4 reasons why Joel Waterman is the 1st CPLer moving to MLS

Was Joel Waterman the first CanPL played you expected to move to MLS? Raise your hand if thought so!

Ah, the true nerds have revealed themselves!

Yes, Waterman is not a star striker or explosive midfield general – he’s the kind of ball-playing defender you can only appreciate over a 90-minute performance. He doesn’t write tweets, he writes novels.

RELATED READING: Waterman becomes 1st CPLer sold to MLS in Montreal Impact deal

The Montreal Impact must have appreciated his long-form pieces after signing the 23-year-old, making him the first CPLer transferred to an MLS club. Waterman signed a two-year-deal with Thierry Henry’s side on Tuesday, with options for 2022 and 2023.

His story is one of climbing the newly-extended Canadian soccer ladder. A second-round selection in the 2018 CPL-U SPORTS Draft to Cavalry FC, he joined his PDL-winning teammates and Tommy Wheeldon Jr., and emerged as a top professional in the CPL in 2019.

While a transfer fee remains under wraps, Montreal’s interest speaks for itself. It’s a gamble to be the first club to pull from a new player pool.

Here are some of the reasons why the Impact to go after Waterman.

Versatile option in defence and midfield

Giuliano Frano (L) and Joel Waterman (R) battle at Tim Hortons Field. (Photo: Ryan McCullough).
Giuliano Frano (L) and Joel Waterman (R) battle at Tim Hortons Field. (Photo: Ryan McCullough).

Pick a position, pick a formation. Joel Waterman can handle it.

While largely deployed at centre back, the Langley, B.C. native was more than happy to jump up in midfield for the odd game. Will he be taking over Samuel Piette’s spot? Likely not, but it’s just more of a reason to sign him as a depth option – he has more places to platoon into and more chances to play.

RELATED READING: Waterman revels in historic move to Montreal Impact

The Impact flirted with a three-at-the-back system last season just as Cavalry did. Waterman is tailor-made for one of the outside centre back roles in a back-three – quick-footed, good on the tackle, and lots in the tank to pressure and push forward for long stretches of play.

Perhaps Waterman’s signing is a hint from coach Thierry Henry that a back-three is in Montreal’s future?

Impressive passing range

Another preferred role for Waterman? Ball-moving centre back. He led CPL defenders with successful passes per 90 minutes with 48.36 – that’s 13 more than the league average.

A deeper dive with Sportlogiq details his passing prowess further.

In midfield roles, Waterman surged ahead and created, ending with a 75 per cent passing percentage in the opposition’s third, only missing one pass – which was a heavily contested corner when Cavalry were down to nine men against York9 in September – from 11 attempts in the Fall season. That’s an extraordinary feat considering the quality of passes attempted.

Waterman is one of the best ball-playing defenders in the CPL, a position very much in-vogue. Just ask Amer Didic.

Technical ability

HFX Wanderers FC Attacker Akeem Garcia (11) plays the ball past CavalryFC Midfielder Joel Waterman (15). (Trevor MacMillan/CPL)
HFX Wanderers FC Attacker Akeem Garcia (11) plays the ball past CavalryFC Midfielder Joel Waterman (15). (Trevor MacMillan/CPL)

You don’t make over 90 per cent of your passes in the attacking third without a bit of skill on the ball. Waterman has that in bunches. Two-footed with a six-foot-two frame, the Trinity Western University graduate doesn’t give much for defenders to latch onto when he has the ball.

It’s an even bigger asset while facing a field of 11 in front of you. His speed and touch would make any pressing forward or midfielder think twice about diving in – thus allowing the time to have his aforementioned passing ability and build-up prowess take hold. A ball-spraying defender that will rarely get skinned for the ball – it’s this effect that Thierry Henry and his coaching staff will be intrigued by.

Oh, and when you talk about his technical skill, you have to mention his lone goal in the CPL. You’d need to be very, very, very good on the ball to pull off this.

“Trap it! Trap it! No? Oh, okay, nice one, then.”

All of this at a young age

Waterman played well above his age in 2019. The 23-year-old’s superb technical skill made him appear well above his age (in a flattering way) with the Cavs. This is, ultimately, his defining feature and why the Impact value him so dearly.

These positives of Waterman’s game – playing multiple positions, superb passing, and great technical skill – are all rare from a young defender. It’s an incredible base to build upon. How many players under the age of 24 offer that?

As it should be, the Impact’s signing of Waterman is for the future.

How high is his ceiling?

Montreal thinks it’s pretty high.