It was a successful month in January for the UBC Men’s soccer team, with four Thunderbirds picked in the two rounds of the 2021 Canadian Premier League (CPL) U Sports draft: Thomas Gardner, Christopher Lee, Victory Shumbusho and Jackson Farmer.
Making up a quarter of the total selections, these players will now join their respective CPL clubs in training camp.
The CPL is the top league in the Canadian soccer system. Beginning play in 2019, the league provides a professional pathway for Canadian talent and there are currently eight clubs spanning coast to coast playing in the CPL.
Unlike most professional sports drafts, a unique agreement between the CPL and U Sports allows players to retain eligibility to compete in university competition. Through signing a developmental contract, the CPL club is able to retain the rights to a player as they play in U Sports. The contract also allows them to play in the CPL during spring and summer, but still return to their university team in the fall.
The T-Birds men’s soccer program is the most successful program in Canada, having won 13 national championships in their history. The team regularly claims Canada West championship titles and are the players are regular contenders on the national stage.
With the first pick in the draft, FC Edmonton selected midfielder Thomas Gardner. The third-year arts student is a veteran of sorts with the CPL draft, having previously been selected in 2018 and 2019 by Pacific FC. However, a knee injury and the pandemic prevented him from earning a spot with the Victoria-based side.
“Unfortunate [with] the last couple of years due to injury and COVID, but I’m super excited to be going to Edmonton this year,” Gardner said. “Being drafted first is a huge honour and I hope I can prove that I’m worth it.”
Gardner joins FC Edmonton with a stellar campaign last season. A lynchpin in the centre of the pitch, Gardner provided four assists and five goals in the 2019/20 campaign. The Whitecaps FC Academy product adds a needed jolt of offense to the Edmonton side, having finished dead last in the Island Games of 2020.
“[I’m] really looking forward to getting back into a professional environment again. FC Edmonton has a great setup with a really great group of guys so I can’t wait to head over there,” said Gardner about his expectations for training camp.
Gardner knows that he has a lot to offer the side.
“I think I can bring some creativity to the team, along with a lot of energy,” said Gardner. “Hopefully my play will speak for itself during the season.”
Gardner is reunited with a familiar face in his manager. Alan Koch was the one who gave Gardner his debut in the United Soccer League, back when he was the manager of the Whitecaps FC 2 team.
The development side of the Whitecaps also played their games at the Thunderbird stadium prior to folding in 2017.
“I know what I’m going to get with Alan, and he knows what he’ll get with me. I played some really good soccer under him with ‘Caps, and I’m looking forward to doing the same again,” said Gardner.
At the fifth overall selection, Pacific FC opted for another local product, selecting defender Christopher Lee.
Though he was not able to take to the pitch with his fellow T-Birds in his first year in kinesiology due to the cancellation of men’s soccer season, “To be picked in the first round with a lot of talent in this country feels good,” said Lee.
“I have worked extremely hard in my life to get to the point where I am today and I am extremely proud of this achievement.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity that was given to me and I am excited to take on this next step in my career. I would like to thank my parents, Julie and Philip, as well as my sister, Gloria, for being so supportive,” said Lee.
The versatile Lee has been used both as a left back and a central midfielder during his time in the Whitecaps residency program. He has tallied a goal at the U19 level prior to joining the UBC T-Birds.
“Obviously with the U Sports season getting cancelled last fall, I was really disappointed. But now, this is a chance to express myself on the field against some good competition. I’m excited for the challenge,” said Lee when asked about possibly making his CPL debut ahead of his T-Birds debut.
Lee will not have far to travel as Pacific FC play a mere two hour ferry ride away in Langford, a municipality of Victoria. Lee will join fellow UBC T-Bird alum Jordan Haynes at training camp, as well as being reunited with former Whitecaps residency products in Matthew Baldismo, Kadin Chung and Terran Campbell.
“I must have done something right to receive this recognition so I’d hope to stay true to myself heading into training camp,” Lee said, talking about the mindset he’s bringing to the training camp. “There are a lot of players who have tons of experience on Pacific FC, especially those similar to my position.”
“I hope to learn from those players to further my knowledge and carry those lessons back into the Thunderbirds to compete for the national championship next fall,” said Lee.
In the second round, Pacific FC selected striker Victory Shumbusho with the 12th overall pick. A fourth year in arts, Victory entered this year with high expectations prior to the cancellation of the season.
Asked about his reaction, Shumbusho said, “Since I was little, I’ve been chasing this dream and it is finally being realized. I think this is a new chapter in my life and really thankful to God for this opportunity and what lies ahead.”
The Whitecaps Academy graduate was one of the most prolific strikers in U Sports last season, returning 11 goals in 20 appearances. Shumbusho was named an All-Canadian for his efforts and was instrumental in helping UBC claim yet another gold medal in the Canada West Final Four.
“I think as I transition to CPL, I have to keep doing things that have helped me succeed on the pitch in the recent seasons but also I hope that the confidence I have gained at having good seasons at U Sports level can translate to this new level.” said Shumbusho, looking ahead to training camp.
“My mentality is set to hit the ground running. I want to adapt quickly with everything so I can feel at home and express what I bring to the team like my creativity, pace, goals and assists.”
Shumbusho hopes to showcase his strengths, as well as continue growing every training session and every game.
Shumbusho looks to earn a spot with the Pacific FC side that finished fourth last season at the Island Games. He will face stiff competition from league MVP and Canadian national team member Marco Bustos, who also turns out for the Shumbusho outfit.
However, Shumbusho relishes at that opportunity.
“I think I can really learn a lot from the players who have been playing at the level for a while now. I had a chance to train with Bustos back with the Whitecaps and he is a hell of a player, and I look forward to playing with him and learning from him,” said Shumbusho.
“From the bottom of my heart God is good and His plans always prevail. I want to thank my family for all they do! I want to also thank my girlfriend for always being there. Thanks to everyone who has always been there for me, they all know who they are. And finally, I can’t wait to get this journey started and thankful for the trust Pacific has put in me.”
Edmonton FC opted to return to a familiar face with the 16th selection, drafting Jackson Farmer from UBC. The Edmonton native is familiar with Koch as well, having previously played under him for Whitecaps FC 2.
“Playing pro at the Whitecaps was a big part of some of the best times of my life so far,” Farmer said.
“Alan was a big part of that in which I gained a lot of knowledge and experience playing at high levels … I am always learning and looking to increase my levels of play in which Alan has made clear he supports fully and has emphasized how he wants to continually push me to new and higher levels.”
The defender was a veteran presence last season for the Thunderbirds, having joined after stints in the USL and USL2. Farmer quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the starting eleven, tallying three goals and one assist. He also has appeared for the Canadian Senior National Team, coming on as a substitute in a friendly against Mauritania back in 2013.
“Mike [Mosher] does a great job at UBC. During my time there so far I have always been in top shape, training hard, and getting meaningful games.” said Farmer, recalling his experiences with the T-birds. “He always is pushing for more from the team and always looks to bring out the best in us players.”
“This has helped me maintain high levels of play and also helped me gain experience in different environments where I am constantly being challenged in different ways.”
The All-Canadian looks to break into the top flight Canadian side and make an immediate impact at the CPL level.
“It means a lot to have an opportunity to be able to play in-front of family and friends. I’m happy to be in this situation but the hard work has just begun and I am looking forward to being with the team and getting started,” said Farmer.
The CPL season plans to kick off on May 22, pending approval from government authorities. For the T-Birds, they look forward to the fall, where they too will hopefully return to the pitch.