Gabriel Bitar is technically in two finals this weekend, one where he will be playing, and one where only his name will be present.
How is this possible?
Bitar is a member of the Carleton University Ravens, as well as Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League. After two successful years with Carleton and an elite performance at the 2018 U Sports national soccer tournament, he caught the eye of Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., as he was picked first overall just days later at the first-ever CPL U Sports draft.
Bitar earned a spot with the Cavalry out of training camp and played for them for most of the year. However, despite being the high draft pick, his appearances were limited as he only featured in three games, one of which being against Pacific FC in the first round of the Canadian Championship.
Cavalry is in the first Canadian Premier League final in Calgary this weekend, but Bitar is not there. He is instead playing in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) final at York University, a match that will be played concurrently with the CPL final.
With Bitar’s limited playing time, alongside the fact that he was not offered a full-year contract, he returned to Carleton for the 2019 OUA season.
For any athlete, it is a rare and welcome opportunity to play in a final but when comparing the two opportunities, it was hard for Bitar to make a choice. In speaking BTS after Carleton’s semi-final win over the Guelph Gryphons Bitar said: “Obviously I’m excited for my final tomorrow, but it would have been nice to be there in the CPL, it’s a historic occasion and they did a lot for me. I learned more with them over this season than I have at any other point in my life.”
It is interesting that the first overall pick was not signed full time by his CPL club, but it does speak to the quality of player that Cavalry possesses. He is one of three drafted players who returned to school at the end the conclusion of their developmental CPL contracts. The other two were Peter Schaale, formerly of HFX Wanderers, and Jace Kostopoulos, who was with Forge FC until the fall. Kostopoulos will also have two matches to worry about on Saturday, but not of the magnitude that Bitar has. Guelph will be playing in the OUA bronze medal game, as Forge faces Cavalry in the CPL final.
Reflecting on his CPL experience, Bitar could only speak about positive things. “The players are incredible, and everything about the league is top-notch, everything exceeded my expectations.”
To have a player say that the league exceeded expectations is massive. Past iterations of Canadian soccer leagues have often been duds or operated in a semi-professional manner. For the CPL that was not the case.
It also helped that he was on the best team in the league. When BTS mentioned that he Cavs were so far above the rest, the Lebanese-Canadian came back with: “We beat the Whitecaps! We are one of the best teams in Canada!.”
With him thinking like that, and the likelihood of that mentality flowing through the team, there is no reason the Cavalry FC can not win the final.
While the experience with Cavalry was invaluable for Bitar, he agrees with many fans on one point. It is very strange that he can be drafted in next week’s U Sports CPL draft. Who knows if he will be, but can you imagine if the same player was picked first overall in consecutive seasons? A confusing ide at first, but if he is drafted by a team who finished lower in the table, a full-time professional job could be a possibility.
It has been a whirlwind of a year for Gabriel Bitar. He’s played at the highest level the Great White North has to offer and has put his name in the history books. All while pursuing an education at the same time. Whatever the future holds for Bitar, a soccer ball will surely be involved, but whether that future involves the Canadian Premier League is a mystery yet to be solved.
Feature Photo: Cavalry FC