MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact played Joel Waterman’s former team, Cavalry FC of Calgary, in the 2019 Canadian Championship semifinal. While people may think the MLS club’s interest started then, Waterman wasn’t even able to suit up in the aggregate series.
“I broke my toe so I actually didn’t play against Montreal and I think that’s where a lot of the surprise came from, that I actually didn’t play against them,” Waterman said. “But I think the club knows good football when they see it so I was very blessed to get the opportunity.”
Waterman then learned Tommy Wheeldon Jr., his manager back at Cavalry, warned then Impact coach Remi Garde about the center back. He ended up on Montreal’s radar despite his injury.
“I knew that there would be eyes on me during the season so I played to that standard,” Waterman said. “Then I found just before Christmas that there was interest and it was finalized just last week.”
Waterman led his Canadian Premier League club to a spring and fall season title, similar to Liga MX’s Apertura and Clausura, in the league’s inaugural season. This was the Langley, British-Columbia native’s first professional season after Cavalry selected him in the 2018 CPL draft. While he was a little surprised to earn an MLS transfer a year into his pro career, Waterman always had an eye on a move.
“I always believed in my abilities. Did I expect to come this quick? Probably not,” he said. “But I knew that I put up a good, consistent season and I knew eyes were always watching. I just tried to play well and have consistency over the season.”
Waterman does not intend to spend his first MLS season as a benchwarmer. He moves to the east coast in order to earn MLS minutes.
“I’m not here to participate,” he said. “I want to get in the lineup, I want to play as much as I can, I want to get minutes.”
Waterman is the first CPL player to transfer to an MLS club. While he said “words can’t describe” the feeling, he understands he will be holding a trailblazer tag through 2020.
“I feel like I have responsibility as a trailblazer to be an inspiration to the league,” Waterman said. “I know a lot of guys have talent in that league that deserve the same opportunity as I got.”
Fellow Impact center back Rod Fanni liked what he saw of Waterman’s first few days in preseason camp. Asked about Waterman’s pressure of being the first-ever CPL export, Fanni said he thought it was a good thing for the Canadian.
“I saw him train and I think people will talk about him,” Fanni said. “He’s a good player and, for me, that’s not a pressure, but a bonus. I always played for clubs that had pressure from other players around you and that’s what you need to grow. I think that he is a player that will bring a lot to the club.”
Ready for the next step
While he thinks jumping into MLS will be a step up, Waterman is confident in his abilities. The 23 year-old added his new teammates have already helped him raise his level.
“We have world-renowned players in [Ignacio] Piatti and Bojan. With those types of players on your team, you have to raise the standard,” Waterman said. “The level has been good, the transition has been easy and the club has made it super simple on me.”
Waterman said being remembered as the first CPL transfer is a “personal achievement” for him. However, that won’t remain in the back of his mind heading into his first season in Montreal.
“Whether I’m the first one or the 50th, to me there’s not too much difference,” Waterman said. “I knew that this was going to be the next step in my career. This is where I wanted it to be, I measured it out to be at this level.”