TORONTO – Gabriel Bitar had a hunch he’d be drafted in the inaugural CPL-U SPORTS Draft.
Few players turned heads at the university level quite as much as the 21-year-old has over the last two years.
But when his phone rang on Monday, Bitar never expected to hear the words that came out of Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s mouth.
“Gabriel, we’ve drafted you first overall.”
Audibly jubilant and repeatedly emphasizing his excitement, Bitar told CanPL.ca in the hours after the draft: “Honestly, I was just hoping to get drafted. I’ve put a lot of work into it so I thought I might get drafted, but I did not expect to get drafted so high.
“When I did, it was crazy. It’s one of the best moments of my entire life.”
He added: “I’d like to give all praise to the Lord – without him, none of this would be possible.”
Bitar, who will now have a chance to earn a contract in preseason, made history on Tuesday as the very first pick in the CPL-U SPORTS Draft, with Wheeldon Jr. praising the 2nd-year Carleton Ravens striker for his movement, clever touch, and ability to score goals.
It’s the end result of plenty of hard work from Bitar, who impressed during his short time in U SPORTS, having been named Rookie of the Year last season.
His OUA-leading 16 goals in the 2017-18 campaign, coupled with his four goals in last weeks’ U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Championship, propelled his name further up the chart, so much so that the Canadian forward was highly-rated by the CPL’s assembled coaches on the draft floor. Multiple other teams out west were interested in drafting Bitar in the 1st round, too.
His performances, coupled with that interest, proved enough for Wheeldon Jr. to snap him up as quickly as he could, a moment Bitar says he’ll “never forget.”
“I had just arrived back in Ottawa after the U SPORTS Nationals,” Bitar explained. “I had just gotten off the plane, came home, and received a call from the head coach. I was just in shock when they picked me.
“I was with my family, and it was a very happy moment for us and for them. They started crying; my parents, my uncles, my cousins, we all started crying. We’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time.”
As he and his family settle from the emotional high, Bitar will need to focus, now, on putting in the work in preseason camp in order to earn a contract.
The CPL-U SPORTS Draft provides him with an invite to Cavalry FC’s preseason camp, where he hopes to secure a deal and actually join the team.
Bitar, who describes himself as a versatile forward who likes to run at defenders and track back to support the play, figures if he continues to showcase the kind of “dribbling qualities and shooting skills” he demonstrated during the national championships, a step into professional soccer could follow suit.
Should he make that step up, Bitar says he’s looking forward to working with Wheeldon Jr., as well as reuniting with another familiar face, too.
“It’s a new team, and a new head coach for me,” Bitar said. “I don’t really know much about Tommy, but I’ve known (assistant coach) Martin Nash since I played for the Ottawa Fury back in the day so I think it will be very beneficial for me.
“I don’t know much about Calgary, so I’ll have to do my research, but I’ve heard it’s a beautiful place. I’m very excited.”