When Cory Bent moved from England to Nova Scotia in 2016 to play U SPORTS soccer at Cape Breton University, he definitely didn’t have his sights set on securing a professional deal in Canada.
“Not at all,” HFX Wanderers FC’s newest signing told CanPL.ca.
“Before I came here there was no talk of a (Canadian) Premier League that I was aware of. . . But then as the years kept going on it started to become more of a possible reality.”
Of course, the rumblings had existed for years, but they may not have reached as far as Cape Breton.
Bent, 22 years old, was the first overall pick in the CPL-U SPORTS Draft last November, as the Wanderers selected him in a draft that also saw three of his Capers teammates picked. He was officially unveiled by the Wanderers on Monday, making the Halifax side the first team to officially sign one of their 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft picks to a contract.
Although the Wanderers, like other CPL clubs, barely managed to get a couple of weeks of pre-season training in before orders came in to shut things down due to COVID-19, it seems Bent made enough of an impact to earn a contract.
“I think he is the brightest prospect coming out of university,” Wanderers coach Stephen Hart said when drafting Bent. “He has the ability to play wide left and wide right and not only score but also assist. He’s the player I wanted.”
Bent became a university-level star at Cape Breton, although he nearly fell off the football map after dropping out of the Preston North End academy in the UK. Through an agency (Soccer Smart), he found himself weighing the options of several North American schools, hoping at least to play while working toward an education.
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He arrived in Sydney, N.S., and from there unfurled a whirlwind path that led him to the professional game — albeit a wildly different path than he might’ve expected before he left home.
“(It’s) a really overwhelming feeling of gratefulness and gratitude,” Bent said of his signing so quickly with the club that drafted him. “When I first came here it was the East Coast that welcomed me in, and I’ve been representing them with our university for four years. I’m just really happy to be able to continue staying on the East Coast.”
According to Bent, the idea of turning his university career into a professional venture started to become a reality (for him and the other Capers taken in last year’s draft) when he saw teammate Peter Schaale break into the Wanderers lineup in 2019.
Schaale returned to CBU in August to finish his degree, and in doing so, he brought a touch of professional experience into the locker room.
“Pete came in back from the (CPL) season, and he really set the standard that he was playing at while he was away from us,” Bent explained. “We all kind of followed his momentum, some of the practices that he was doing. You know, looking after our bodies, and trying to prepare for the hopeful call that you get before draft night.
“I think Pete really helped with that, he was able to come in and show us a couple of things. He brought in also a belief that we could all get to where we wanted to get to if we all help each other. He was a massive part of that.”
Schaale’s influence was, evidently, enough to push Cape Breton’s players even further in their abilities and show them the new benefits of performing at the Canadian university level. Of course, his play on the field helped, as he earned AUS Player of the Year honours en route to a fourth straight Atlantic championship and a national bronze medal.
“For them it was just good to see that the door is open,” Schaale said. “Guys like Cory, who’s on my team now, and a lot of our guys got drafted again. So they know that the path is there.”
Of course, Bent himself isn’t likely to be making the same triumphant return to Cape Breton, having told CanPL.ca that he’ll be graduating this year — even though he’s got a year of U SPORTS eligibility left. Still, his four years at the school were, he says, incredibly formative for him.
Now that one U SPORTS draftee has been signed, could other CPL clubs follow suit?