HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
When you think about Carleton University and its athletic success, the men’s basketball team comes to mind first. But not far behind and catching up fast on the Ravens’ radar is the men’s soccer team.
For the past four seasons (2016-2019, no 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic), head coach Kwesi Loney has used his time wisely to develop a pennant- and medal-winning team of all-star players during his four years.
Let’s check out the numbers: three-time OUA East regular-season champs (2017-19); 50 wins, 5 losses, 7 ties; .844 winning percentage; 196 goals for and 35 goals against; 26-2-3 at home; 24-3-4 away; 2019 OUA championship; and the U Sports bronze in 2018 and fourth in 2019.
Those stats catch people’s attention, like the soccer experts, who put together the list of 48 prospects for last Friday’s second Canadian Premier League-U Sports Draft for the scheduled 2021 season.
The list, compiled by CPL football development scouting and recommendations from U Sports and CPL coaches, had players from 16 Canadian universities. Four schools had five prospects each, including Carleton. Winners get noticed.
Two Ravens were first-round selections and another player was a second-round pick in the two-round draft, which earned those players an invitation to a CPL training camp and an opportunity to play at a higher level in Canada.
If a player makes a CPL roster, he has the option of signing a U Sports development contract to maintain his university soccer eligibility in the future or sign a full professional contract to further his career.
After FC Edmonton took Thomas Gardner as the No. 1 selection, Atlético Ottawa used its first-ever pick in the CPL-U Sports Draft to welcome Cristopher Malekos, a former Ottawa South United player, as the No. 2 pick.
Striker Stefan Karajovanovic, who was drafted by York9 FC in 2019, was the seventh pick in the first round by HFX Wanderers of Halifax. Defender Tony Mikhael was taken in the second round, 14th overall by Valour FC.
“It’s extremely exciting. We put a lot of work into training and development and to see three players selected is a great accomplishment,” said Loney, the OUA coach of the year the last three seasons and U Sports’ top coach in 2019.
But Loney also saw two talented Ravens left on the sidelines: Midfielder Dario Conte, a two-time OUA East MVP and three-time all-star, and striker Gabriel Bitar, the OUA MVP and top rookie in 2017, who was drafted in 2019 by Cavalry FC.
“You never know when it comes to the draft,” Loney added. “It depends on what the clubs are looking for. To get three players selected was fantastic. There are a lot of quality players across the country.”
A three-time OUA East all-star and a first-team U Sports all-star in 2018, Malekos is recognized as a mature, aggressive and physical defensive player. He is a dominant force in the air and an efficient tackler.
Karajovanovic was a main key for the Ravens’ best-ever season under Loney in 2019. He scored eight regular-season goals, including four game-winners, and was named an OUA first-team all-star. He’s known for his work ethic and consistency.
Mikhael, a former Ottawa South United defender, is the youngest of the three Ravens selected in the draft. The 2019 OUA second-team all-star is calm and collected under pressure and shows significant leadership.
Former Ottawa player Kareem Sow, a University of Montreal sophomore defender, was drafted by Halifax in the second round and 10th overall, joining Stefan Karajovanovic with the Wanderers. In 2019, he was an RSEQ first-team all-star and helped the Carabins win the RSEQ and U Sports championships.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.