, Gardner signed with the Whitecaps’ USL side, before opting to pursue a collegiate career with the T-Birds.

Gardner’s rookie season at UBC was nothing short of brilliant, scoring six times over 12 starts including three game-winning goals and registering four consecutive goals on home turf off of free kick opportunities. Following the season, Gardner earned U SPORTS, and Canada West Rookie of the Year honours, as well as the Canada West Player of the Year just prior to the CPL-U SPORTS Draft, which was also held at UBC.

PFC assistant coach James Merriman, CEO Rob Friend and head coach Michael Silberbauer during last week's draft. (Joelle Elfassy/Canadian Premier League)
PFC CEO Rob Friend and head coach Michael Silberbauer during last week’s draft. (Joelle Elfassy/Canadian Premier League)

“Providing Tommy with the chance to achieve his professional goals is pretty incredible,” said Pacific FC co-founder Rob Friend. “We’re already seeing the benefits of the CPL and what kind of opportunities it’s going to bring players like him in the immediate future, as well as long-term.”

The local talent’s enthusiasm in being selected by Vancouver Island’s CPL outfit is impossible to ignore.

“It was awesome to get selected by Pacific FC, they were my first choice,” added Gardner. “Not just because it was close, but because I heard what they are all about and what they are doing over there. I’m also really excited to be joined by a few other local UBC boys.”

Gardner looks forward to the opportunity of playing professionally, just a short ferry ride away from where he began his playing career as a child.

“When you get to a professional level, the skill gap becomes much smaller, and work ethic and drive becomes so much more important,” concluded Gardner. “I’m a goofy kid, but when the time comes to put in the work I’ll do it.”

Gardner will be joined by UBC teammates Zach Verhoven and Nick Fussell. The trio will join PFC for pre-season in 2019 with a unique, potentially career-defining opportunity in the balance.