TORONTO — The Canadian Premier League took another step forward Tuesday with Carleton University forward Gabriel Bitar going first overall to Calgary's Cavalry FC in the CPL-U Sports draft.
Those chosen in the three-round draft earned a trip to training camp with one of the seven CPL teams, which are slated to begin play in the spring. They still have to make the club, hoping to sign either a developmental contract for non-graduating student-athletes or a pro contract for graduating seniors.
The CPL teams are expected to soon announce signings of so-called "foundational" players, who will become the first to be officially attached to a club.
The seven clubs took part in a randomized lottery system to determine order of selection, with Cavalry FC winning out.
"We've been a part of history here," said Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., who said he was looking for "difference-makers" in the draft.
Bitar won the Lou Bilek Award as U Sports soccer rookie of the year and was a first-team All-Canadian in 2017, leading the country with 16 goals. The five-foot-nine striker added 13 more goals this season with another four goals at the U Sports men's championship, where the Ravens finished third.
The Calgary team had knowledge of Bitar through assistant coach Martin Nash, who knew him through his time with the Ottawa Fury academy.
"The type of player he is excites us," said Wheeldon. "He's young, he's Canadian and we believe that we can aid his development and hopefully give him a chance to play in the professional leagues some day."
Winnipeg's Valour FC chose York midfielder Dylan Carreiro second. The 23-year-old Winnipegger, who has represented Canada at the under-17, -20 and -23 levels, spent time with the academies of both Toronto FC and England's Queens Park Rangers before club stints with Scotland's Dundee and Arbroath.
Guelph forward Jace Kotsopoulus, a native of Burlington, Ont., went third to Hamilton's Forge FC. Kotsopoulus, a first-team all-Canadian, won the Joe Johnson Memorial Trophy as U Sports men’s soccer player of the year after finishing second in the country with 15 goals — upping his school-record total to 56.
York 9 FC selected York defender Daniel Gogarty with the fourth pick while Halifax's HFX Wanderers opted for Cape Breton defender Peter Schaale fifth overall. Both were first-team all-Canadians.
Victoria's Pacific FC and FC Edmonton rounded out the first round, taking UBC forward Thomas Gardner and Alberta goalkeeper Connor James, respectively.
Gardner won U Sport rookie of the year honours this season, scoring five of his six goals off free kicks. Like James, he was a first-team all-Canadian.
All but Cavalry FC opted for local or nearby talent in the first round.
Cavalry FC took Easton Ongaro in third round. The six-foot-five striker from the University of Alberta is the nephew of former Edmonton Drillers coach Ross Ongaro.
FC Edmonton also chose Alberta players in the second and third rounds. Pacific FC also stuck with one school, choosing UBC talent.
Four players were chosen from the Cape Breton Capers, who lost Sunday's U-Sports final in Vancouver 2-1 in extra-time to the Montreal Carabins.
The lone Montreal player chosen was Mali midfielder Aboubacar Sissoko, who went to Forge FC in the second round.
The players chosen can stay and play for their CPL club the whole season as long as they signed a developmental agreement, rather than a pro contract.
First Round (with home town in parentheses)
1. Cavalry FC, Gabriel Bitar, forward Carleton University, 2nd year (Ottawa); 2. Valour FC, Dylan Carreiro, York University, midfielder, 3rd year (Winnipeg); 3. Forge FC, Jace Kotsopoulos, University of Guelph, forward, 3rd year, (Burlington, Ont.); 4. York 9 FC, Daniel Gogarty, York University, defender, 5th year (Toronto); 5. HFX Wanderers, Peter Schaale, Cape Breton University, defender, 3rd year (Germany); 6. Pacific FC, Thomas Gardner, UBC, forward, 1st year (North Vancouver); 7. FC Edmonton, Connor James, University of Alberta, goalkeeper, 5th year (Edmonton).
8. FC Edmonton, Ajeej Sarkaria, Alberta, forward, 3rd year (Edmonton); 9. Pacific FC, Zach Verhoven, UBC, forward, 3rd (Surrey, B.C.); 10. HFX Wanderers, Andre Bona UQAM, defender, 5th year (France); 11. York 9, Emmanuel Zambazis, York, midfielder, 1st year (Toronto); 12. Forge FC, Aboubacar Sissoko, Montreal, midfielder, 4th year (Mali); 13. Valour FC, Lewis White, Cape Breton, defender, 2nd year (Scotland); 14. Cavalry FC, Joel Waterman, Trinity Western, midfielder, 5th year (Aldergrove, B.C.).
15. Cavalry FC, Easton Ongaro, Alberta, forward, 2nd year (Edmonton); 16. Valour FC, Jack Simpson, Cape Breton, midfielder, 2nd year (England); 17. Forge FC. Marko Mandekic, Toronto, midfielder, 2nd year (Kitchener, Ont.); 18. York 9, Daniel Pritchard, Cape Breton, defender, 4th year (England); 19. HFX Wanderers, Christian Oxner, Saint Mary's, goalkeeper, 4th year (Halifax); 20. Pacific FC, Nick Fussell, UBC, midfielder, 1st year (Surrey, B.C.); 21. FC Edmonton, Noah Cunningham, Alberta, defender, 3rd year (St. Albert, Alta.)
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press