Stacked bar graph showing the minutes played by each team's draftees. Within each team's bar, individual draftees' names appear in stacks representing that player's minutes. HFX and Edmonton have much bigger bars than any other team.

CPL-U Sports Draft Part 3: Which clubs succeed at the draft (and which one fails)?

“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

In Part 2 we looked at whether players selected higher in the draft go on to play more minutes than later-drafted players [answer: nope]. In this story we’ll look at each team’s record at the draft. And we’ll say some not very nice things about Forge.

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

I’m new to soccer analytics and soccer writing.  I hope to do more of both in the future, and share things as I learn them here on NSXI The Other Football.


Do clubs differ much in their draft record?

Yes, big time! The HFX Wanderers are renowned for playing their draftees a lot, and those draftees have done very well. At the other end of the spectrum, Hamilton’s Forge FC just kind of glares at their draftees.

But I want to go deeper than that. Others have already explored clubs’ record at the draft, such as Charlie O’Connor-Clarke of CPL and Duane Rollins of The 24th Minute. The CPL article in particular summarizes clubs’ performance at the draft, but it being a league article it’s pretty tame with its criticism. I, on the other hand, can use poop emojis if I want. Also, neither of those articles have summarized the total minutes played by clubs’ draftees. So I’m going to be quantitative and critical. Let’s get at it.

Let’s start with a pretty graph. It took me a ridiculously long time to make it, so please take at least two seconds to admire it.

Stacked bar graph showing the minutes played by each team's draftees. Within each team's bar, individual draftees' names appear in stacks representing that player's minutes. HFX and Edmonton have much bigger bars than any other team.
The minutes played by each club’s draftees the season after they were drafted. Each club has a big bar of total draftee minutes. Within each club’s bar are segments indicating minutes played by individual draftees, going from the biggest-minutes player in the bottom segment up to fewest minutes in the top segments. Minutes played data are freely available from the league’s Centre Circle Data.

Let’s look at each team’s performance in the 2018 and 2019 drafts, using draftees’ CPL minutes in their post-draft season. For each team, I’ll provide a table of their draftees with minutes played; teams are listed in order from highest to lowest minutes played by draftees. Atlético Ottawa isn’t included in this article, or the blog series at all, because their first draft picks haven’t had a chance to play yet (they joined the league after last year’s draft).

Halifax Wanderers

Year Draft position Player Position CPL Minutes in first year after draft
2018 5 Peter Schaale D 1530
2018 10 André Bona D 2053
2018 19 Christian Oxner G 1489
2019 1 Cory Bent F 500
2019 14 Jake Ruby D 312
2020 7 Stefan Karajovanovic F NA
2020 10 Kareem Sow D NA

The Wanderers are Lords of the Draft. Like several other teams, they’ve drafted quite a few local players – three of their seven draftees come from universities in Nova Scotia. Their success suggests there is plenty of talent in the universities near CPL clubs, if given a chance. Just look at that list of draftees – that’s a decent chunk of the Wanderers’ roster.

Peter Schaale was a bright spot in the Wanderers’ 2019 season. The club drafted him and signed him to a Developmental Contract, allowing him to return to school in mid-August to finish his degree. Head Coach Stephen Hart said “We’re sad to see him go but we do believe his education is important.” (source: Chronicle Herald). Schaale has since graduated and signed a professional contract with HFX, where he’s a fan favourite.

Peter Schaale shouting into a megaphone in The Kitchen crowd at a Wanderers game. The crowd looks happy and cheering.
Peter Schaale enjoying a September 2019 game as a fan after his Developmental Contract ended. Photo source: Evey Hornbeck’s tweet.

André Bona played more minutes in his post-draft season than any other CPL draftee. That’s not all that’s exceptional about Bona: he was also 28 years old when he was drafted. Which is great – it’s just older than you expect in a sports draft.

Meme of Steven Buschemi pretending to be a teenager. The text says "How do you do, fellow draftees." He has the name Bona overlaid on his hat, and a Wanderers decal on his skateboard.

FC Edmonton

Year Draft position Player Position CPL Minutes in first year after draft
2018 7 Connor James G 1979
2018 8 Ajeej Sarkaria F 566
2018 15 Easton Ongaro F 1167
2018 21 Noah Cunningham D 0
2019 4 David Chung M 0
2019 11 Jakob Bosch M 0
2020 1 Thomas Gardner M NA
2020 16 Jackson Farmer D NA

First of all, well-done to FC Edmonton for not only playing their draftees, but also signing Easton Ongaro. Ongaro was drafted by Cavalry, but they didn’t sign him so he signed with Edmonton instead. Ongaro is now one of the top young strikers in the league.

FC Edmonton went hyper-local with their draft strategy, and it was deliberate. We know their strategy because Jeff Paulus, their Head Coach at the time, has explained it.

Basically, they used the draft to continue the development of their academy players.  All five of their 2018 and 2019 draft picks were FC Edmonton academy players attending the University of Alberta. They were good players too, including the team’s starting goalkeeper Connor James.

Some of Paulus’ tweets are below. If you’re interested (and you should be – it’s a glimpse behind the scenes of a CPL club), he goes into more detail on the video podcast The Cynical Challenge (ep 2 44:41-47:20). There he notes that if an academy player was good enough, they’d offer him a pro contract. The player and his family could then decide between signing the full pro contract or signing a Developmental Contract (i.e., play with the senior team for the summer then return to university). This supports academy players pursuing university if they want – a nice way for a club to support academy players as people.

https://twitter.com/jeff_paulus/status/1339047955425202177

With a new Head Coach, FC Edmonton changed strategy this year. Alan Koch drafted two players from UBC (though one is semi-local since Jackson Farmer plays with Calgary Foothills). Jeff Paulus says in The Cynical Challenge that he would have drafted academy midfielder David Chung (again – Paulus also drafted Chung in 2019).

Paulus’ strategy of drafting academy players didn’t just benefit those players directly, it likely also contributed to good morale among other academy players (“the club really cares about us!”). That, in turn, might help attract and retain academy players with their families’ support, which benefits a club long-term. And it benefited the club in the short term too – the players were good, even if you only give part-marks credit for Ongaro since Edmonton didn’t draft him.

Some people criticize Paulus’ hyper-local draft strategy, but I like and respect it. It was thoughtful and successful. I wonder if others will follow it.

York United

Year Draft position Player Position CPL Minutes in first year after draft
2018 4 Daniel Gogarty D 1551
2018 11 Emmanuel Zambazis M 277
2018 18 Daniel Pritchard D 0
2019 5 Stefan Karajovanovic F 0
2019 10 Isaiah Johnston M 18
2020 4 Chris Campoli M NA
2020 13 Danial Rafisamii M NA

Meh.

Cavalry

Year Draft position Player Position CPL Minutes in first year after draft
2018 1 Gabriel Bitar M 90
2018 14 Joel Waterman M 1719
2018 15 Easton Ongaro F 1167
2019 6 Gabriel Bitar F 0
2019 9 Moe El Gandour M 0
2020 6 Victor Loturi M NA
2020 11 Ethan Keen D NA

Cavalry have arguably had the biggest win and biggest loss of the draft.

The win: Joel Waterman. Drafted as a midfielder, deployed as a central defender, Waterman played very well in big minutes for Cavalry. He was the first player in league history sold to MLS (to Montréal Impact, now CF Montréal). Selling players for profit is a necessary revenue stream for CPL, so Waterman may be the biggest win of any draftee. 👍

The loss: Easton Ongaro. Cavalry drafted him, but did not sign him. Ongaro then signed with Edmonton and is a top young striker. Cavalry, you get a poop emoji for that miss. 💩 Note: when mentioning Ongaro, I think I’m legally obligated to also mention he is tall.

Update: I was too harsh with my poop emoji. Maybe Cavalry did good for Ongaro. After publishing my story, Scott Strasser on twitter pointed to some quotes by Cavalry Coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. that suggest he worked with FC Edmonton Coach Jeff Paulus to help Ongaro sign with them since he wouldn’t get many minutes with Cavalry. Thank you for this, Scott – I retract my poop emoji (and my apologies to Tommy Wheeldon Jr.).

Also of interest, Cavalry drafted Gabriel Bitar twice (2018 and 2019). Unlike the NHL, club rights to a draftee expire pretty quickly in CPL, though the rules have now changed to allow Developmental Contract renewals if both player and club agree.

Valour

Year Draft position Player Position CPL Minutes in first year after draft
2018 2 Dylan Carreiro M 1441
2018 13 Lewis White D 0
2018 16 Jack Simpson M 0
2019 2 Marcus Campanile M 0
2019 13 Charlie Waters F 0
2020 3 Yuba-Rayane Yesli G NA
2020 14 Tony Mikhael D NA

Only one Valour draftee has played CPL minutes: Dylan Carreiro. He was very successful. He’s the league co-leader in appearances across all competitions (31, tied with Diego Gutierrez). He recently retired at the prime age of 26, and is now working as a player agent. Low wages are rumoured to be a reason for his retirement.

Rant

If the league wants to retain good players, including past draftees like Carreiro, they must recognize PFA Canada as the players’ union and increase salaries. Things have improved slightly, with the league now implementing a minimum salary of $22K/year. Note that players on Developmental Contracts make a much lower amount – an amount determined by U Sports, not CPL.

CPL is a good league – they’ve done a great job with many things. But refusing to recognize a players’ union sticks out as more Tim Hortons than pro sports. Especially during a pandemic, when a players’ union could collaborate with the league on health protocols. It seems callous for the league to not even enter discussions.

EndRant

This year Valour drafted goalkeeper Yuba-Rayane Yesli 3rd overall. I’m legally obligated to mention that he too is tall. The few goalkeepers who have been drafted have done extremely well – a topic I’ll explore in the next article in this series.

Pacific FC

Year Draft position Player Position CPL Minutes in first year after draft
2018 6 Thomas Gardner F 0
2018 9 Zach Verhoven F 1285
2018 20 Nick Fussell M 0
2019 3 Jan Pirretas Glasmacher D 0
2019 12 Thomas Gardner F 0
2020 5 Christopher Lee D NA
2020 12 Victory Shumbusho F NA

Pacific FC are known for playing their young players, so it’s surprising that only one of their draft picks has played any minutes (Zach Verhoven – a solid player who’s signed with Atlético Ottawa for 2021). Fans have noticed this trend of not playing draftees.

The lack of minutes for draftees might be explained in part by bad luck. They drafted Thomas Gardner twice (2018 and 2019). In both post-draft seasons he wasn’t available to play, due to injury (2019) and apparently due to pandemic-restricted travel (2020). Smarter people than me consider Gardner a CPL-calibre player – he was drafted first overall this year by FC Edmonton. So maybe Pacific would’ve played him if he was available.

With small sample sizes (just one and a half seasons of league existence) it’s hard to tell what’s an actual pattern and what’s just bad luck. At this point you’d have to have a pretty brutal record at the draft to be labeled as failing.

Which bring us to…

Forge fails at the draft

Year Draft position Player Position CPL Minutes in first year after draft
2018 3 Jace Kotsopoulos F 138
2018 12 Aboubacar Sissoko M 0
2018 17 Marko Mandekic M 0
2019 7 Gabriel Balbinotti F 203
2019 8 Alex Zis M 0
2020 8 Garven-Michée Metusala D NA
2020 9 José da Cunha D NA

If I were eligible for the draft, I’d hope to be drafted by anyone but Forge. Forge are less likely than any other club to play young players, including draftees. This is understandable to an extent – they’re the best team so it’s hard to break through. But if this pattern persists it might hinder their recruitment efforts. Nobody wants to sign with a club that won’t play them.

Why don’t Forge play their draftees?

One name suggests an answer: Aboubacar Sissoko.

Forge drafted Sissoko in 2018 but did not sign him. He was the U Sports men’s soccer player of the year in 2019, and received the Lieutenant Governor male athlete of the year award in 2020. He went on to sign with the Halifax Wanderers for the 2020 Island Games and played lots of minutes very well. He nearly signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS, and has now signed with Indy 11 of USL for 2021 in what is considered a step up from CPL. In other words, he’s a good player and he was a good draft choice by Forge.

So why did Forge release him?

One reason is positional depth. Forge had very good central midfielders in Sissoko’s post-draft year (as they still do). Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson was their central defensive midfielder (Sissoko’s main position), with Kyle Bekker and Elimane Cissé also playing central midfield minutes. As good as Sissoko is, it would’ve been difficult for him to supplant any of those three players coming from university.

Another reason is team cohesion. You see, Forge also signed central midfielder Justin Stoddart for 2019. He was their backup central midfielder – he only played 14 minutes the entire 2019 season. It seems they chose Stoddart over Sissoko, as part of their general strategy of signing players from Sigma FC of League1 Ontario. And that seems like a mistake (no offence to Stoddart).

Forge are the best in the league, partly due to their team cohesion. There is value in keeping players who work well together, especially when starting a team in a new league. So I can understand Forge in 2019 choosing a familiar player (Stoddart) over a new kid (Sissoko); criticism with hindsight is too easy.

But Forge’s core is well-established now – they know who their peripheral players are and should be open to replacing them with draftees or young players. They already missed out on Sissoko. They might miss out on more good players if they continue not playing draftees or youth. I’ll be interested to see whether they sign and play this year’s draftees, Garven-Michée Metusala and José da Cunha.


Next in the series

Which playing positions get drafted the most? Are goalkeepers undervalued in the draft? Join me in the next article in this voyage of deep dives into shallow data.

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

Let me know your thoughts on the article @JayFitzSoccer.