TORONTO — The Canadian Premier League is joining forces with U Sports to help funnel young talent to the fledgling men's pro soccer league.
Student-athletes will be able to play with a CPL club, while preserving their eligibility, in the spring and summer before returning to U Sports competition. The student will be paid for his efforts after signing a CPL-U Sports developmental contract.
A U Sports-specific player draft will take place Nov. 12 following the university men's championship in Vancouver.
"It showcases our talent, our coaches, our programs," U Sports CEO Graham Brown said of the new partnership. "I really believe it's going to have an impact on young soccer players deciding to go to a Canadian university and play soccer as opposed to possibly heading south.
"And I'm not opposed to heading south. But I'm opposed to the young people who head south and they're not really going to a comparable education as one of our institutions."
The CPL, which currently has seven franchises, is slated to kick off the third week of April. The U Sports season runs August through November.
Student-athletes who join a CPL club will be released to return to their U Sports team on Aug. 15. Once their U Sports team has wrapped up their season, the student-athlete may re-join the CPL side.
Any drafted player who returns to university following the CPL season — and continues to meet draft-eligible rules — will go back into the CPL draft in subsequent years.
Student-athletes who have graduated or whose eligibility has expired can declare themselves available for the general CPL draft.
"We are thrilled to announce this groundbreaking partnership between the CPL and U Sports," CPL commissioner David Clanachan said in a statement. "We knew giving the top university players in our country an opportunity to play professionally while still continuing to maintain their education and U Sports status was important.
"This allows us to continue our journey to create a pathway for our homegrown players to have the opportunity to play professionally in Canada."
U Sports includes 48 men's soccer teams.
The CPL's soccer operations department, with input from U Sports coaches, is scouting players to establish a prospects list.
The new league has not divulged full details on how it plans to flesh out its rosters. But it has talked of building around experienced Canadians called "foundational players." A second list, featuring under-23 Canadians, has been submitted to the league's soccer operations office in advance of those players being approached.
Further roster additions, including survivors from the league's more than 1,400 trialists, will be revealed by early November. Clanachan has said he expects more than 20 trialists to be invited to training camp.
U Sports players will have to go through the special draft to keep their eligibility, which they would lose if they signed as a free agent.
While the framework is still being finalized, it is likely most U Sports players who join the CPL will do so with local franchises given the movement between club and school.
The seven founding CP franchises are HFX Wanderers FC (Halifax), York 9 FC (north Toronto), Forge FC (Hamilton), Valour FC (Winnipeg), FC Edmonton, Cavalry FC (Calgary) and Pacific FC (Victoria).
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press