I got a nice hit of nostalgia after the first of the CanPL trials last weekend in Halifax.
Sam Karklins and Hamzeh Afani both topped particular categories, and Karklins was among the top performers overall. Both players are Atlantic alumni, and both were always terrific fun to watch when I watched them play for Dalhousie (Afani) and King’s (Karklins).
This kind of story is, I think, the biggest takeaway from the open trials. (I refuse to use the hashtag name.) We don’t identify talent well in this country, for a variety of reasons: sheer geography, holes in scouting, holes in coaching at the youth levels, and so on.
The first time I watched Karklins, it was obvious he was a terrific player. I’m not at all surprised he topped the jump distance, either–he’s a very athletic attacker and now plays for Woodcocks FC in the MSMSL, Halifax’s third division of amateur soccer.
USports (formerly CIS) is periodically scouted. CCAA, the college circuit for small schools (often schools that attract talent by their focus on academics), is by and large ignored.
There’s the story about Ryan Telfer, who scored a goal that, arguably, is keeping TFC’s season alive. He came via York, which is a top CIS school. York was beaten last year by Thompson Rivers University, which used to be a CCAA team, but they play in Kamloops, which is a bit out of the way. Telfer played in the CSL for a bit, the now-desanctioned Canadian league. You start to see where the cracks form.
Afani was Dalhousie’s best player for about a year and a half before he blew his knee out. Assuming he’s made a full recovery–and his trial scores in agility rather suggest he has–he’s a fantastic chance creator as a second striker. He’s currently playing in the Nova Scotia Soccer League, on a team that finished third this past season, 18 points behind defending amateur club champions Western Halifax.
A lot of NSSL players also play in AUS, and I’d still rank AUS as one of the lesser conferences in the country. On the other hand, there are more gaps here. The biggest professional presence in Nova Scotia soccer is the Whitecaps program, which is based more than 5000km away.
It’s hard to handicap what the quality of play will be in CanPL. Certainly, there were some intriguing imports in the first trial, and the map the league published includes players from countries with established professional pyramids.
I don’t particularly think Karklins or Afani will be starters, much as I enjoyed watching them play locally. But it’s the opportunity that counts. A player can step up, as Telfer did with TFC. Also, depth is critical (again, TFC), and will of particular concern for Wanderers FC.
Anyone who’s followed MLS and other salary-constrained leagues will know how important it is for teams to get contributions from domestic players in the bottom half of the roster. CanPL will also have a two separate 50% domestic quotas–playing and roster-based–and if someone like Karklins or Afani or any of the other trialists last weekend can put two or three in the net, that could be the difference between a win and a loss.
My guess is most of those top performers will get training camp invites. From there, they have another chance. Win a contract, and they have another. Get on the field, and they have another.
That is something Canadian soccer has never had, at any point in its history. For Atlantic players, whether they’re playing in NSSL or AUS or even ACAA, this is the opportunity of a lifetime and some of them are seizing it.
Some other names to watch coming out of the trial days:
-Ben Kloppenburg – an all-around strong performer and a leading player in the NSSL this season. He’s also young enough to still develop. (Disclosure: I know Ben personally through refereeing–lovely guy, works incredibly hard.)
-Mykeo Parker-Christmas – a U-17 player with the Whitecaps Soccer NS academy program, and that team’s top scorer. I’ve only seen him play a couple times, but you notice him when you watch. Again, talent to develop further in a professional setting.
-Rory Kennedy – used to be one of the best roaming d-mids in AUS back when I covered the league. I’m not sure how much he’s still got, but he’s playing in the NSSL with Halifax City.
-Adel and Navid Rahman – the Rahman duo both made the first cut in Halifax and though still young, they both have professional experience in Slovakia’s second division and NCAA Div 1 experience.
-Jonathan Hammond – a former stud of a centre-back in AUS and another local talent I’d keep an eye on, particularly for Wanderers as a depth centre-back who can provide aerial presence and leadership.
-Kouame Ouattara – used to play for Université de Moncton, got some good media exposure, and while I think he’s a bit of a longer shot based on what I remember seeing from him in AUS, he’s another who showed well in the stats part of the event and ball-moving centre-backs can be tough to find, particularly in Canada.
-Gracious Kasheke – another young player I wouldn’t sleep on–currently at Dalhousie where’s been earning himself some minutes in a strong, local midfield. He’s versatile and smart and did very well in the athletic tests across the board.
There’s definitely a bias in this list towards players I’m more familiar with: Jamal Brarou and Ivan Barantynskyy are internationals with intriguing résumés. There are a few youth internationals, too, Canadian and otherwise, but I’m a bit sceptical that they’ll manage the level of play, depending what it ends up being.