Introducing the Canadian Premier League’s First Players

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From Nathan: Canadian soccer fans have been waiting for a long time for this; we finally have the first names that can be assigned to rosters in the Canadian Premier League! Although many of the players signed in this initial wave do not surprise the die-hard soccer nerds amongst us, a little background may be useful to the rest. In addition to a brief biography of the players signed, I have asked two soccer nerds (Rob and Kevin) to give their opinions on the players and their value to the respective teams. Enjoy!

From Rob: Honestly for all the CanPL initial signings, I am looking for other attributes than I likely will be in four or five years. I think as many of these players as possible need to be solid pros for two reasons: 1) They need to show that we can build a league that has professional quality. It doesn’t need to be the EPL or even MLS, but people watching the league need to know they are not simply watching the club down the street or a local pub team. 2) They need to be willing to take leadership roles and to transfer the understanding of what it means to be a pro to the up-and-comers who also will be on CanPL rosters. So I will dwell less on what kind of players these guys are and more on what professional attributes they bring to a team.

From Kevin: In an event than Canadian soccer fans had been eagerly anticipating for months the Canadian Premier League has revealed its inaugural signings. The reveal was a testament the league’s intentions: an all Canadian offering that points to a new era of soccer in this country that pointed to a commitment to keep local players front and centre.

Nik Ledgerwood, Cavalry FC

The veteran midfielder’s intentions to sign with Calgary has been one of the worst kept secrets in Canadian soccer fan circles. The Albertan spent the majority of his career in Germany, peaking with 5 seasons in the 2. Bundesliga, Germany’s second tier. In search of a homecoming, Ledgerwood found himself signing with FC Edmonton for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, becoming recognized as a true stalwart for the club. With the club folding temporarily in the wake of the collapse of the North American Soccer League, Ledgerwood took the unconventional approach of returning to the amateur level to lead the Calgary Foothills FC to the Premier Development League (PDL) championship to cement himself firmly alongside future Cavalry FC manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

Age: 33

Position: Midfielder/Right-Back

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: – If there’s a signing that says ‘elder statesman’ Ledgerwood is it. And that’s not supposed to read like an insult. Heck, he’s over a decade younger than me! But he’s got a bucket of pro experience in Germany and more recently in NASL and will be a leader for Cavalry in the dressing room. I always enjoyed the professionalism that Ledgerwood brought to his games with Canada and he is a solid defensive midfielder. If every club has at least one signing like Ledgerwood it will be a harbinger of good things for the league.

Kevin’s Take: Heading into the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural season, the 33 year old has done more than enough to show his commitment to Albertan soccer, and has a wealth of experience from playing in the 2. Bundesliga and 3. Liga. I expect him to be a favourite to take the captain’s armband in 2019, the only question that remains is how long his legs will hold after taking a step down in competition level last year.

Sergio Camargo, Cavalry FC

Camargo will be familiar to Northern Starting XI readers, as we did a profile on him when he was signed to Toronto FC on January 11, 2017 as a home-grown player (you can find that interview article here). He spent four years in the Toronto FC Academy between 2009 and 2013, before heading to the NCAA to play with the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, and then the Syracuse Orange in his final year. During the NCAA off-season, he suited up for Canadian PDL club KW United FC, playing a significant role in the championship run of 2015 alongside fellow-Toronto FC player Jay Chapman. After signing with Toronto FC’s first team, Camargo was loaned to TFC II for the 2017 season, making 18 appearances in the USL before his option wasn’t picked up by the club.

Age: 24

Position: Attacking Midfielder

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: – For how much Camargo has been involved in, you could be forgiven for thinking he was older than 24. He played for Syracuse before being a key piece of K-W United’s 2015 PDL championship team. Then he moved on to TFC 2. Since his PDL success his number of appearances are a bit uninspiring but it’s hard to know what kind of form he will bring to CanPL and how Tommy will use him. In PDL he was an absolutely key piece of K-W’s championship.

Kevin’s Take: Camargo is a textbook example of a player in need of the Canadian Premier League. Everyone knew he had the potential to be an MLS-calibre player, but with the premium placed on final-third players in MLS and being stuck behind players like Osorio, Giovinco, and Janson, the depth chart made it clear Camargo would be unlikely to ever get a chance to prove himself. With the expanded opportunity that has come with CPL Camargo may have a window to use the league as a stepping stone. Two questions remain: whether that window has closed at 24, and if spending a year at the amateur level has caused him to take a step back.

Skylar Thomas, Valour FC

Thomas is another Toronto FC II alumni, having played for the club in the 2015-2016 seasons and making 47 appearances. Prior to being selected by Toronto FC in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, he captained the Syracuse Orange for two seasons. Thomas signed with the Charleston Battery in 2017 and made 21 appearances in that season, including helping the team earn 8 of their 13 shutouts. His option was exercised and he remained with the club for the 2018 season, playing in 26 out of the 34 games. He has also represented Canada at the U18, U20, and U23 levels.

Age: 25

Position: Defender

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: – If Rob Gale’s intent is to build a solid spine to his team, then he’s got one of those pieces in Skylar Thomas. Thomas is a physically imposing defender with several years of USL experience. Again, he is another player who could have used CanPL as a pro route instead of NCAA, justification for the league personified. Additionally, he has some international experience with Canada’s U23s so exactly the kind of player one would expect in CanPL in the early going.

Kevin’s Take: Canada has recently struggled to produce quality centrebacks, and as such, I have found myself rooting for Skylar Thomas to pan out in a big way at the MLS level. Despite this, similar to my criticisms for most NCAA graduates, I found that his physical dominance did not entirely compensate for more rudimentary technical abilities. He has spent the last four seasons starting in the USL, two at TFC II and two for the Charleston Battery, and I admit I have not seen him play much since he moved south. If he has taken steps forward in these aspects of the game, the Valour have a chance to develop a truly intimidating presence for their back four.

Randy Edwini-Bonsu, FC Edmonton

Edwini-Bonsu had a promising start to his career, having made his way through the Vancouver Academy and eventually earning a call-up to the first team in 2008. He spent three seasons with the Whitecaps, making 41 appearances including 5 starts with the MLS club. In 2011, Edwini-Bonsu made the jump to Europe, signing with Eintracht Braunschweig which was currently playing in 2. Bundesliga. Unfortunately, he was unable to establish himself as a regular, and his contract wasn’t renewed in the following season. Edwini-Bonsu spent 6 months without a club before finding a place with the Stuttgarter Kickers in 3.Bundesliga. Each subsequent year brought Edwini-Bonsu to a new club, having played for VfR Aalen, FC 08 Homburg, and Tennis Borussia Berlin from 2015-2018. His return to Canada will hopefully give him more stability moving forward.

Age: 28

Position: Striker

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: – I still recall Edwini-Bonsu being the danger man in Canada’s friendly against Costa Rica in 2013. His pace was electric and on a Canada team that required a spark, he was it. It’s five years later but Edwini-Bonsu has accumulated a ton of pro experience; some in Finland, but most in Germany. That makes him a solid signing, but the real test will be whether he can be that speedy attacking threat that a Jeff Paulus team will want. If he can, he could be one of the most exciting players in the league.

Kevin’s Take: Edwini-Bonsu is a classic “Canucks Abroad” player. His early rise from the Vancouver Whitecaps to dominating the Finnish 2nd tier to joining the 2. Bundesliga as a young man had many thinking that he could be the next big thing in Canadian soccer. However, the years that followed saw him slowly slip down the German pyramid until he was looking at positions in the 4th or 5th tier. Few can claim to have watched him closely during this period – I’m not even sure if one can find reliable streams of the Regionalliga – but while playing for Canada Edwin-Bonsu could usually be counted on for a burst of speed and a creative spark. It remains to be seen whether this homecoming will be the restart the 28 year old needs and whether he finds that spark for Edmonton.

Allan Zebie, FC Edmonton

Zebie is likely one of the least surprising signings on this list, having played on the FC Edmonton academy from 2012-2013 before signing with the first team and spending the next three seasons with FC Edmonton, prior to the club halting operations. He started for FC Edmonton 22 times in the 2017 NASL season, winning 36 tackles and making 23 interceptions as an effective defender. Zebie traveled with the Canada U20 team at the 2013 CONCACAF U20 championship, remaining an unused substitute in all of Canada’s games.

Age: 25

Position: Defender

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: We were supposed to interview Zebie prior to CanPL announcements but we couldn’t get the details worked out. What I wanted to ask him, among other things, was if he was enjoying being CanPL’s poster boy. Not only was he in one of the earliest CanPL promotional videos, but then he flew to Toronto to participate in the photo shoot for this player release. I hope he collects frequent flyer points. With over 50 appearances for FCE in NASL, Zebie has the pro pedigree needed for these first year teams. I feel like I’m being quite repetitive with that statement, but I feel it’s so crucial. Players like Zebie will bring the pro quality that CanPL will need so badly in its early years. Jeff Paulus obviously knows him and his qualities well so I’m not at all surprised by the signing.

Kevin’s Take: A product of the FC Edmonton academy system, Zebie became a fan-favourite as a strong local player. The fullback was known for his reliability and versatility, being useful on either side of the pitch or even on the wing. As a solid utility player I think Zebie would be an asset for any CPL team, especially if the league’s benches are a bit shorter in the first few years. However, as another player who has been away from the professional game for a year, fitness and match sharpness may come into question, especially as a player who has less professional experience to begin with.

Zachary Sukunda, Wanderers FC

Sukunda is the only Montreal Impact Academy graduate on this list, having spent 2012-2014 with the academy. He was then signed with the Impact reserve team, FC Montreal and made his professional debut on April 18, 2015 against the Harrisburg City Islanders. After FC Montreal was dissolved in 2016, Sukunda moved to Sweden and signed with Umeå FC, making 15 appearances with the club in the 2017 season before signing with Hume City FC in Victoria, Australia in 2018. Sukunda made 11 appearances with Hume City FC before being transferred to Northcote City FC to finish off the 2018 season.

Age: 23

Position: Defender

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: Australia is a long way to go to pursue your professional soccer dream. But for Sakunda, going to Sweden is more in line with other Canadians. Like Chung, CanPL was built for Sakunda, a league where he will hopefully be able to work on his craft. I haven’t seen enough of Sakunda to have an opinion on his playing style or abilities, due primarily to his lack of involvement on the various junior national teams.

Kevin’s Take: I won’t pretend to know a great deal about Sukunda. As a player who was left hanging after the Montreal Impact discontinued its reserve team in the USL in 2016, Sukunda took the brave step to head abroad to play in the Swedish third tier, and later the Australian second division. If nothing else, he has clearly demonstrated a passion to pursue a career in professional soccer, even if it means playing on three continents in three years. We will see if that passion and drive translate to results on the field.

Kyle Bekker, Forge FC

Bekker was one of the early products of Sigma FC, the Ontario Soccer League club (now League1 Ontario) that was previously operated by Bobby Smyrniotis, current head coach of Forge FC. He was drafted third overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft by Toronto FC, making 29 appearances for the MLS club before being traded to FC Dallas in 2015. He was traded to the Montreal Impact in the same season, making 21 appearances for the Impact before being released in December of 2016. Bekker won the 2017 Soccer Bowl with the Deltas before moving over to the USL and signing with North Carolina FC after the Deltas ceased operations.

Age: 28

Position: Midfielder

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: I love seeing Bekker in the league, honestly. He’s an above average signing with a wealth of pro history including on some very good USL & NASL teams. He was drafted by TFC and made 29 appearances, then went to FC Dallas and later Montreal Impact. Then went on to win the final NASL championship with the San Francisco Deltas before moving on to North Carolina FC. With over pro 100 appearances and experience in multiple pro leagues, he’s the kind of player a fledgling CanPL team can build around.

Kevin’s Take: Kyle Bekker represents a bit of a prodigal son for Forge FC manager Bobby Smyrniotis. Before Cyle Larin or Manjrekr James, Sigma Academy’s main claim to fame was their alumnist Bekker being claimed by Toronto FC as the 3rd overall pick in the 2013 MLS Superdraft. The next five seasons saw him play 50 games in MLS and the last two years in USL and NASL, where he looked more comfortable. To me, at least in his early days at Toronto FC, Bekker always seemed to be reading the game at a higher level than the usual MLS player. He would make fantastic long passes to where players should be, but had often failed to make runs to, which seemed to leave Bekker’s main talents underutilized. Worse, he seemed to lack the work rate to be compatible with how MLS managers often wanted to use him – as a defensive midfielder instead of his natural attacking midfielder position. As a key cog in the 2017 San Francisco Deltas NASL Championship run, Bekker has both the experience and ability to compete in CPL. Given the time he has had to round out his game and the freedom to play to his strengths, I think Bekker can be a key part of a very dangerous Forge FC attack.

Chris Nanco, Forge FC

Nanco is another player that coach Smyrniotis is familiar with from his Sigma FC days, having spent time with the club during his summers between 2013 and 2016 while playing for Syracuse in the NCAA. After graduating from Syracuse, Nanco was selected by the Philadelphia Union in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft and signed with their USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel. Nanco made 28 appearances for the Steel in the 2017 season, and 32 appearances in the 2018 season, scoring 5 goals and making 5 assists in his second season playing professional soccer.

Age: 23

Position: Forward

Nationality: Canadian (Eligible for India and Jamaica)

Rob’s Take: Although Nanco was drafted by the Philadelphia Union, he made pro appearances primarily for Bethlehem Steel of USL. Clearly his Sigma connections have helped him land at Forge. A pacey smaller forward, Nanco is exactly the level of player I expected in CanPL. Not the highest strike rate so I’m hoping we see him turn a corner next year.

Kadin Chung, Pacific FC

Chung spent time with the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency program before advancing to the Whitecaps FC 2 USL club in 2015. After spending the 2015 season struggling to find consistent playing time, he was able to establish himself as a regular starter in 2016, playing an instrumental role in Whitecaps FC 2’s playoff run. Unfortunately for Chung, Whitecaps FC 2 was discontinued after the 2017 season, forcing the young player to find opportunities elsewhere. Chung found a place with 1. FC Kaiserslautern’s reserve team for the 2018 season, making 8 appearances with the German club. Chung has played with the U17 and U20 Canada teams, having been named the Canada U17 Male Player of the Year in 2015 for his stellar performance in the CONCACAF U17 Championship.

Age: 20

Position: Defender

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: Kadin Chung is one of a long list of players who seemed to have such promise but then seemed to fade from the CanSoc consciousness to leave that promise unfulfilled. There’s the reason for CanPL right there. He has over 45 appearances for VWFC2 and lately has been at Kaiserslautern II. In my opinion, anyone who goes to the lower leagues of Germany and is willing to work at their craft to try and climb the pro ladder is worth a look. Chung is a technical attacking fullback and as such should be entertaining and at a young age he has gone overseas to try and fight the good fight. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the league and I suspect he’s the kind of player that could make a jump to a higher level eventually.

Kevin’s Take: Kadin Chung is another player in the vein of Sergio Camargo – a creative homegrown player that many fans were eager to see get his chance but seemed to chafe under the leadership of Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson, who tended to prefer older journeyman instead of blooding new recruits not named Alphonso Davies. After the Whitecaps shuttered its reserve team, forcing Chung to head overseas to sign with 1.FC Kaiserslautern II, Chung represents an exciting way for Pacific FC to throw down the gauntlet to their MLS neighbours. Not only are they fielding a gifted and creative young player, they are giving a chance to a player that a tepid Whitecaps managerial staff had failed to develop further despite interest from fans.

Kyle Porter, York 9 FC

Porter joined the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy program in 2007, before being loaned to Energie Cottbus in 2008. He was able to make five appearances for the U23 reserve squad in the 2008-2009 season, scoring one goal. In 2010, he returned to the Vancouver Whitecaps but could not come to terms with the club. Consequently, Porter played for FC Edmonton in 2011-2012, making a total of 47 appearances. He was able to return to the MLS in 2013, becoming a regular starter for D.C. United until the end of 2014. The following years would see him find a new club each year, starting with the Atlanta Silverbacks, then Ottawa Fury, then Tampa Bay, then back to the Fury.

Age: 28

Position: Defender, Winger

Nationality: Canadian

Rob’s Take: – Once again on the experience train, Porter has MLS, NASL, USL, and German professional experience, a total of more than 150 pro appearances not to mention 7 caps for Canada. At the age of 28, Porter might not be eyeing a return to Europe like some of his younger CanPL cohorts, but his experience is incredibly valuable to a fledgling team like York 9.

Austin Ricci, York 9 FC

Ricci has spent time playing in York 9’s back yard, having spent the 2018 season with Vaughan Azzurri in League1 Ontario. He made 12 appearances and scored 6 goals in that time, playing an influential part for his club. Prior to joining Azzurri, Ricci had been playing in the NCAA for the Golden Grizzlies, leading his team in points, scoring, and shots on goal in his final season. He also played for KW United FC and the Michigan Bucks in the USLPDL, and was named to the Conference Team of the Week twice during the 2018 season.

Age: 22

Position: Striker

Nationality: Canadian

Nathan’s Take: Ricci is well known to KW United FC fans, having spent time suiting up for the Canadian PDL club. I’m not sure if he would have been my first choice of KW United alumni in recent years, but he certainly has quality. Again, this is a player that Brennan is familiar with, having played for Vaghan Azzurri in 2018. Ricci does not have the professional experience to really lead a team at this point, but he should give York 9 some danger up-front.


From Nathan: I am, over all, very happy with these initial signings. There is a wide range of players who have been selected; some at the beginning of their career and some near to the end. This bodes well for the league, as both experience and youth are needed to build team culture. Beyond that, these players are a perfect picture of why this league is so important to Canadian soccer; they are the lost toys, those who fell through the cracks or missed the rare opportunities they were given. Finally, there is a league where they can make their mark.

From Rob: For me, these signings are all pretty good and indicate that CanPL is aiming for the right types of players for their inaugural season. All of these players have USL experience or better. Therefore, they know what it means to be professional footballers and will be able to bring that to their daily professional life in these new CanPL clubs. The next step as far as I’m concerned will be for CanPL to surround these players with a reasonable complement of similar players plus some decent internationals.

From Kevin: Overall I’m pleased with the league’s initial signings. They represent a mixture of MLS/USL tweeners that need a middle ground to play to their potential, some up and comers who have the talent for a shot at a higher level but didn’t figure well into the limited positions available to them, prospects, and a couple reclamation projects that need stability to regain their form. Each of those types of players are standard fare for a domestic league, and I’m happy that Canadians finally have a real solution instead of half measures and compromises. What I hope to see from the league going forward is these sorts of signings being representative of the average CPL player, and further transparency on signings in general.

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