Joel Waterman’s move to the Montreal Impact serves as yet another moment of history for the Canadian Premier League.
The 23-year-old Langley, B.C. product made the switch Major League Soccer on Tuesday, joining the Impact from Cavalry FC in what is the first transfer sale by CPL outfit to an MLS club.
Waterman, a versatile defender who can also play in defensive midfield, took part in training with the Impact before his move was officially announced, but with history now made, he had no qualms revelling in the excitement of the moment.
You can hear it in his voice, plain as day.
“Words can’t describe it – this is something I’ve worked toward and measured out since I was like 12 or 13 when I realized I was good at soccer and there was a place for me to go,” Waterman told CanPL.ca.
“I’m ecstatic to sign for the Montreal Impact. They’ve been very welcoming thus far and the players have been very accommodating in making my transition easy. I’m delighted with the move and where I’m at now and I’m excited to take this next step, for sure.”
Waterman turned heads in 2019 for Cavalry FC, filling in across the back line in his first year as a professional and making 22 appearances. The Trinity Western University product joined Cavalry via the 2018 CPL-U SPORTS Draft, making the jump from the PDL Calgary Foothills to the upstart domestic competition.
He makes history as the first CPL player to join the MLS, of course, and credits that achievement to those who know him best.
“It’s not just me in this next step; it’s all the people around me, my family, my friends, and my community back in B.C. – this is for everyone, because it takes a village to get to a spot like this,” Waterman stated. “I can’t sit here and say I got here alone because I definitely didn’t. You need people around you to push you and help you to grow, and my family has been in my corner throughout. They’re super ecstatic for me.”
He added: “Being the first player out of the CPL to sign an MLS contract is very special and something I’ll hold very dear. I feel like I have a responsibility to be that trailblazer for the league and represent them well, because I know there are so many players who deserve the same opportunity. We have some serious talent in Canada.”
Waterman also credits Cavalry FC for giving him the “opportunity to be a professional” and help him grow “not only as a player, but as a person as well.” He cites Cavalry’s hold in the community and in the city of Calgary as a special part of that chance, and heralded coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. as a “winner” who builds relationships “deeper than football” with his players.
“He’ll always be in my corner to support me,” Waterman said of Wheeldon Jr. “Having a guy like that on your side is a special thing. I thank him and the whole organization for the way they prepared me for this next level.”
Wheeldon Jr., for his part, figured a move to the next level was always in the cards for Waterman, too.
“Joel has shown that every footballer can blossom at their own rate,” Wheeldon Jr. told CanPL.ca while on a scouting trip in Europe. “Aside from his footballing ability, his character shone through and made it easy for me to have him as one of our first ever signings (and draft picks). He also has a great competitive edge In training and games, but a level head off the pitch that will help him through the highs and lows that this game throws at you.
“As sad as we are to see him go, we do so wishing him all the success he deserves and to do us proud in the process. He now presents another young Canadian with an opportunity to fill his shoes here at the Cavalry.”
Waterman has always gravitated toward winners such as Wheeldon Jr. and TWU coach Mike Sheron. Now? He’ll be linking up with a legendary winner in Thierry Henry, head coach of the Montreal Impact.
“Whenever you can be guided and mentored by a legend of the game, you can’t pass that opportunity up,” Waterman said of working with Henry. “Even hearing some of his talks today, I like his philosophy toward football, to enjoy every moment of it. That’s why I started playing football in the very beginning; I love to play this sport.
“I feel like we’re headed in the right direction with this club in terms of how we want to play and how we want our culture to be. He’s a driving force toward who we want to become. Seeing him out there on the pitch is kind of surreal for me, but we have a respect for each other and we’ll come in, work every day, and try to be the best we can be for him.”