Wanderers sign Schaale, Bona–and other USPORTs fates

Halifax Wanderers have now signed all three of their picks from November’s USPORTs draft. Peter Schaale and André Bona, of Cape Breton and UQAM respectively, will suit up in the Canadian Premier League this year.

Schaale, in particular, has had a stand-out training camp thus far1If you don’t already, give the From Aways podcast a listen–they’ve done a lot of great work covering preseason., which very much matches what I saw from him at Cape Breton this past fall. He’s on another level with his ball control and passing range. I ranked him top in my USPORTs mock draft for a reason.

Schaale represents a particular kind of USPORTs player, in that he’s had fairly extensive experience in the German youth and regional leagues. There are a fair few players who decide to come to North America for school rather than make a go of what can be a marginal career below the top divisions. A lot of them end up at places like Cape Breton, Université de Montreal, and sometimes even Dalhousie or Saint Mary’s thanks to strong international reputation and reasonably easy flights to Europe. Most, like Schaale, play PDL in the summers, too.

There’s talent in this pipeline and Hart did very well to mine it at the draft, especially as Schaale still has USPORTs eligibility, meaning he counts as Canadian through 2020 and can likely return to the Capers if he’s in need of minutes. Somehow I doubt he will be.

André Bona was a graduating senior from Université du Quebec a Montreal2This is the only time I will type out UQAM on this blog, and I’m only doing it for the benefit of CanPL readers who don’t want to wade into RSEQ. who had a strong nationals. He, too, has European youth experience, namely at Olympique Marseille’s academy before going into high-level sprinting. His career path is genuinely fascinating, and he is very, very fast and very, very physical.

There’s a real sense I’m getting that Wanderers are going to be an extremely unpleasant side to play against–there’s a CONCACAFiness to this team that suits the manager who put the US out of 2018 World Cup qualifying. Bona very much fits in with that, as does fellow ex-USPORTs signee and open triallist Kouamé Ouattara. Both guys love a challenge and can run you into the ground. Both will be useful off the bench to hunt down the ball.

Schaale is the style on top of the CONCACAF substance. He’s a very smart, no-nonsense defender but his real talent is moving the ball out of the back under pressure. He was critical to the way Deano Morley’s Capers played over the past two seasons (a span in which they lost one game–in this year’s national final). Cape Breton rarely blitzed teams. Instead, they just cycled possession, never dwelling but pressuring and exploiting holes opened by moving the ball both backwards and forwards. Schaale was the fulcrum behind all of that.

Given the focus on local talent at the draft in November, it wasn’t entirely surprising that Schaale went fifth to Halifax instead of higher. It is a little surprising how few of the players above him have signed, especially given he played PDL for Victoria and Pacific could really use an extra centre-back or three.

Instead, Stephen Hart comes out having grabbed three useful pieces from the draft (the third is back-up ‘keeper Christian Oxner, who I’m also very high on). This is smart asset management, especially for a club without as many League 1 Ontario or MLS academy ties.

Others around the league may yet sign, of course, particularly ahead of the league-wide training camp in the Dominican Republic through early April. Calgary’s Tommy Wheeldon has top pick Gabriel Bitar competing with UofA’s Easton Ongaro for a final roster spot, and he already signed Joe Waterman, although he gets an asterisk for having played PDL with the Foothills previously.

Forge and Bobby Smyrniotis, who I thought had the best overall draft day, haven’t signed any of their three USPORTs picks. Hamilton’s roster is fairly stacked, to be sure, but if anything it lacks a real target man and one can’t help but feel maybe Jace Kostopoulous and his fifteen OUA goals could be useful.

There can be a split in opinion on the quality of play on the university circuit, and it’s possible, even likely, that a player like Kostopoulous might not put up anything like those numbers in CanPL.

In time, we might see CanPL academies provide the local depth. Right now, only Edmonton have one, and the Eddies prioritized that pipeline, drafting three ex-academy players, two of whom have signed: Connor James in goal and Ajeej Sarkaria, who up big Canada West numbers and will likely be depth in attack.

Somewhat surprisingly, there’s no sign of Noah Cunningham, whom Kurt Larson had rated coming out of the USPORTs nationals and who Edmonton drafted in the third round. He has two years of eligibility left, but with Edmonton near the roster limit, is unlikely to sign even if the Eddies could use another depth defender.

I have questions, too, about how well James and Sarkaria will fare against professional opposition. Canada West’s Alberta quasi-conference3Like AUS and unlike OUA, it’s not strictly split, but teams in Alberta play the other Alberta teams more often is weak–James and Sarkaria put up their big numbers against the likes of Mount Royal College and University of Lethbridge. James may well be the only USPORTs draftee who starts.

Of course, I’m not counting Dylan Carreiro there, because Carreiro is another “type” of USPORTs player: the mid-20s former prospect with pro experience returning home. Carmine Isacco made a York Lions dynasty out of this kind of player, particularly Canadians who didn’t make it in MLS. Remember Andrea Lombardo, TFC fans? Star for York, filling the net in USPORTs4Only some of which counted, because he played part of the 2008 season as an ineligible player–in USPORTs, if you play a professional season, you lose one year of eligibility. This doesn’t apply to CanPL draft picks, which is why the partnership is important. Lombardo came back in 2009 and kept scoring..

Carreiro was a key piece in an admittedly under-achieving Lions team. Both this year and last, big things were expected after OUA wins only for the team to bow out in the national quarter-final. Carreiro is rarely flashy, but he’s fairly effective as a deep-seated #8, and he’ll see minutes for Winnipeg alongside the vastly experienced Croatian Josip Golubar.

The other Capers drafted–Lewis White and Jack Simpson–were both cut by Valour pretty early on in camp. They’ll be back with Deano Morley, which should help Cape Breton keep some continuity5‘Cause Stuart Heath’s leaving. and they may get another shot next year. I also doubt Daniel Pritchard is going to catch on with York9.

Carmine Isacco, aside from coaching the Lions, is also Jimmy Brennan’s assistant at York9, so it’s no surprise the CanPL team most in need of a nickname drafted someone like Dan Gogarty. He’s a fairly no nonsense fullback, reliable, and probably one of the more likely USPORTs players to find his level in CanPL as long as he’s eased in, which he should be given Brennan’s amassed a fair bit of defensive depth. He’ll likely compete with former A.S. Blainville wingback Diyeddine Abzi for minutes.

I’ve not heard a word about either Aboubacar Sissoko out of Montreal or Emmanuel Zambazis, though Zambazis has eligibility left, so my guess is York will take advantage of shared facilities to keep an eye on his development.

Pacific went young, and only Noah Verhoven is signed. People seem to rate him, but I’m not sure I’m one of them. Tommy Gardner might be more interesting, albeit there are questions about durability. Both are ex-Whitecaps USL guys, and attend UBC with Nick Fussell (also ex-Residency).

That first week of training camp on the beach in Tofino didn’t involve the USPORTs picks–they joined up for week two of training at UBC’s facility. That makes a certain amount of sense given it’s a busy time of year academically. It also means the draftees missed out on crucial team building and it seems their roles will be more prospect-oriented, which is fine given all three can go back to play at UBC in the fall.

All in all, it’s tough to shake the feeling teams missed out a bit on the draft, though. I’m particularly surprised by Cavalry. I thought they had a sneakily good draft day and Wheeldon’s very much built his squad around a PDL core. USPORTs and PDL overlap quite a bit; likewise, League 1 Ontario features a number of OUA or ex-OUA players, and both York and Forge have made good use of those connections while not making much of the USPORTs picks, even with the draft-and-develop option.

At the same time, a surprising number of triallists have come from CCAA programs. The Canadian Colleges Athletics Association is for smaller schools like Vancouver Island University or King’s College here in Halifax. King’s alumnus Sam Karklins looks like he may well make Wanderers as a depth forward and Pacific have trialed a whole pile of VIU players. There’s a gap between CCAA and USPORTs, albeit not always a huge one and players have been known to bounce back and forth (King’s and Dal, though fierce rivals, have a long history of player movement). Still a bit surprising to see so many, and it’ll be a big step up for any signed.

About Dylan Matthias 43 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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