Draft selections from the 2021 CPL-U Sports Draft.

CPL-U Sports Draft Part 1: Intro to an Analysis Series

“The best players in the CPL for the money, for the quality, and for all those variables considered, have come out of U Sports.”

Carmine Isacco, Former York9 Assistant Coach (source: The Northern Tribune).

About the series

This is the first of a five-part series analyzing the Canadian Premier League-U Sports Draft.  The draft, like the league itself, is young.  But even with such a small sample size, some trends are evident-ish.  And numbers are fun.  The five parts are:

  1. What is the CPL-U Sports Draft? *YOU ARE HERE*
  2. Does draft position matter?
  3. Which clubs succeed at the draft (and which one fails)?
  4. Which player positions get drafted (and which ones succeed)?
  5. How can the draft be improved? 7 ideas from people smarter than me

What is the draft?

Before we analyze the draft, we have to start with what it is, and what its rules are.

The CPL-U Sports Draft is where Canadian Premier League teams select Canadian university student-athletes to potentially sign as players.  It’s a similar principle as other sport league drafts.  Except it differs in one big way: Developmental Contracts.

What’s a Developmental Contract?

A Development Contract allows a player to play in the CPL during the summer, and return to school in the fall (where they can still play varsity soccer).  So a player doesn’t have to choose between staying in school to finish their degree and signing a full professional contract – it’s a sort of best-of-both-worlds.

  • Developmental Contracts are for one year (their playing season ends mid-August). Contracts can be extended if the club and player both agree.
  • The player must have 1-4 years of U Sports eligibility remaining. For this year only it was 1-5 years of eligibility, to include players who couldn’t play due to the pandemic.
  • The maximum salary is determined by U Sports not the CPL (source: email from CPL Football Development). League Commissioner David Clanachan says the salaries are in the range of $10,000 – 12,000 (the maximum allowed by U Sports for players to maintain eligibility), below the $22,000 league minimum salary for professional contracts (source).

“It’s such a unique partnership that CPL has U Sports. … There’s nowhere else in the world that you can be a 19-year old attending university, playing for your university team, get drafted, and still have the ability to come back to your university and play and continue your education. There is no other setup like that. I think the CPL and U Sports hit the nail on the head with that.”

Kwesi Loney, Carleton University men’s soccer Head Coach (Source: The Stepover Podcast, ep01 37:00).

* Update 2021-06-04

Developmental Contracts can apparently extend beyond mid-August. Oliver Gage, the Director of Football for the CPL, replied to one of my tweets after publishing this blog series with some helpful information that was new to me (see tweet below). It makes me wonder if some of the players that play through the full season are actually on extended Developmental Contracts, when I’d assumed they were on pro contracts. Thanks for engaging with this info, Oliver!

Who’s eligible for the draft?

  • Must be a student with 1-4 years of U Sports eligibility remaining (or 1-5 years for the 2021 draft).  This means most draft-eligible players are still students, but some are graduating. This is different from the MLS Superdraft, where draft-eligible players are graduating.
  • U Sports is most universities in Canada … but not quite all.  Simon Fraser University in B.C. is part of the U.S.-based NCAA, not U Sports.  I did not know that before writing this piece, and I find it strange.  There might be other exceptions too.  The world has many strange things.

A lot of players meet these criteria – perhaps hundreds.  This is narrowed down to a list of a few dozen highest-quality players, based on consultation with scouts, coaches, and analysts.  CPL extends an invitation to these players to declare themselves for the draft, and publishes a list of those who do declare (e.g., this list of players declared eligible for the 2021 draft).

What’s the draft order?

It’s a two-round “snake draft.”  The team that finished last the previous season (i.e., “winner” of the infamous Wooden Spoon) gets to pick first, followed by the rest of the teams, from worst to first like normal in drafts.  In the second round, however, teams select the opposite way (i.e., first to worst).  This order does not favour last year’s losing teams as much as drafts that go worst-to-first in every round, like the NHL’s.

Draft selections from the 2021 CPL-U Sports Draft.

Should the draft order format change?  I’ll review this and other proposed changes to the draft in Part 5 of this series.

A player gets drafted – then what?

There are three possible outcomes for a player who is drafted.

  1. The player signs a full professional contract with the club.
    Example: Cory Bent signed a pro contract with HFX Wanderers after being drafted first overall in 2019.  He graduated shortly after being drafted so had no need to return to school.
  2. The player signs a Developmental Contract with the club.  i.e., he plays with the team until mid-August, then he goes back to school.  Like the best summer job ever. The next year, the player can sign a Developmental Contract extension with the club, if both parties agree and the player is still eligible. If the player does not sign an extension, and they’re still eligible, they can declare to enter the draft again.
    Example: Peter Schaale signed a Developmental Contract with HFX Wanderers, played summer 2019 with them, then returned to Cape Breton University to complete his degree. He went on to sign a full professional contract with the team and is one of its stars.
  3. The club does not sign the draftee, and they can sign a Developmental Contract with any other team.

“There is a cut off date prior to the season whereby a drafted player becomes a ‘U Sports free agent’ if the club haven’t signed him. We designed this to protect players from being drafted and ‘frozen out’. In this case the club relinquishes rights to the player. … The majority of our rules are designed to protect the players over the clubs.”

Oliver Gage (CPL) in an email to me.

What can undrafted players do?

Players who are not selected in the draft still have options available.  They can still sign a full professional contract or a Developmental Contract with any CPL team.  For example, young Jamie Watson went undrafted in 2021 but still hopes to sign a Developmental Contract with HFX Wanderers.

Undrafted players who don’t sign a Developmental Contract can keep on keeping on.  Keep going to university and playing for their school, working hard to get drafted next year.  Many also play in semi-pro leagues during summers.  For example Chris Malekos, drafted 2nd overall this year by Atlético Ottawa, has played for the Carleton Ravens during school years and Ottawa South United (La Première ligue de soccer du Québec, PLSQ) in summers.

Non-Canadians count as Canadians

The CPL has rules for the number of international players allowed on a roster – a maximum of seven (and a minimum of four according to this report).  Non-Canadian students at U Sports universities are not only eligible for the draft, they also count as domestic players if they sign a Developmental Contract. Once they sign a full professional contract, they’re considered international.

This extends to undrafted players too.  Non-Canadians who are eligible for the draft but don’t get picked can still sign a Developmental Contract and count as Canadians.  For example, Scottish fullback Jamie Watson was eligible for the 2021 draft but he wasn’t selected.  He then agreed to a professional try-out with HFX Wanderers where he’ll try to convince the club to sign him to a Developmental Contract and count as a Canadian (Northern Tribune story here).

Should drafted non-Canadians count as Canadians?  I’ll cover that proposed change in Part 5 of the series.

Here’s former FC Edmonton Head Coach Jeff Paulus discussing the issue on the Cynical Challenge vidcast.

[short answer: yes, it helps attract good student athletes from abroad which strengthens U Sports soccer programs, which in turn makes Canadian universities an attractive option for high-end Canadian high school athletes].

Next in the series

Congratulations on getting through the rules.  Now comes the fun part: draft analysis.  The next article will answer the question “does draft position matter?”  I’ll look at whether players selected early in the draft play more minutes than those drafted with later picks.

Of course players drafted first will generally be better players, but are they just on-average better or are they, like, waaay better?

  1. What is the CPL-U Sports Draft? *YOU ARE HERE*
  2. Does draft position matter?
  3. Which clubs succeed at the draft (and which one fails)?
  4. Which player positions get drafted (and which ones succeed)?
  5. How can the draft be improved? 7 ideas from people smarter than me

Just to get a feel for the emotional side of the draft, here’s Danial Rafisamii and Chris Campoli, both from Ontario Tech University in Oshawa and both drafted by York United this year, on the nerves and excitement of hearing their names called surrounded by family.

Thanks to the following folks for input in this story (any errors are mine):

  • Oliver Gage, Director of Football, Canadian Premier League (for input on rules)
  • Micki Benedetti, VP Communications, Canadian Premier League (for input on rules)

Let me know your thoughts on the article @JayFitzSoccer.