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    CPL DEEP DIVE: Cape Breton University’s Meteoric Rise To U SPORTS Powerhouse

    The following story is courtesy of the Canadian Premier League website originally posted on January 27, 2021 by Charlie O’Connor-Clarke (@CHARLIEJCLARKE)

    The CPL DEEP DIVE, is a series that takes an in-depth look at a particular subject matter of interest in the Canadian Premier League, examining it from a variety of angles and perspectives. The latest installment of this web feature takes a look at Cape Breton University, one of the best university programs in Canada, and its impact on the CPL-U SPORTS Draft.

    Photo courtesy of Cape Breton University-turned-Canadian Premier League players (from L-R) Isaiah Johnston, Peter Schaale, and Cory Bent. (Photo: Vaughan Merchant)

    “We want to be small, but we want to be great at what we do.” — Deano Morley, head coach, Cape Breton University men’s soccer

    Cape Breton Island has a population just over 130,000. Its university has 5,500 students.

    And somehow, the tiny institution in Sydney, Nova Scotia has contributed more players to the CPL-U SPORTS Draft than any other school in Canada.

    In the first two years of the Draft, eight of the 33 players picked came from Cape Breton University. HFX Wanderers FC fans can thank CBU for Peter Schaale and Cory Bent, two major pieces of the club’s 2020 run to the CPL Final.

    The Cape Breton Capers have won four straight Atlantic University Sport titles, and they’ve medalled at three consecutive U SPORTS national championships — winning the whole thing in 2017. A CBU player has been named a U SPORTS All-Canadian every single year since 2009.

    “They’ve recruited very well, very diligently,” Wanderers boss Stephen Hart said of CBU. “The program has had some very good success at the U SPORTS level. I think that just goes to show the quality of the organization and the connections that they have.”

    For the 2021 Draft this Friday, five Cape Breton players are available — as many or more than any other university.

    The question, though: why Cape Breton? How did a 38-year-old institution that won its first men’s soccer title just 14 years ago sprout from tabula rasa into a powerhouse, and the country’s top-producing school for Canadian Premier League talent?

    John Ryan, the university’s athletic director since 2002, puts it down to “the culture and leadership of the team.” A well-honed recruitment process — overseas in particular — has also helped, as has the fact that CBU only fields varsity teams in soccer and basketball (while larger schools might offer 25 to 30 different sports).

    Ryan likened CBU’s soccer program to Carleton University’s basketball teams, which dominate the U SPORTS scene. Carleton is six times the size of Cape Breton, though.

    “Once you’ve established a program at such a high level, then more kids are reaching out to us now than ever to be part of it,” Ryan said. 

    It turns out, there’s a lot that goes into it.

    Cape Breton coaches Scott Clarke (L) and Deano Morley (R). (Photo: Vaughan Merchant)
    Photo courtesy of Cape Breton coaches Scott Clarke (L) and Deano Morley (R). (Photo: Vaughan Merchant)

    For more on this story please go to

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