Three Thunderbirds get Canadian Premier League nod in inaugural pro soccer draft

With the inaugural Canadian Premier League (CPL) - U Sports draft results announcement, UBC fans can take some solace from three of the team’s players getting high praise from the West Coast Pacific FC’s staff with a selection spot: Thomas Gardner, Zach Verhoven and Nick Fussell.

Canada West player of the year and rookie of the year Thomas Gardner was the first T-Bird to go in Monday’s draft — he was the sixth pick in Round 1. Throughout this past season, Gardner was UBC’s star set play specialist, getting the nod to take the majority of the Thunderbirds free kicks around the box. The former Whitecaps FC II player scored six goals and notched two assists for the ’Birds through the regular season, putting him just behind strikers Kristian-Yli Hietanen and Caleb Clarke in terms of points, with eight overall.

Veteran Thunderbird of the three selections, Zach Verhoven, would get the nod in the second round as ninth overall draft pick, also going to Pacific FC. The third-year midfielder has been an essential piece to UBC’s attack, particularly over the last two seasons, as his speed and footwork up the wing has caused opposing team’s defenses lots of trouble. This year, he has been part of a lethal offensive pairing alongside striker Yli-Hietanen — the two have wreaked havoc together on several goal-scoring plays. Verhoven led the team in assists for the regular season with five and had two goals to his name as well.

Zach Verhoven is the T-Bird veteran of those selected.
Zach Verhoven is the T-Bird veteran of those selected. Salomon Micko Benrimoh

The final Thunderbird to get the call-up in Monday’s draft was first-year midfielder Nick Fussell; he was selected 20th overall in Round 3. A Whitecaps Residency recruit, Fussell has been a recurring piece of UBC’s dominant central midfield group alongside Gardner. In the 14 games he saw the pitch this regular season, he netted one goal and three assists for the side. It’s feasible that Pacific FC sees the pairing of Fussell and Gardner as advantageous for their side, given their prolificacy this past year. Though a young member of UBC’s side, he has held his own against Canada’s best teams, proving he has the capability to rise to the occasion on the professional level.

With their draft selection, all three UBC players receive an invite to Pacific FC’s preseason camp. Once there, each player will work to earn a contract for the inaugural CPL season which starts in April 2019.

As all three players are still eligible to play for UBC, they will be looking to sign a Standard Development Agreement with Pacific FC, which would allow them to return to the Thunderbird in August, 2019, for the fall season and then head back to Pacific FC once UBC’s 2019 campaign is over to finish out the CPL campaign.