CPL sides make first selections

Canadian Premier League makes inaugural U Sports draft picks

Matthew Gourlie

Goals change games.

With the first pick in the inaugural Canadian Premier League draft, Cavalry FC hopes they have found a game-changing forward.

The Calgary club made Carleton University’s Gabriel Bitar the league’s first draft choice Monday.

Gabriel Bitar

Gabriel Bitar

“He’s a forward who fits the way we want to play,” Cavalry FC head coach/general Tommy Wheeldon Jr. told the CPL website. “We want to be dynamic. Gabriel moves well. He’s fast-twitch; he’s playing off the shoulder; he’s into pockets.”

The 20-year-old Ottawa product was a member of the Ottawa Fury academy before heading to Carleton.

He scored 16 goals in 2017 and was named U Sports rookie of the year. The five-foot-nine striker followed that up with 13 goals in 15 matches this season. He scored four times this past weekend at the U Sports national championships in front of the CPL scouts, coaches and front offices.

With their second round pick, 14th overall, Wheeldon went with a familiar face as he selected graduating midfielder Joel Waterman from Trinity Western. Waterman had also played in the PDL with TSS Rovers before joining Wheeldon at Foothills FC in Calgary this summer. He played 1,109 minutes — primarily in defence — over 14 regular season matches and played the 30 minutes of extra time in the PDL final as a central defender.

Because Waterman is a graduating university player he is eligible to sign a CPL pro contract.

Cavalry FC logo tight

Players with U Sports eligibility will be eligible to sign a standard development agreement. Those players would return to school before the close of the CPL season and then be eligible to re-enter the draft the following season.

With their final selection, Cavalry FC selected six-foot-five target forward Easton Ongaro from the University of Alberta in the third round, 15th overall.

Ongaro had 16 goals in 14 matches with the Golden Bears this season. He is the nephew of Edmonton soccer legend Ross Ongaro.

Wheeldon was excited about Easton Ongaro’s unique attributes, telling the CPL website:

“He’s a dribbler, with good 1v1 skills,” Wheeldon said. “He has a great left foot. He can take free kicks. He’s unorthodox in a really good way. He’s someone who with a little more work could be a very unique player we could try and produce.”

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Valour FC had the second overall pick and they selected Winnipeg product Dylan Carreiro from York University.

The 23-year-old midfielder left the Toronto FC Academy to join Queens Park Rangers’ youth set-up in 2012. After failing to make a breakthrough in England, Carreiro signed with Scottish Premier League side Dundee FC and made three appearances, while also playing 18 matches with Arbroath FC in Scottish League Two, scoring five goals in 2014.

Valour FC logo - small vertical

A right-footed midfielder who often plays as an inverted winger on the left, or as a No. 10, Carreiro was the 2013 Canadian under-20 player of the year. He staked Canada to a 1-0 lead against the United States in the decisive qualifier for the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, a match Canada lost 4-2.

Valour FC also selected left back Lewis White in the second round, 13th overall and midfielder Jack Simpson in the third round, 16th overall. The Scottish players both played for Cape Breton University who lost the U Sports national final Sunday after claiming the national title in 2017.

White, 20, signed with Glasgow Rangers at 15 and earned a Scottish U16 cap. Simpson, 21, was a youth player with Hearts and Hamilton Academical in Scotland. They both joined the Capers in 2017.

“Dylan is a player that I have a history with as former coach of the Canada U17 and U20 squads, so I know him very well,” Valour FC head coach Rob Gale said in a release. “Lewis White comes from a good pedigree with some professional experience under his belt, and Jack Simpson showed very well at the U Sports championship. All three exhibit great character and have a lot to offer.”

*  *  *  *

Forge FC selected the reigning Joe Johnson Memorial Trophy Canadian university player of the year with the third overall pick when they selected forward Jace Kotsopoulos from the University of Guelph.

Kotsopoulos, a Burlington, Ont. product, set the Guelph all-time goal scoring record when he netted his 50th career goal earlier this season and currently has 53 career goals in 57 career matches. The fourth-year Griffin scored 15 goals this season to finish second in U Sports.

Forge FC main logo crop

The Hamilton side selected Aboubacar Sissoko from Mali with the 12th overall pick in the second round. The 23-year-old central midfielder captained the University of Montreal to the U Sports national title Sunday. He has been named a first-team all-RSEQ conference selection the past two seasons.

Forge FC’s final pick was second-year University of Toronto central defender/midfielder Marko Mandekic. The 19-year-old was part of the Toronto FC Academy and attended a Canadian youth development camp. The six-foot-two Mandekic offers good technical skills playing out of the back as a central defender or can provide a presence as a defensive midfielder.

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While most of the players selected will return to university in the fall, York 9 FC is hoping their first selection will be in electric green for many years to come.

York 9 selected fifth-year central defender Daniel Gogarty from York University with the fifth overall pick. With York U’s master coach Carmine Isacco in place in Brennan’s staff, York 9 should know exactly what they’re getting from the graduating defender.

York 9 Football Club logo

“We’ve known Gogarty for a while. Right away we knew he was going to be the guy for us.” said York 9 FC head coach and executive vice president of soccer operations Jim Brennan. “Our staff is really familiar with him and we’ve watched him numerous times.

“He has good size and a good presence at the back. He’s a good leader. That’s what we want — a good left-footed Canadian centreback who can control a back line and be a difference.”

Gogarty was a first-team all-OUA conference all-star for the third straight season. He was also a first team All-Canadian for the second straight year and was a second-team national selection three years ago.

York 9 once again didn’t stray far from home with their second pick, selecting York U freshman midfielder Emmanuel Zambazis 11th overall in the second round.

While Zambazis is only in his first year in U Sports, the 21 year old isn’t lacking in experience. He played in League 1 Ontario with Vaughan Azzuri at 17 before transferring to Iraklis in Greece. Zambazis made nine first-team appearances for Iraklis as a teenager before the club was dissolved at the end of 2017.

He also earned a pair of Greek under-19 caps. He joined Canada’s under-20s for the 2017 CONCACAF under-20 championships where Canada failed to qualify for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

Zambazis is a right-footed midfielder who can play centrally or as wide player.

With their final selection, 18th overall, York 9 selected English defender Daniel Pritchard from Cape Breton University.

The fourth-year fullback has pace and could fit into the sort of wingback role where Brennan himself was at his best in the York 9 system.

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HFX Wanderers took a pair of European defenders with their first two selections of the draft.

The Halifax club grabbed German central defender Peter Schaale from Cape Breton University with the fifth overall pick. Schaale was a first-team All-Canadian selection in his third year in U Sports.

HFX-Wanderers FC

The six-foot-three Schaale was the Atlantic University Sport player of the year, a rare feat for a defender, and was part of Cape Breton’s 2017 national title. He scored five goals this season.

Schaale played his youth soccer in Germany at SV Eintracht Trier 05, 1 FC Köln, FC Viktoria Köln and SG Worringen before moving to Cape Breton for school.

Next, the Wanderers selected defender André Bona from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Bona, who hails from Marseilles in France, is a graduating fifth-year player who was a second-team All-Canadian selection.

Bona scored four goals this season for UQAM. He can play across the back four, but the future is now for Bona who is 28 years old.

With their final selection they chose local keeper Christian Oxner from  St. Mary’s University.

Oxner has already patrolled the Wanderers Grounds goalmouth, having earned the penalty shootout win for the Atlantic Selects against Fortuna Düsseldorf’s under-21s. Oxner made the only save in the shootout.

Though only six-feet tall, Oxner is known for his athletic shot-stopping ability. He trialled with Toronto FC in 2013 and has played his club soccer with Western Halifax. He posted a shutout in the 2017 Challenge Trophy final as Western Halifax claimed the national amateur title.

*  *  *  *

Pacific FC kept true to their name by selecting a trio of players from the University of British Columbia.

The islanders began their draft, grabbing North Vancouver’s Thomas Gardner with the sixth overall selection.

Pacific FC logo vertical

The freshman won the Lou Bilek award as the U Sports rookie of the year. The 20 year old was also named a first-team All-Canadian.

Gardner, a five-foot-nine midfielder, scored five of his six goals this season off of free kicks.

He also played six matches this summer with the PDL’s TSS Rovers. Gardner was 13 when he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program in 2011. He made his professional debut with VWC2 in 2015 and played 40 matches in the USL.

With their second round selection, ninth overall, Pacific FC selected UBC’s Zach Verhoven.

The right-footed attacker often players wide on the left where he is able to cut inside and create problems. Verhoven had two goals and five assists this season, his third at UBC.

With their final selection, Pacific FC grabbed another UBC freshman midfielder, Nick Fussell, 20th overall.

Fussell spent three years at the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy and was part of their under-19 team that reached the U.S. Development Academy League semifinals in 2017.

Fussell is a box-to-box midfielder who is offers some quality going forward. He had a goal and three assists in his first year of U Sports play.

*  *  *  *

With the final pick of the first round FC Edmonton selected keeper Connor James from the University of Alberta. The fifth-year senior is eligible to sign a CPL pro contract as a graduating player.

FC Edmonton logo

James was a first-team All-Canadian selection this season and the six-foot keeper is the Canada West career record holder in matches played, wins and shutouts.

With the following pick, the Eddies chose forward Ajeej Sarkaria from the U of A. The 23-year-old set a Canada West record as a freshman with 19 goals and 25 points as the Golden Bears won the 2016 U Sports title. The six-foot forward once again led Canada West in goals and points in 2017 and is now the conference’s all-time leader in goals and points after three seasons.

Sarkaria signed with FC Edmonton at 17 after spending time in Sweden and Germany as a youth player. Sarkaria has spent the last three summers with Foothills FC in Calgary and started in their PDL title win over Reading FC.

With the final pick in the draft, Edmonton selected six-foot-two central defender Noah Cunningham for the U of A. Cunningham and Sarkaria were both second team All-Canadian selection this year.

All three players are graduates of the FC Edmonton Academy.

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