Nathan Opoku surprised many when he declined the opportunity to be selected in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft. After all, the Ghanaian-born prodigy was considered a top-five pick. But, following a remarkable season with Syracuse University, the 21-year-old forward decided to bet on himself and look for his first professional stint elsewhere.

As it turns out, elsewhere is the English Premier League. Well, his new club Leicester City immediately loaned him out to Belgian Pro League outfit OH Leuven, but still, it’s impressive nonetheless.

Though his move to the Foxes came as a shock to many, Syracuse seems to be producing professional-level talents at a higher rate than any other school in the United States. Orange fingerprints have been all over recent SuperDrafts, and the latest draft this past December was no different. Five Syracuse players were chosen by four different MLS sides, a school record.

I hear you asking yourself, “what does any of this have to do with Canadian soccer?”

Well, a whole lot actually.

Syracuse has been the old stomping grounds for current men’s national team regulars Tajon Buchanan and Kamal Miller, who played important roles in 2022 World Cup qualifying and at the tournament itself.

At 23 and 25 years of age respectively, that duo will likely be donning the Maple Leaf for years to come. Buchanan continues to impress European giants, whilst Miller has established himself as one of the best defenders in MLS and is reportedly attracting interest from across the pond himself.

Beyond that pair, Syracuse’s player development has made an impact from coast to coast, with former student athletes plying their trade at different levels of the Canadian game.

Montreal soccer legend Patrice Bernier was perhaps the first major Canadian star to make his way through the ranks at Syracuse. The Brossard, Quebec native, who is third all-time in appearances made for CF Montréal, spent two years in Central New York. The midfielder notched an astounding 34 points in 38 matches before pursuing a professional playing career. A symbol of Quebec soccer, Bernier made 56 appearances for CanMNT before hanging up his boots in 2017.

Though not Canadian, goalkeeper Alex Bono represented Toronto FC on 130 occasions before departing the club after the 2022 season. He was entrusted between the sticks for Toronto’s most successful spell, when the Reds won the domestic treble in 2017. Before lifting trophies in Toronto, Bono was a standout at the college level during three years spent at ‘Cuse. He was a finalist for the Hermann Trophy in 2014, the award given to the top college soccer player in the United States. In 2014, his final year at Syracuse, Bono was named as a First Team All-American.

Over in the Canadian Premier League, a few players who call Syracuse University their alma mater were some of the first to ever sign contracts in Canada’s top soccer league. Sergio Camargo (Cavalry FC), Skylar Thomas (Valour FC), and Chris Nanco (Forge FC) were all day-one signings for their respective clubs, and they all made their way through the Salt City.

Although Thomas only played one season in Winnipeg, Camargo and Nanco are in the top 10 for appearances made for their Calgary- and Hamilton-based sides. The two were teammates at Syracuse and have both made appearances for Canada at the youth level. Nanco departed Forge FC following the 2022 CPL season but Camargo is still going strong with Cavalry, recently inking a two-year extension with the 2019 CPL finalists.

Ryan Raposo of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Deandre Kerr of Toronto FC are two more Canadians who represented the Orange at the collegiate level. The two Ontarians enjoyed successful spells under Syracuse Head Coach Ian McIntyre and have made their way back to their home country.

Kerr, an All-ACC First Team selection in 2021, had his moments for TFC after signing as a Homegrown Player with the club prior to the 2022 season. He scored three goals in his debut season and showed an ability to be deployed as a winger or central midfielder, positional versatility which will be important as he looks for playing time beside two of the best wingers in MLS in Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne.

Raposo earned All-ACC honours in 2018 before being drafted fourth overall to the ‘Caps in 2020. He enjoyed his best season yet in 2022, showing dynamism down the flanks. The Hamilton native was named the Best Young Canadian of the 2022 Canadian Championship after helping Vancouver lift the trophy for the second time in club history.

Another Canadian Orangeman will soon be joining Raposo in British Columbia. Levonte Johnson, a finalist for the 2022 Hermann Trophy, just wrapped up a stellar treble-winning season for Syracuse. Drafted by the Whitecaps in the 2023 SuperDraft, Johnson will hope to make a good impression under Vanni Sartini. With Lucas Cavallini now gone, Vancouver will need someone to replace his goals this coming season. After scoring 11 and assisting six with Syracuse in 2022, can the Brampton native make the jump to the next level?

Wherever his career takes him, Johnson’s SuperDraft selection is just the latest success story of Syracuse’s significant role in Canadian soccer. It surely won’t be the last.