One of the great things about The Island Games was how many unexpected stars it produced. Soccer fans in this country were already familiar with players such as Kyle Bekker, Manny Aparicio, Marco Bustos and Terran Campbell thanks in large part to their standout CPL seasons in 2019. But be honest: Who had even heard of Mo Farsi before he signed with Cavalry FC ahead of this summer’s Island Games in PEI? Few did, but a lot more know about him now after his sensational showing for the Cavs in PEI. Farsi wasn’t the only CPL player to take the league by storm this year, though. There were plenty of under-performing players from the 2019 season who enjoyed breakout campaigns in Charlottetown. CanPL.ca’s Marty Thompson, Charlie O’Connor-Clarke and John Molinaro offer up their pick for the biggest surprise player of the 2020 CPL season. Check out their selections below.

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Marcus Haber (Cavalry FC)​

It didn’t take long for Marcus Haber to prove us wrong. After departing Pacific FC following a 2019 season that "didn’t go the way" he wanted it to, the 31-year-old landed with Cavalry FC. It was a bit of a bizarre signing on its face - a floundering and aging striker landing with one of the CPL’s best clubs. Haber entered training camp late, too, facing some stiff competition for playing time with newcomer Jair Cordova and Jordan Brown, just to name a few. His first chance came in Cavalry's second match against Valour FC. Looking fit and much more agile than his 2019 self, Haber ran the Winnipeggers ragged and eventually grabbed a header that gave Cavalry the win – and made coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. look like a genius for signing the Canadian men’s national team striker. Haber would go on to take 14 shots and get on the end of eight big chances at The Island Games, according to Opta – both of which were second among CPLers, landing him behind Player of the Year nominees Marco Bustos and Akeem Garcia. Not bad for a player signed late and not given much of a chance. Haber said it best: "A team that shows you respect will get the most out of you." -- By Marty Thompson

Mo Babouli (Forge FC)​

Just like Marty, I’m making my pick based on how wrong I was. Although Babouli was quite the high-profile signing for Forge FC, it felt like expectations might’ve been set a little too high — it’d been about two years since he’d played for a professional club, and he’d been through quite a lot since leaving Toronto FC in 2017. We all knew Babouli had talent, but would it translate to Bobby Smyrniotis’ well-drilled tactical style, when he’d just joined the club a few weeks before The Island Games? Turns out it did. Babouli added a fantastic creative element to Forge’s attack, settling into the system fairly quickly and then improving in every single outing. He may not have filled the net with goals as some might’ve expected, but he turned out to be a much more mature, intelligent player than the Canadian soccer community had previously seen. During Forge’s Concacaf League run, Babouli was even better, especially in the match against Tauro FC; his ability to run the ball into tight spaces and create space for teammates really put his side over the edge there. It seems that Babouli really is back, having found a new home at Forge and rejuvenated his professional career. -- By Charlie O'Connor-Clarke

Joe Di Chiara (York9 FC)​

Joseph Di Chiara was one of the best players at The Island Games, and the former York midfielder was an early contender for the MVP award before the Nine Stripes bowed out in the first round. If you took a look at the goal scoring charts at the end of the opening group stage, you would have found Di Chiara’s name near the top of the list with three goals. Honestly, who saw that coming? That’s absolutely no disrespect to Di Chiara, who was an unsung hero for York in 2019 as the club’s defensive linchpin in midfield. He appeared in 27 games in all competitions (logging just under 2,000 minutes in playing time), and while his focus was on stopping the other team from scoring, he also managed to contribute to York’s attack with a pair of goals and an assist. But three goals in six appearances at The Islands Games? I don’t think even Di Chiara could have envisioned that. Beyond his goals, Di Chiara was a midfield general for York in PEI, running himself ragged and putting in solid shifts at both ends of the field to help his side remain unbeaten after five games and in a strong position to claim a second-round berth going into the weekend. No wonder, then that Cavalry FC made a move to sign him as a free agent this off-season to bolster their already impressive midfield. -- By John Molinaro

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