Playing professional sport for the home team is an opportunity that most athletes look forward to.
Pickering resident Skylar Thomas’ wish was granted after being selected 11th in last week’s Major League Soccer (MLS) SuperDraft in Philadelphia.
With Toronto FC having three first round picks, the 6’4” defender sensed he could be coming home.
“I knew it was a possibility and it was something that I thought about a bit,” said Thomas, a senior at Syracuse University. “I however just wanted to be drafted and it was icing on the cake when Toronto selected me.”
Thomas is reunited with his college goalkeeper, Alex Bono, who Toronto FC chose sixth in the first round. Last season, the duo helped the Orangemen finish third in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in goals-against average (0.55) and post 12 shutouts on its way to a 16-4-1 record and an appearance in the NCAA’s Round of 16.
“I am a good friend of Alex and I am happy that he’s coming here,” said Thomas. “Again, we talked a bit about the possibility of ending up on the same team, but to actually have it become reality is so satisfying.”
Thomas and Bono – who opted out of his final year of college eligibility and is training with the United States senior team – are the first two Syracuse soccer players to be selected in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft.
A two-time Syracuse captain who started all 56 games in his collegiate career and posted 17 points on eight goals and one assist, Thomas was among 20 defenders from 55 NCAA Division One schools invited to the MLS player combine in Fort Lauderdale prior to the draft.
“We played three games there and I was a bit inconsistent,” he said. “However, there was a lot of pressure as I was on the field with different players whose strengths and weaknesses I had to adjust to on the fly.”
A graduate of Dunbarton High School, which he led to three Lake Ontario Secondary School Athletics championships, Thomas is likely to be assigned this year to a United Soccer League (USL) professional side which Toronto FC recently acquired.
“I don’t know as yet what plans the club have for me, but I intend to go wherever they send me and work very hard,” he said.
Thomas started playing soccer seriously in Grade Eight after switching from basketball.
“Most of my family members either played basketball or are playing it,” said Thomas, the middle of three siblings who represented the national Under-18 team four years ago. “I just wanted to do something different and it didn’t take me long to find out I was good at the game.”
The Thomas family was well represented at the draft with his parents, siblings and other relatives in attendance.
“This is a proud moment for our family,” said Thomas’ mother, Inspector Sonia Thomas, who is the Toronto Police Service’s highest ranking female visible minority uniformed member. “He never deviated from his objective to become a professional soccer player and he worked very hard to achieve that goal.”
History was made at last week’s draft when Brampton teenager Cyle Larin, who left the University of Connecticut after two years to sign a Generation Adidas contract, was picked number one by the expansion Orlando City Soccer Club.
Larin, who is in Jamaica with the national team competing in the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) Under-20 championship, was mobbed by teammates as they watched the draft at the team’s hotel.
“We believe that we’ve picked the best player in the draft,” said Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath. “Cyle has incredible potential and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
The oldest of four children, Larin – a striker – graduated from St. Edmund Campion Secondary School, which he helped win three Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championships.
A hockey player in elementary school, Larin started playing competitive soccer eight years ago after hockey equipment and facilities proved too expensive for him and his family.