If last pre-season is any indication, 2019 CPL U SPORTS Draft picks have a lot to play for this month. Last year, a total of 13 players from the 2018 draft made the jump to the pro ranks by signing with CPL clubs, including new Montreal Impact defender Joel Waterman (14th overall), HFX Wanderers FC's Peter Schaale (fifth overall), and FC Edmonton goalkeeper of the year nominee Connor James (seventh overall). This time around, a number of talented university athletes are in the running for CPL Developmental Contracts after last November's draft in Montreal. A total of 14 players from the 2019 draft earned invites to CPL pre-season camps. Here are six draft selections who have the best chance of earning a spot on their respective clubs in 2020. RELATED READING: CPL pre-season roster tracker: How each team is shaping up || ANALYSIS: Winners, surprises, and shrewd selections of 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft
Cory Bent – HFX Wanderers – 1st overall

Consider the first overall pick a lock for the Wanderers' 2020 squad. Bent's resume is impressive: Preston North End-trained, 24 goals in 36 U SPORTS matches, and a couple man of the match honours during the U SPORTS national championship. At five-foot-six, Bent is small but speedy, and a prime winger for Stephen Hart's preferred 4-4-1-1 system. There's a space for Bent, too, whether working in tandem with Alex Marshall on the left or as a starter on the right, cutting inside and breaking lines as he's want to do. Watch for Bent to make an impact with Halifax this season.
Marcus Campanile – Valour FC – 2nd overall

With Year 1 midfielders Jose Galan and Raphel Ohin still unsigned, perhaps Marcus Campanile will fill Valour FC's clear void in central midfield. The first of two Cape Breton picks for Rob Gale, the fourth-year Scottish midfielder offers loads of experience from his time in USL League Two with Calgary Foothills and K-W United. Good on the ball, the 23-year-old could offer a steady box-to-box presence that Valour lacked at times in 2019, and are missing on their somewhat limited Year 2 roster s far. Oh, and all U SPORTS players count as domestic – so no worries for Valour going over their seven-player international limit with this Brit.
Gabriel Bitar – Cavalry FC – 6th overall

The only U SPORTS pick with CPL experience, 21-year-old Gabriel Bitar is ready for another stint with Cavalry FC. Bitar was selected first overall in the 2018 draft and went on to play 180 minutes for the Cavs in 2019. When Bitar was re-drafted, coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. referred to the Carleton poacher as a project, saying his second professional pre-season will come of great use. RELATED READING: Looking back at the 2018 CPL-U SPORTS Draft and the top picks Wheeldon had most of 2019 to work with Bitar before he moved to Carleton in August – he wouldn't want all that development to go to waste in 2020.
Gabriel Balbinotti – Forge FC – 7th overall

An outside shot, but hear me out. Gabriel Balbinotti has played for the Montreal Impact Academy, he has two Ottawa Fury appearances, he's featured at Canada youth camps, and he won the U SPORTS Championship with UQTR – in their first-ever appearance at the nationals – a day before the 2019 draft. Balbinotti can play anywhere across the attacking four, offering an ideal versatility for a U SPORTS pick who is looking to fill a squad role. "He can move in different positions, has a good frame," coach Bobby Smryniotis highlighted after the 2019 draft. "I think he's one of these players that will give us some versatility." While it's unlikely Balbinotti will elect to stay with Forge as he begins his second year of studies, he does have the professional pedigree to challenge for spots before the Developmental Contract cutoff date in August.
Tommy Gardner – Pacific FC – 12th overall

If it wasn't for an unfortunate knee injury, UBC winger and 2018 CPL-U SPORTS first round pick Tommy Gardner would already be with Pacific FC. A now-healthy Gardner could settle nicely with the numerous former Vancouver Whitecaps Residency players in Pa-Madou Kah's team. As a second-year player, Gardner's signing of a CPL Developmental Contract would hint at a distant future at Westhills Stadium – and full trust from Kah and former ‘Caps coach James Merriman.
Charlie Waters – Valour FC – 13th overall

Charlie Waters could be the biggest coup in CPL history. Taken next-to-last in the 2019 draft, he is at CPL level right now: Liverpool and Manchester United trained, scoring a goal-a-game in U SPORTS, smart off-the-ball movement and a high soccer IQ along with a wicked ability to finish. Does Waters start over Valour newcomers Daryl Fordyce and Moses Dyer? Maybe not. But he could easily work in tandem, as he has great passing range for an attacking midfielder. Gale could easily see value in Waters considering how his attacking prong is developing.

Continue reading...