Thomas (L, red) and Murrell (R, red) in Punta Cana. (Photo: Nora Stankovic/CPL).
TORONTO – Skylar Thomas and Jordan Murrell go way back.
The two 25-year-old defenders, now at Valour FC, are rekindling an on-field duo and off-field friendship that stretches back to their teenage years. They weren’t always teammates – the two suited up for different outfits as children – but at Valour, Thomas and Murrell are bringing the sort of chemistry that few centre-back pairings in the league can boast.
“It’s very cool,” Thomas told CanPL.ca, of his reunion with Murrell. “It’s not something that I thought was going to happen, but hoped it (would). We were lucky enough to rebuild a program at Syracuse and we have the opportunity to do it here on a larger scale.
“We’re very pumped and grateful to be given the same opportunity; make Valour FC one of the best teams in the league.”
Added Murrell: “It’s been great to be back with Sky.”
The two first met at a Canadian Under-18 camp and have been close ever since.
“In Toronto we lived about 20 minutes away from each other, trained with each other almost every day (during offseasons); our parents are friends with each other, too” Thomas said.
“We go on vacation together, he comes to my house for Christmas; we even live together right now.”
Thomas, of Pickering, Ont., and England-born, Markham-raised Murrell crossed paths in GTA soccer circles and at national team youth camps, but it was when their collegiate careers began in 2011 that the bond truly began to be formed under the stewardship of Ian McIntyre at Syracuse University.
“College is one of the most exciting times of people’s lives,” Thomas said. “It was a great time, met a lot of cool people.
“There are so many experiences with Jordan, on and off the field, that I will remember forever. It’s hard to give one that sticks out.”
That they were both selected in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft – Thomas, 11th overall, to Toronto FC and Murrell, 57th, to Real Salt Lake – was a particularly special moment in their shared soccer experience.
“That was cool,” Thomas admitted. “Serving together at Syracuse, getting our degree together, and then getting drafted in the same class is very memorable.
“We’re very fortunate.”
Though their careers have seen them take different paths – Thomas from TFC II to the Charleston Battery before Valour, and Murrell from Real Monarchs SLC to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and Reno 1868 FC – their friendship still thrived.
And you can be sure Valour FC will look to lean on that chemistry in the backline.
“Sky and I, we’ve kept in touch over the years,” Murrell said. “We’ve shown that we can play well together and we push each other every single day, whether it be off the pitch, on the pitch. And playing a few years in USL, we know the level of the professional environment.
“We’re looking to implement that in our team and the CPL.”
Valour FC head coach Rob Gale is expecting that strong bond to provide more than just on-field dividends.
“Very important, the culture of the two lads,” Gale said of the duo. “They’ve got good experience, but they’re great characters. Every day is competitive: stick them on teams against each other and you know it’s going to be a ding-dong of a match. None of them like to lose.
“You need that to make sure the intensity is right on the day-to-day. They’re two big parts of our leadership group.”
Part of being a leader means having earnest conversations amongst teammates.
“We’re both vocal on the field and we hold each other accountable,” Thomas explained. “If I see that he’s not doing something right, I have no problem telling him that and vice versa. We keep each other to a very high standard.
“We have no problem letting guys know if the job is not getting done correctly and the team can feed off our energy, which is a great thing to have at the back: you need your defenders to be organized, vocal, and leading the guys in front of them.”
With the season opener fast approaching, where Valour will travel to Vancouver Island to tangle with Pacific FC, the time to come together is very much in the here and now – to that end, Valour is currently in the Dominican Republic, soaking in the sun for pre-season training.
But the days are ticking down quickly.
“It’ll go by fast, especially when you’re doing what you love,” Murrell said. “May 4th is not far away.
“We’re going to be ready for that. We have to be.”