CPL-U SPORTS Draft: Cunha ‘can’t wait to get started’ with Atlético Ottawa after 1st overall selection

With Atlético Madrid star João Félix announcing the first overall selection in the 2022 CPL-U SPORTS Draft, it’s fitting that Atlético Ottawa picked a Portuguese compatriot in Cape Breton University’s José Cunha.

The 20-year-old defender from Cascais was one of the most highly-touted candidates in this year’s pool of draft-eligible players, and as such Ottawa wasted no time in drafting him.

“It’s great to hear people trust your abilities, and to see a project like Atlético Ottawa and the structure they have behind them, to trust in a player like me, it’s really good,” Cunha said on air just moments after being drafted. “I feel proud of myself, that I can be part of this project, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Cunha was delighted to hear someone like Félix — a top player for the Portuguese national team, as well as for Ottawa’s sister club in Spain — call his name on Thursday. Even more, though, Cunha is thrilled to have a shot at the professional game.

Though he was picked by Forge FC in last year’s draft, Cunha never signed with the Hammers, having not even played a game for Cape Breton at that point. This time around, though, things are different: Ottawa saw plenty of him in the 2021 U SPORTS season, as he played a starring role for the Capers en route to an AUS championship and a national bronze medal.

“I always wanted to pursue education and football at the same time, and that’s something that wasn’t possible, or wasn’t really viable, in Portugal,” he said. “Coming (to Canada) was a chance to do both, and to stay close to the path to becoming a pro. Since I’ve come here, I think I was able to really enjoy and take advantage of what I’ve learned in the past and enjoy my time in the U SPORTS context.”

RELATED: 2022 CPL-U SPORTS Draft Analysis: How each team fared with their picks || 2022 CPL-U SPORTS Draft: View all 16 picks here

What kind of player are Atlético Ottawa getting in Cunha, though?

Billed as a left-footed centre-back, it seems Cunha evolved his game a little this past year under CBU coach Deano Morley, who explained to’s Kristian Jack that the youngster played quite a bit in midfield to try and get more out of his diverse skillset.

“(Ottawa) are gonna get a very intelligent footballer with a high level of game management,” Morley said. “A beautiful technician; I love his vision and range of passing, and what I love about him is he can play in two positions. He’s very comfortable as a left-sided centre-back, but we moved him into the midfield to enhance creativity and possession in our side this year, and he brought that in spades. That ability to control games, pace a game, I think he’ll settle in quickly and he’s a mature man that’ll do well in a professional setting.”

Fernando López, CEO of Atlético Ottawa, also joined the draft show to explain the club’s reasoning behind the pick. He, too, was impressed by Cunha’s ability to adapt his skillset to multiple positions, expecting that he’ll be able to make a difference at the pro level this year.

“He’s very good in the air and with defensive actions, but what stood out to us is his ability with the ball, and how he was able to break lines and open passes through the opposition,” López explained. “We’re extremely excited to get the preseason started and welcome José to Ottawa.”

The full 2022 CPL-U SPORTS Draft show is available here, with representatives from all eight CPL clubs joining to break down each of the 16 selections in total.