“I think there’s a pathway now in Canada for young footballers to aspire to and I’m glad that I kind of led the charge in that way. I just want to make sure I use it for good and that I can help other players’ dreams come true and inspire them to stay in Canada.”
Those were Joel Waterman’s words when asked about his feelings on having made history as the first CPL player to be acquired by an MLS club. But before the centre back could step onto the field at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in the Impact’s black and blue, he donned the blue and gold of Trinity Western Spartans, in what was his first step of laying the roadmap for the country’s future in soccer.
Waterman credits his five-years at TWU as being the most influential time in his career, both as a person and a player. On the pitch, Waterman scored nine goals from the backline throughout his university career; which he capped off by leading his team back into the national picture.
Before Waterman and the Spartans could reach the national stage came the fateful summer he spent in Calgary with the USL PDL Calgary Foothills. While his time in the USL PDL was, “a must to play somewhere in the summer,” his summer with the Foothills was monumental off the pitch.
In what started as a seemingly casual moment in his billet family’s kitchen, Waterman wound up finding faith, something that would guide him, even through soccer. This change in spiritual direction was the most influential thing to come out of his time in TWU, a faith-based institution.
While his summer in Calgary came to a close, the Aldergrove, B.C. native became captain at the outset of his fifth and final year in U SPORTS. In his new role, he led teammates both on and off the field. He called the captaincy a learning experience as he tried to manage everyone’s personalities, characteristics, and ways of approaching game day. Always humble, the now 24-year-old, describes his approach as trying to be the best leader he could be and to lead by example.
It was clearly a good example, as the Watermen-led Spartans reached the 2018 U SPORTS National Championships, the first time they has qualified since 2009. While many would think that simply making the tournament would be enough, the Spartans pulled off the upset of the tournament by ousting the top-seeded York Lions in the quarterfinals.
While TWU finished off the podium, their success at the national level continues to pay dividends. “It was a huge boost for our program, and now we’re getting better players coming through the system.”
U SPORTS-CPL Draft
Just days after leading his team through the national championship, Waterman’s rise through the Canadian soccer landscape reached the next level. The former Spartan was selected fourteenth overall by Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League.
“It was something I [had] worked for for a very long time. I knew that if I had a good showing at nationals, I would probably be drafted,” said Waterman, who was out with friends when he received the draft news.
While the now Montreal Impact defender admits that he had hoped to be selected by either Cavalry or Pacific FC, he is also candid in admitting he did not know what to expect with the young league.
Amidst the newness of it all, a return to Calgary was a much welcome bit of comfort. Nevertheless, the second-round was not sure what his role would be, but he knew that if he got in, he was going to try and help them win in whatever role he had.
Waterman’s entry into CPL action came with the unfortunate injury of Calgary’s starting centre back, Mason Trafford, just days ahead of the team’s home opener. Once he got a shot, Waterman brought the steady calmness many had become accustomed to seeing during his time at TWU, and remained in the starting lineup for eight-straight games.
“I think I was just ready for anything. I was ready to be a starter and eventually make a difference, whatever it may have been.”
A historic MLS debut
In the 21st century, it should be no surprise that Waterman found out that he had a chance to make history through Twitter.
“I actually had no idea that [Montreal was] actually interested in me until I saw some tweets” he recalled. “The rumours kind of died down so I didn’t think anything could really come of it.”
Suddenly, the first-year pro got a call from his head coach, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. confirming Montreal’s interest in adding him to their lineup, and it was simply a matter of figuring out what Cavalry could get in return.
Once the contract’s details were ironed out, Waterman became the first CPL player to be transferred to the MLS, and had moved to the top-tier of Canadian soccer.
It is hard to argue with Waterman’s view of himself as a trailblazer for Canadian soccer players having seamlessly moved through the ladder of the sport in this country. While Waterman certainly won’t be the last to make the move from the CPL to the MLS, he is “Just grateful to be the first one to do it.”
Cover Photo: TWU Spartans Athletics