HFX Wanderers FC have a pretty good track record when it comes to the CPL-U SPORTS Draft.
All five HFX picks over the previous two drafts made professional appearances for the club the following season: Christian Oxner, Andre Bona and Peter Schaale in 2018, and Cory Bent and Jake Ruby in 2019.
What’s in store for Stefan Karajovanovic and Kareem Sow, the two players selected by the Wanderers in last week’s draft?
It’s far too early too tell what kind of impact these young prospects will have, but this Q&A provides some insight into their personalities.
The Wanderers’ first-round pick (seventh overall), Stefan Karajovanovic, originally from Gatineau, QC, is a fourth-year Criminology and Criminal Justice student at Carleton University. Karajovanic, 21, has been a prolific U SPORTS striker throughout his U SPORTS career.
What was your reaction when you were selected by the Wanderers?
SK: Well, when watching the CPL-U SPORTS Draft live, I was pretty excited to see my teammates being selected and taking their chance at the next level. Before me I heard my teammate and close friend Chris Lee get called, so I was very excited for him. When I heard my name get called and it was Halifax, I knew that was the team that I wanted to pick me. I know so many of the guys on the team – even Jeremy Gagnon-Laparé who lives really close to me. It was a blessing but I know there’s still a lot of work to do.
What have you heard about HFX Wanderers that made it the team you hoped would draft you?
SK: Well, the guys I know on the team of course, but also just hearing about the low number of COVID cases in Nova Scotia. I’ve heard it’s a nice place to be and that the fanbase is crazy. I’ve heard that the home games are insane and I hope I get a chance to play there (at the Wanderers Grounds). I’ve just heard really good things in general.
Having this opportunity through the CPL-U SPORTS draft, can you tell me about the impact this pathway has on players in Canadian soccer like yourself?
SK: The agreement they’ve built together, I feel like CPL and U SPORTS have built a very smart and cool opportunity for university players to have a chance to both pursue a degree and play at the next level. I know Peter Schaale who came from Cape Breton and has played a big role (in the team). I know Aboubacar Sissoko and Omar Kreim who are good friends of mine, so even seeing them earn contracts, not from this draft but from the recognition at the U SPORTS level. There’s a lot of talent in U SPORTS so it’s good to have players who aren’t being overlooked and who can pursue their degrees as well.
Seeing the Wanderers play in the past and the caliber of players in the squad, what excites you about the opportunity to earn a spot on the 2021 roster?
SK: I know a lot of the guys on the team so I’m excited to have the chance to play with them again, as well as some for the first time. The fanbase, the location, I’ve heard it’s beautiful there and the stadium is really nice. I haven’t had the chance to see any of it yet so I’m excited for that. Stephen Hart being the coach as well – in general I’ve just heard great things about Halifax and I’m happy to have the opportunity and I just hope to get the chance to earn a professional contract and do good things in Halifax.
With the success you’ve had in U SPORTS, what unique qualities are you hoping to bring to the Wanderers squad in 2021?
SK: Well I feel that the main thing I can bring is even more goals. I know the team already has some great attacking talent – Akeem Garcia has been one of the best strikers in the league from what I’ve watched. Cory (Bent) is super fast and super tricky – I’ve seen him in both U SPORTS and in the Canadian Premier League. I’m just trying to bring a different dimension of speed, good finishing and I’m also good with both my feet and with one-on-one dribbling. Just bringing a bit more depth to the squad and a few more pieces that may be compatible with other individuals on the team. Finishing is something I’m very proud of so I’m hoping to bring that to the table.
The Wanderers second-round pick (10th overall), Kareem Sow, hailing from Ottawa, is a third year Mechanical Engineer student at Université de Montréal. Sow, 20, is the latest product of Montreal Carabins soccer program to attract the attention of HFX Wanderers. Sow was a part of the 2018 team that won the U SPORTS Men’s Canadian Championship.
When you were watching the CPL-U SPORTS Draft live stream, what was your reaction when you heard that you were picked?
KS: When I realized that I had been drafted to Halifax – in that moment there was both excitement and relief. The team that I wanted to pick me ended up picking me. It was really a mixture of emotions because it was something that I wanted so much to happen – my brain stopped working properly for a bit. When I actually got picked during the draft it was a relief knowing that I got drafted by the team I really want to represent in the CPL.
You know some of the players already, but beyond that, what was it about Halifax that excites you?
KS: I do know a lot of the players who went there so that was important, but it was also the feedback that I got from the players about Halifax the city and the fans. As for the city I know it’s a beautiful place to live and the atmosphere there. The other thing was the fans and how the fans were so supportive – I saw pictures of players taking photos with fans after the game and signing gear. That made me really want to be a part of that family – the CPL just (started in 2019) and it surprised me how new this team was and how committed the fans already were to these players and to this team. It just really made me want to be a part of that family that you have there in Halifax.
What excites you about the opportunity to play with this group of players currently on the Wanderers squad?
KS: Like I’ve already said, there’s players who I’ve played with in the past, but there’s also players I’ve played against. I’m relatively new to my university and we knew the big names at other universities – players like Peter Schaale and Cory Bent, we knew those big names and would always talk about “‘watch out for when he does this, or when he does that.” But now having the opportunity to play on the same team as them I think it’ll be interesting – we’ve always seen them as the enemy. I’m also a centre-back so someone like Peter Schaale will be someone I’m looking forward to working with – I’ll have a lot of questions for him. Peter was someone who went back to his university at the end of the season, so he’s done what I’m intending on doing as well and completing my studies.
With the CPL-U SPORTS Draft being introduced, can you tell me about how this pathway has impacted your life and your career in soccer?
KS: Well it’s the most perfect thing that has happened to me. I used to play for the Montreal Impact academy and when I was there, I had to choose between my soccer career and focusing on my studies. I was at a point where I couldn’t do one without jeopardizing the other. That’s when I decided to leave the academy and go to University to focus on my studies and I thought “this is it, this is going to be my life.” As soon as the CPL-U SPORTS Draft was introduced it re-opened doors for me – I realized that it was still possible for me to pursue a professional career and also continue my studies which is the most perfect thing I could ask for. I really want to focus on my studies and get my diploma but at the same time I have the chance to play for a professional soccer team with the Wanderers. So like I’ve said, it’s just the perfect opportunity for me.