Skylar Thomas understands there’s a certain amount of unknown here.
New team in a new league, after all, and in a new city to boot.
And while all that change might come with a certain dose of anxiety, the 25-year-old centre-back is much more ecstatic about what his future might look like as a member of Valour FC of the Canadian Premier League, this country’s new domestic circuit.
Valour FC made Thomas their first official signing this week, adding the Pickering, Ontario product to help solidify their back line.
“All of this is such a cool experience,” began Thomas this week, after spending a few days in Toronto doing promotional work for the CPL before returning to Charleston, where he has just finished up his USL season with the Battery.
“I’m very excited to get to Winnipeg and get to work.”
Thomas first made a connection with Valour FC boss Rob Gale while with Canada’s U-23 team a few years ago and the two have been in contact since. Thomas has also represented Canada at the U-18 and U-20 levels and played four years of university soccer with the Syracuse Orange, serving as their captain for two seasons.
He was drafted in 2015 by Toronto FC in the MLS SuperDraft and played with their affiliate team, Toronto FC II, before joining the Charleston Battery.
“He’s a great character,” said Gale from the Dominican Republic, where he is scouting talent. “Everywhere he’s gone he’s worked in the community. He’s good with kids, he’s good with the general public. He’ll be a great fit for us and I think the people of Manitoba will really enjoy him as a person.”
There’s also this: the big man – he’s 6-5 and 198 pounds – can be a force for Valour. Thomas describes himself as an athletic, ball-moving centre-back who likes to tackle, is a good communicator and a leader on the field.
“What do we like about him? Everything,” said Gale with a chuckle. “He’s got terrific qualities for a modern central defender. He looks like he enjoys his defending and he’s a great threat in the air, which is useful in both penalty areas and on set pieces. He’s got a good natural aggression to his game and a great physical stature where he’s quick, he’s strong, he’s agile.
“There’s a good pedigree, too, because Toronto FC had him and then he challenged himself to move away and get meaningful first-team minutes when he probably could have stayed. He’s done very well with Charleston and we’re thankful for them to allow him to come back to Canada and play with us.”
Indeed, the Battery could have picked up the option year of Thomas’ contract but agreed to let him return to Canada to play in the CPL, as per his wishes.
The sport has taken Thomas all over the world, and like so many other Canadians, there is now a great thrill in returning home to play in a domestic league – even with the uncertainty that comes with that.
“It means a lot to me, especially knowing this is the first year of the CPL,” he said. “When I was with some of the other players at the CPL meetings in Toronto you could feel the excitement and anticipation. It’s going to mean a lot to be able to represent Winnipeg and play professionally in Canada. That’s exciting, for sure.
“This whole league is about developing Canadian talent and it’s difficult for Canadians to excel in American leagues or across the world. This is an important stepping stone for Canadian football.”
Interestingly, Thomas has never been to Winnipeg and spent as much time asking questions about his new football home as he did fielding those about himself and his game.
“I’ve heard it can get quite cold in the winters,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s OK. I want to get there as soon as possible, settle in and meet people while getting to know the city.”