CPL inks its first 10 players

Four Canadian internationals amongst first 10 Canadian Premier League player signings

Matthew Gourlie

Nineteen months ago the Canadian Premier League was ratified by the Canadian Soccer Association.

Then came team launches, a head office, team identities, membership sales, a kit deal, nationwide open trials and a collegiate draft.

Still, Thursday was a red-letter day in the history of the CPL as the league unveiled its first 10 player signings in Toronto.

The signed players feature four players with Canadian senior international caps — Kyle Bekker (Forge FC), Randy Edwini-Bonsu (FC Edmonton), Nik Ledgerwood (Cavalry FC) and Kyle Porter (York9 FC).

Zachary Sukunda (HFX Wanderers FC) and Kadin Chung (Pacific FC) have both come home after playing overseas, while Chris Nanco (Forge FC) and Skylar Thomas (Valour FC) spent last season in the USL. Sergio Camargo (Cavalry FC) and Allan Zebie (FC Edmonton) round out the announced signings.

While there is a lot of work to be done, the first batch of domestic signings goes a long way to establish the CPL’s bona fides.

CPL Kyle Bekker

Kyle Bekker plays for Canada in an international friendly against the United States in Carson, Calif. photo courtesy of Canada Soccer ISI Photos John Dorton

In Hamilton Bekker and Nanco are reunited with their former Sigma FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis.

“He’s ready to lead and ready to push this next group of players to greater success,” Smyrniotis said of Bekker on the Forge FC web site. “He has had rough times, he has had good times, he has been in dressing rooms with many different players at many different levels. His biggest lure to coming back here is helping this game grow in Canada.

“Being able to have a player who can be the brains behind things in the attack is very important (for the way we want to play).”

Bekker had a standout first season with North Carolina FC in the USL last year, scoring seven goals and adding 13 assists from the midfield. The 28-year-old was a starter on the SF Deltas NASL-title winning team of 2017 as well.

“I’m going to be a leader for the young guys and be an example for others to look up to,” Bekker said in an open-letter to the Forge FC fans.

Bekker was selected third overall in the Major League Soccer draft in 2013 and earned 11 senior caps for Canada that year as he quickly became a favourite of Canadian manager Benito Floro was his range of passing. He would play 20 matches with Toronto FC in 2014, but never found a regular role. He moved to FC Dallas and then the Montréal Impact — playing 18 matches in 2016 — before heading to the NASL.

Nanco had five goals and four assists last season with the USL’s Bethlehem Steel after scoring four times in his rookie campaign in 2017. He was drafted 55th overall by Philadelphia Union in the MLS draft.

The 23-year-old brings speed, technical ability and versatility to the Forge attack.The Syracuse University grad can play on either wing, as a forward or withdrawn behind a target man.

He said he wanted to bring “an element of flair to this club.” The five-foot-six attacker has played for Canada at the under-17 and under-20 levels.

CPL - Ledgerwood 2

Nik Ledgerwood scored his first senior goal for Canada in a World Cup qualifier against El Salvador at B.C. Place in 2016. photo by Bob Frid courtesy of Canada Soccer

When Ledgerwood signed on to play last season with Calgary’s Foothills FC, his future as a cornerstone of a Calgary CPL team seemed a guarantee.

Owner of 50 Canadian senior caps, the 33-year-old from Lethbridge has seen his career come full-circle after he made his debut as a 17-year-old with the A-League’s Calgary Storm in 2002.

“I’ve played a lot of soccer in my career, but the attraction of building something bigger than anything I’ve ever experienced before — back home in Canada — is what brought me home,” Ledgerwood said. “This is something I never had growing up – this direct pathway to a professional league across the country, where young footballers can aspire to be a part of this sport.

“It’s why I wanted to be a part of this.”

Ledgerwood spent 13 seasons in Europe — playing 69 matches in the German second flight with 1860 Munich, Wacker Burghausen and FSV Frankfurt — before coming home to spend two seasons in the NASL with Edmonton in 2017.

The 33-year-old served as Foothills’ captain and an academy coach last season, though he only made seven appearances.

Capable of playing as a defensive midfielder or on the right flank, Ledgerwood spent the majority of his international career as a right back.

Camargo also spent last season playing under Cavalry head coach/general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. at Foothills. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder won his second PDL title last year after captaining K-W United FC from Kitchener-Waterloo to the title in 2015.

Camargo was part of the Toronto FC academy before heading to the NCAA where he played for Coastal Carolina and Syracuse. He signed a home grown player (HGP) contract with TFC, but spent the season with TFC.

Camargo never played a senior match for Toronto FC, but memorably as an 18-year-old he made a 30-yard run that led to his rebound being knocked home by Quincy Amarikwa to give TFC a 1-0 lead over Liverpool in a friendly in front of 33,087 at Rogers Centre in 2012.

Camargo was also part of the Canadian squad that took part in the 2011 FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

•  •  •  •

CPL - Kyle Porter

Kyle Porter tries to hold off a Czech defender during an international friendly in Olomouc, Czech Republic in 2013. photo courtesy CanadaSoccer/Jan Tauber

In Kyle Porter, York9 has found a seasoned professional to help build around.

The 28-year-old right winger spent two seasons in MLS with DC United, scoring three goals and making 27 appearances in 2013 before only featuring five times a year later.

“I’ve played with great players, but now I’m bringing that experience to a young, dynamic group,” Porter said. I’m a hometown guy who believes in this league, in York Region.

“I still have so much to show, so much left in the tank to help this team accomplish great things.”

Standing six-feet tall, Porter has the size and speed to get up and down the wing and can play as a fullback or in the midfield — and has featured on both flanks — though his signing seems to be another hint that Jim Brennan will be looking to play with three in the back when the CPL season kicks off.

Last season Porter had his second spells in both Tampa Bay and Ottawa in the USL.

The Mississauga product began his career with the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program before testing the waters overseas with the FC Energie Cottbus youth and reserve teams.

York9 also appeared to have unveiled three more players from League 1 Ontario at a club event Wednesday night, but nothing has been formally announced.

CPL - Randy Edwini-Bonsu

Canada’s Randy Edwini-Bonsu races away from a pack of Jamaican players during an international friendly in Toronto in 2014. photo courtesy of Canada Soccer/Paul Giamou Randy Edwini-Bonsu

When Jeff Paulus was first hired by FC Edmonton, he described what kind of team he wanted to put on the pitch. Pace, technical ability and the ability to press the opponent was high on his list. Hearing him talk, it was hard not to think of local product Randy Edwini-Bonsu.

“I’m an attack-minded manager. I want to dominate the ball, but I want to attack,” Paulus said. “I want to go at teams and put them under pressure. This player allows me to do exactly that.

“He’s got frightening pace that backlines will have to be careful of, and he can press high because he can quickly get back. For me, he fits the way I want to play. He’s creative, he’s dynamic, and I like to give players freedom in the attacking half, and he thrives in that.”

Edwini-Bonsu, 28, could be one of the most dynamic players in the first season of the CPL. The owner of 10 Canadian caps, he scored in Puerto Rico in 2015 and memorably gave the Costa Rican defence fits in a friendly at Commonwealth Stadium.

After coming up through the Vancouver Whitecaps residency, he broke into the first team in the USL in 2008. In 2012 he headed Europe, first to Finland where he scored 16 goals in 20 matches and then to Germany where he would spend seven seasons playing with five clubs. Primarily a right-sided attacking player or winger, he made 16 appearances in the 2 Bundesliga.

“When I put on our jersey for the first time it will be one of the happiest moments of my life,” Edwini-Bonsu said. “We’ve been waiting for something like this — a league that’s real and belongs to Canada.”

While Edwini-Bonsu offers explosiveness, Allan Zebie offers the Eddies dependability.

Zebie was a steady presence for FC Edmonton, first as a fullback and then as a defensive midfielder in 2017, making 54 appearances in the NASL and four more in the Voyageurs Cup over three seasons. The 25-year-old was born in Paris and moved to the City of Champions as a 15 year old. He credits the club for him being a professional.

A product of the FC Edmonton academy, Zebie didn’t play last year as he recovered from a hip injury. He was active in the YEG4CPL membership drive that helped secure the club a spot in the league. He also spent time playing college soccer in Edmonton at NAIT before turning pro.

•  •  •  •

Still just 20 years old, Kadin Chung will be hoping that a fresh start and a return to beautiful British Columbia can help rejuvenate his career.

Chung becomes the fourth former Vancouver Whitecaps residency product to be picked up by Pacific FC after the Vancouver Island club also tapped into that player pool during the U Sports draft. Pacific FC assistant coach James Merriman was a coach in the Whitecaps residency program.

Chung captained the residency team and played 45 matches with Whitecaps 2 in the USL as a teenager before moving to 1. FC Kaiserslautern II in Germany last year, making eight appearances.

Chung, a right back who often found himself playing on the left with both club and country, is a dynamic dribbler with great feet.

He has six U17 caps and eight more at the U20 level and was tapped to be one of the best young defensive prospects in the country.

•  •  •  •

CPL - Skylar Thomas

Skylar Thomas, playing with the Canadian under-23s skies over United States defender Matt Miazga during CONCACAF Olympic qualifying in Sandy, Utah 2015. photo courtesy of Canada Soccer/by Mexsport

Even with a hoodie over his head and a hat pulled down covering most of his face, Skylar Thomas is hard to miss.

Valour FC is counting on the towering central defender to be an anchor in their backline for years to come.

“He’s got his peak years ahead of him and he’s got huge upside to continue to learn and develop his game,” said Valour FC head coach/general manager Rob Gale. “He can be a set-piece weapon for us, because he’s very good in the air and in both boxes.”

His USL club Charleston Battery lists him standing at six-foot-five and the 25-year-old will be a presence in the back at Investors Group Field.

“Whether it’s a clearing header, a sliding tackle, or a well-timed interception, every aspect of my game requires full focus and maximum effort,” Thomas said in an open letter to the Valour FC supporters in Winnipeg. “You can expect that kind of commitment from me whenever I step on the field.”

The Scarborough product was selected 11th overall by Toronto FC in the 2015 MLS draft and made 47 appearances with TFC II in the USL after finishing four years in the NCAA at Syracuse. He moved on to Charleston where he was a regular for the Battery making 47 more appearances over the past two years.

He scored against the Panama in Olympic qualifying and has seven U23 caps for Canada.

•  •  •  •

Zachary Sukunda is one of the lesser-known names unveiled Thursday, but he’s just the type of player the CPL was created for.

“He has the capacity to play on the left side and the right,” HFX Wanderers FC head coach/general manager Stephen Hart told the CPL web site. “He has played as a fullback and as a wide midfielder. That kind of experience is hard to find and will serve us well.

“He’s technically quite comfortable. The quality of his crosses are good and are of good variety … I liked his capacity to go from penalty box to penalty box.”

The 23-year-old played 45 matches in two seasons with FC Montreal of the USL before the club ceased operations in 2016. A fullback who can play on either the left or the right, Sukunda spent a season in the Swedish third flight with Umeå FC, making 15 appearances. The next season he went farther afield appearing in 11 matches with Hume City FC in Australia’s National Premier Leagues Victoria, the largest of the eight provincial leagues that make up the second flight behind the A League.

He has been a regular at left back for Northcote City FC this season in the NPL Victoria whose season has concluded.

Sukunda had a spell as a youth player with Auxerre at 15 before joining the Montréal Impact academy in 2012.

Sukunda has no national team experience at any age level.

Zachary’s dad Eli Sukunda was a three-time Canadian Olympic fencer, competing at the 1976 Montréal Games as well as in 1984 and 1988.

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