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Victory Shumbusho's long journey from refugee camp to Pacific FC

As a five-year refugee in Uganda, from the civil war in Congo, a young Victory Shumbusho could not imagine being a pro soccer draft pick.
Victory Shumbusho and some of his University of British Columbia Thunderbirds teammates celebrate during a game against the University of Victoria Vikes in Vancouver in October 2019. Bob Frid / UBC Athletics

As a five-year refugee in Uganda, from the civil war in Congo, a young Victory Shumbusho could not imagine being a pro soccer draft pick.

Island-based Pacific FC made him exactly that on Friday in the 2021 Canadian Premier League draft of U Sports players as PFC took UBC Thunderbirds players Chris Lee fifth overall in the first round and Shumbusho 12th overall in the second.

“It was rough, but that was the reality of life,” Shumbusho said of being a refugee from age nine to 14 before coming to Canada.

“You mature very quickly at a young age. It moulded me, especially in terms of work ethic. Nothing is given without it.”

There were two rooms for a family of five, one of which was his mother’s tiny shop during the day and a bedroom by night.

But the two parents and three children got by.

There are small mercies even in the most dire of circumstances. Uganda is a Commonwealth nation so Shumbusho was able to pick up English, which held him in good stead when he started school in Chilliwack.

Shumbusho’s refugee background is strikingly reminiscent of that of emerging Canadian superstar Alphonso Davies, now of Bayern Munich, who went to Edmonton as a child from a Liberian civil war refugee camp in Ghana.

But no fellow Canadian player needs the pressure of being compared with Davies. That’s simply not fair.

“Similar childhood story, two different people,” said 22-year-old Shumbusho.

Davies and Shumbusho became friends at the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy.

“I’m happy for him and I’m sure he is for me,” said Shumbusho.

“Pro soccer has been a dream of mine since I began playing and this is a big opportunity. This is the first step.”

Shumbusho is familiar with the Island, through the UBC conference rivalry against the University of Victoria Vikes, and also from his season of playing for the Victoria Highlanders in USL-2.

“I got to know Victoria so that will help in camp,” he said.

Shumbusho also has familiarity with PFC head coach Pa-Modou Kah and assistant coach James Merriman, as well as several PFC players, who were with the Whitecaps system during Shumbusho’s time there.

“That will really help with the transition,” he said.

Shumbusho is only five-foot-four, but an explosive package as an attacker, as evidenced by his 26 goals in 47 career games over four seasons for UBC.

“I am powerful, quick and creative in the final third [of the field],” he said.

Five-foot-11 Lee is a technical and versatile 19-year-old left back from West Vancouver heading into his freshman season with UBC.

He joined the Whitecaps Academy at age 14 and so also has plenty of connections to PFC coaches and players.

“To be drafted to the pros is unbelievable. I have been ­working for this my entire life,” Lee said.

“I have big goals in mind. But it’s one step at a time and all about achieving your mini-goals along the path, and this is part of that.”

Thomas Gardner of UBC went first overall in the CPL draft to FC Edmonton, Christopher ­Malekos from Carleton went second to Atletico Ottawa, and Yuba-Rayane Yesli of the University of Montreal went third to Valour FC of Winnipeg.

Completing the first round were Christopher Campoli of Ontario Tech to York United, Lee to PFC, Victor Loturi of Mount Royal to Cavalry FC of Calgary, Stefan Karajovanovic of Carleton to HFX of Halifax and Garven-Michee Metusala of Concordia to Forge FC of Hamilton. There were two rounds with 16 players selected in total.

Draftees will be invited to CPL training camps, with hopes of signing a U Sports ­developmental contract for the upcoming season.

It allows varsity athletes with U Sports eligibility remaining to sign with a CPL pro club while preserving their eligibility to return to U Sports.

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