Vancouver B.C.- Since the inception of the Canadian Premier League, U SPORTS players have played a big role on the pitch for all eight teams.
That’s been no different so far at the CPL’s ‘Island Games’, the tournament in which all eight CPL sides have assembled on Prince Edward Island, fighting to win the second-ever ‘North Star Shield’, along with a spot in the Voyageurs Cup final and in the 2021 CONCACAF League.
So far at the ‘Island Games’, there has been some strong U SPORTS representation, as a team has at least 1 U SPORTS player on their roster, with some teams having over a half-dozen of them in their ranks.
After seeing the success of Joel Waterman in year one of the CPL, in which the former Trinity Western University defender got drafted to Cavalry FC in the 2018 CPL U SPORTS draft, had a strong debut season with the Cavs and transferred to the Montreal Impact in MLS, several of the U SPORTS players have looked hungry to try and be the next player to move up the ladder this offseason.
While there are so many names that one could highlight through the five or six games that most teams have played so far, here are some U SPORTS alumni that have really separated themselves from the rest of the pack at the ‘Island Games’, and why you should keep an eye on them as the rest of the tournament rolls on.
Cory Bent (Halifax Wanderers): Cape Breton Capers
6 appearances (328 minutes), 1 goal, 0 assists
It’s tough to be a forward sometimes, as 90% of what you’ll ever get judged on is for your numbers, which as we see in the case of a player like Bent, the former Cape Breton Caper standout, isn’t always a fair way to gauge the value of a player to a team.
There’s a reason why Bent, the #1 pick in the 2019 CPL U SPORTS draft, has featured in every game for Stephen Hart’s Halifax Wanderers so far, and that’s because of his overall game, one that has quickly gotten people talking around the league.
A winger by trade, he offers a lot of support to both the attackers and the defenders, as he makes sure to contribute on both sides of the ball whenever possible.
That’s why he’s got 17 defensive recoveries through five games, along with 22 duels won, which would be solid numbers for a central midfielder, let alone a winger, and that’s because he’s not afraid to get involved and win balls defensively.
On the offensive end of things, he’s won an impressive 10 fouls, as he’s not afraid to get stuck in. He only has one big chance created, along with four chances created total, giving him 0.46 Expected Assists, but most of his offensive value has mostly come from the work he does away from the ball.
It’s never easy to become a regular as a rookie, but thanks to his strong work ethic and inspired play, he’s been a trusted member of these Wanderers, and the thing is, there’s a lot more to come from him, especially offensively.
If he can start turning the hard work he does defensively into some goals and assists for Halifax, they’ll have a complete winger on their hands, one that will not be fun for both opposing defences and offences to play against.
As he showed in his most recent game against Valour, when he gets into space, he can be ruthless in the final third, so he just needs to find a way to get there consistently and continue to make things happen.
Zach Verhoven (Pacific FC): UBC Thunderbirds
5 appearances (171 minutes), 1 goal, 1 assist
Verhoven, also known as Pacific’s super-sub, has been impressive so far in P.E.I, despite only having started 1 game so far.
Due to Pacific’s impressive offensive depth, the former UBC Thunderbird star has had to make his hay off of the bench, and to give credit to him, he’s done just that, having scored a goal and an assist, both coming in the opening clash against Halifax.
A tricky winger, he’s a handful for opposing full backs to defend, as he has a lethal combination of speed, smarts and tricks, making it hard to know what he’ll do when he has the ball.
He isn’t scared to shoot, either, as shown by his well-taken goal versus Halifax, where he did well to collect the ball, open his hips, and fire, opening his 2020 account for Pacific.
But despite his goal-scoring abilities, the one attribute that doesn’t get talked about enough is his playmaking.
That’s why he’s generated 0.84 Expected Assists, as he’s done a good job at setting up his teammates, along with 1 big chance and 8 chances total, with his ability to find his teammates in space a huge part in Pacific’s offensive success.
Defensively, he’s no slouch either, as shown by his 17 duels won, 9 recoveries, 3 interceptions and 2 tackles, with his willingness to get stuck in a big part in why he’s trusted to help hold leads late in games for Pacific.
Overall, even though he’s maybe not gotten the minutes you would’ve hoped to see him get so far, he’s made the most of them, and should be a key piece in Pacific’s quest to try and win a title, either as a starter or off of the bench.
Easton Ongaro (FC Edmonton): Alberta Golden Bears
6 appearances (415 minutes), 2 goals, 0 assists
Up next is the 6’6” Ongaro, who’s quickly made a name for himself in the CPL due to his gangly frame and his knack for scoring goals.
And that hasn’t changed so far this year, as the former University of Alberta Golden Bear has grabbed 2 goals through 5 games, good for 2nd in the league, and first on a sputtering Eddies side.
While he’s still adapting to being a starter in this league, after spending most of last year as a backup option, with 10 goals in just over 1000 minutes last season, he was due for minutes this year, and he’s gotten them so far.
A unique talent up front, he might not be as physical as you’d expect a player of his stature to be, but he’s certainly a lot smarter than you’d expect, as he makes incredibly sly runs in the box.
Combined with his devastating height and lanky legs, it makes him hard to defend, as he’s equally as likely to stick out a leg to get on the end of a low cross as he is to tower over someone at the back post.
He also can hurt you with the ball at his feet, which is why he’s got 6 shots through 5 games, along with 1.55 Expected Goals, as he knows how to get to the dirty areas in the box.
His playmaking does leave a bit to be desired at times, as he’s only created two chances all tournament, but that’s okay for a striker, especially one who gets as much defensive attention as Ongaro.
As long as he continues to score goals, open up space for teammates and create a presence up front, he’ll continue to get noticed, and it’ll be only a matter of time until someone gives him a punt at a new level.
Dylan Carreiro (Valour FC): York Lions
6 appearances (313 minutes), 1 goal, 0 assists
As the 2nd-ever CPL draft pick in the 2018 draft, the former York University midfielder has been solid for a surprisingly good Valour team, one that has so far silenced a lot of doubters by still finding themselves in the mix for a spot in the final four with two games to go.
Carreiro’s played a big part in that, scoring a big goal in their first victory against Ottawa, before putting in a big shift off of the bench in a 2-1 win over FC Edmonton.
On a Valour team full of new players after a busy offseason, the 25-year-old Carreiro has assumed a big leadership role this year, even wearing the captain’s armband on a few occasions at the ‘Island Games’, as he’s been key in helping a few of his new teammates get adapted to Canada.
Statistically, he’s been key for Valour on the pitch, as well, with his five shots (3 on target) second among all Valour players, while his 2 big chances and 5 chances created are solid numbers for a midfielder.
Defensively, he’s not as much of a presence, which as a #10, is to be expected, but he’s still won an absurd 17 of the 23 duels (73%) that he’s entered, which shows that when he gets stuck in, he usually gets the ball.
For a Valour team that has shown a good identity in how they’ve sat back defensively, doing well to absorb pressure before attacking in waves, Carreiro’s been a key orchestrator of that as a #10, helping lead the way for this team.
If Valour is to continue their strong run and progress to the final four, keep an eye on him these last two games, as he looks to help lead his team to a chance at glory.