MOLINARO: Bertrand Owundi, defender (formerly of Forge FC)
Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis kept intact the core of his championship-winning team this off-season by bringing back 17 players from 2019. Among the few players who were released or didn’t have their option renewed, Bertrand Owundi was the biggest surprise.
Owundi, a Cameroonian centre back, played a key role in their run towards winning the North Star Shield. The 26-year-old amassed over 2,000 minutes of playing time in 24 appearances across all competitions (CPL, Canadian Championship and Concacaf League), and he was a big reason why the Hamilton-based club conceded just 26 goals in 2019 – the second-best defensive record in the league.
Despite being a workhorse, Owundi was somewhat expendable for Forge after the mid-season addition of Canadian international David Edgar, who will be back at Tim Hortons Field in 2020.
But that doesn’t mean the Cameroonian isn’t a quality player, and any CPL team looking to bolster its defence could do much worse than signing the solid and reliable Owundi.
O’CONNOR-CLARKE: Daniel Gogarty, defender (formerly of York9 FC)
I was stunned when York9 announced that Gogarty wouldn’t be coming back to the Nine Stripes for 2020. He played 24 games and almost 2,000 minutes for the team in his first-ever professional season, and he definitely impressed.
Indeed, Gogarty originally earned his chance with Y9 by virtue of a pre-season injury to Roger Thompson. He took his shot and ran with it, making a name for himself as a steady, athletic presence next to his centre-back partner Luca Gasparotto. The two were probably one of the league’s best defensive partnerships for much of the season, actually.
Gogarty had come into York9 as a relative unknown after playing for York University. The Nine Stripes picked him fourth in the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft, so putting him directly into the backline was a risk. Still, he was impressively calm at the back for a 22-year-old with no pro experience.
York9’s defence is fairly set for 2020 now, with Gasparotto joined by former HFX Wanderer Matthew Arnone, plus Thompson sticking around to provide depth (the contract status of Justin Springer, the final centre-back from last year’s roster, is unclear). There may not be room for Gogarty at York, but perhaps a team such as Atlético Ottawa could use his talents? Or even Valour FC, or FC Edmonton?
THOMPSON: Tomasz Skublak, striker (formerly of HFX Wanderers FC)
To be honest, I expected Tomasz Skublak’s name to be attached to a CPL club long before pre-season, but here we are.
HFX Wanderers’ big-yet-agile centre-forward had a credible run on an underperforming side in 2019. The now-22-year-old’s smart movement and finishing ability didn’t always come off, with only a goal and an assist to his name in league play. But, things did work out in the Canadian Championship, specifically against the Ottawa Fury.
His biggest drawback? He no longer counts towards CPL’s mandate of clubs giving 1,000 minutes to under-21 players after leading Halifax’s youngsters with 1,389 minutes played last season.
Skublak’s well-known connections to York9 and Forge via League1 Ontario seemed a likely path after he was released in December, but both sides seem set on attackers. Those more fluid systems would have suited his agile style of play, too.
Atlético Ottawa seems like an obvious landing spot as they have yet to unveil a centre-forward for 2020. His brutish physicality would fit a Spanish (specifically, Atlético Madrid’s) style of play, something coach Mista is all but likely to implement. Perhaps more Skublak golazos will come to TD Place in 2020?