With only two Canadians getting the invite to the MLS Combine next January there is a bit of a lack of promising seniors to look at for the upcoming draft. Skylar Thomas and Nikola Paunic will be representing Canada at the combine with Thomas representing a potential first round pick.
Thomas wrapped up four impressive seasons at Syracuse where the towering defender showed that he is a force on both ends of the field. He used his blend of size, strength, and athleticism to shut down attackers and be a force on attacking set pieces. He was part of a defensive unit that allowed just 12 goals in 21 matches this season and while a lot of that had to do with the play of MAC Herman finalist Alex Bono in goal the play of the back four certainly helped in keeping such a strong defensive record.
While Jordan Murrell, the other Canadian in Syracuse's back four, is one of the bigger snubs from the combine list, Thomas has every chance to be a first round selection. The only issue for him may be the fact that he has a Canadian passport and barring any rule changes that means he would be an international for most of the league. For teams looking for defensive help though he might just be the best option available come draft day.
During his four seasons at Syracuse, Thomas found the back of the net 8 times including a career high 3 goals in 2014. He should be able to continue to be a threat on set pieces at the MLS level given his ability to use his height to his advantage and out jump almost anyone else on the field.
The skill set that allowed him to score those goals on attacking set pieces also makes him a force when it comes to defending set pieces. It was very rare that Thomas lost his man or got out jumped by them which allowed him to neutralize opponents top target on set pieces on a regular basis.
When Thomas is not being a force on set pieces he is still a very good defender. He has enough pace to keep up with just about any attacker and showed on a regular basis that he has the ability to mark the oppositions top scoring threat out of a game. He looks like a typical big bruising CB and he plays like one as he often makes life miserable for attackers.
His ability to mark and be a force in the air are the biggest pluses for Thomas while the biggest knock, besides being Canadian, is probably his ability in the tackle. He is not the best when it comes to winning the ball on the ground but has made up for that by being able to stay tight to his man and neutralize their threat rather than taking the ball from them.
Since Thomas is a CB the highlight videos are hard to come by but it is still worth checking out his nicest goal of the season. While two of his three goals came following scrambles in the box this headed effort against Virginia showed just what kind of problems Thomas can cause for opponents.
Thomas has been on the fringe of the Canadian program over the years getting invited to a few camps but never really becoming a regular for any of the age groups. That could change though moving forward with Floro continuing to show a willingness to give young players a chance to impress. Thomas could be the kind of defender that does well against the physical opponents of CONCACAF as well as the teams with more pace up front.
What Thomas will need to do to become a success at the next level is combine his physical tools with a bit more awareness and just general polish. He has the building blocks in place already to be a solid defender but could develop into a defensive anchor with a few more years of experience under his belt.
Thomas spent some time training in Toronto FC's academy over recent years so he will be a well known commodity to some people within the organizations. They may not have a home grown claim on the defender but given that he would count as a domestic for them he should be high on their list of targets in the draft. With Doneil Henry heading to Cyprus the team has a need at CB and they could fill that need with Thomas with the real question being when they should target him. There may be better options available at 6th overall but if Thomas is still available at 9th or even at 11th he could prove to be a very good pickup for the club.
With TFC in need of even warm bodies in central defence at this point it would make sense for them to target one of the top CBs available and that is just what we have in Thomas. With three early picks in the draft TFC will have the option to take a bit more of a risk with their other picks and go after players who may have a bit more upside but taking Thomas with one of those three picks would be a smart move. You can never have too many big, strong defenders and right now TFC have too few.