Cory Bent Recaps His Long Road To Professional Football
Many players in the Canadian Premier League took one of three pathways to professional soccer: an academy, a semi-pro league, or the CPL-U SPORTS draft.
Cory Bent took all three routes on the journey to his first professional contract.
Football started earlier than most for him: the son of Junior Bent, a professional football player with hundreds of appearances, Cory says he was involved in the game as early as he could breath. He got into organized football at the age of six, eventually joining the Manchester United Academy for a year prior to switching to Preston North End when he was eleven. His father Junior coached there, and while he liked the quality and the culture of an otherwise ‘rigid’ academy system, he put a lot of extra pressure on himself to prove he wasn’t just there because of his father.
Yeah, he was there – and I hated it! Being quite honest, I hated it, because it always meant that I had to do a little bit more. I couldn’t let people think that he was the reason I was there. I don’t think he added pressure, in fact he was the one who was always taking pressure off and I’d put the pressure on myself, honestly. As much as I didn’t like having to hear what he’d have to say to me in the car after the games, I didn’t really have any other option, but it was a really good thing that a lot of footballers never had. That’s probably where I learned to deal with pressure situations, just being coached by my Dad and learning how to coach myself through the games. The pressure wasn’t from my Dad, I think it was from me. I thought he was a really good coach. I still speak to him everyday now, about games, training, anything. His answers are always the same, but it’s reassuring to know that you have someone behind the doors who is looking out for your best interest, but also knows a lot too.
When he was fourteen, Preston North End dropped him from the academy. A late developer in terms of his body stature, he had seen the writing on the wall: as other players grew by the foot, he found himself outsized. It didn’t make his separation from the academy any easier: after being dropped, Bent had no desire to jump back into the beautiful game – at least, not immediately.
I was a bit distraught for a while, honestly. I think I had feeling it was coming, and I didn’t know it at the time, but obviously I was late a developer. There were other kids that were already 5’10 up to six feet, they were taller, bigger, and more filled out, so I kind of felt like it was coming up. After that, I just took some time out from playing. I didn’t want to do anything. I remember saying to my dad that I didn’t want to play again.Cory Bent
Despite his words, Bent soon found himself hungry to return, knowing that if he spent too much time outside of the game, his chances of pursuing a sporting career would drop significantly: he’d seen many talented players take a ‘small break’ and never step back into the world of organized football again. He dipped his toe into Sunday League action, rediscovering his love for a game which would, many years later, land him his first professional contract with the Halifax Wanderers.
I think that’s one of the most important things for any athlete, to make sure that you’re still enjoying it. It’s a long road, and it can get tiresome and frustrating, so you need to remember to have fun with it where it’s possible, that’s what got me to this point now.Cory Bent
A step up to a semi-professional side came in the form of AFC Fylde, where he got a chance with the reserve team and rose through the ranks. Scouts had approached him when he was sixteen and broached the subject of going to America, but at that point it was too early for him. When he was 18, however, he was enjoying his semi-pro football and felt the time was right to pursue his dreams overseas.
A firm offer for a four-year scholarship came from Cape Breton Capers head coach Deano Morley. When the two first talked, Bent walked away with the impression that Cape Breton ticked all the boxes: it was a smaller locale where he could focus on his marketing studies, it had a high presence of international students, and the Capers were a university team challenging for silverware. Despite offers from the US, Bent was sold on Nova Scotia.
The English winger arrived to Canada without knowing too much about the country, but found the east coast to be welcoming place with a friendly community. On the pitch, he was surprised at the standard of play that unfolded: much like Samuel Piette said about the CPL, the quality was high.
When school wasn’t in season, Bent knew that he couldn’t simply fly home and be able to join a league for the summer months, so he found a way to clock in competitive game time during the shorter Canadian summer season. The Capers had a direct connection with then-PDL side Victoria Highlanders, and Bent went with a few players to test his mettle at that level back in 2018.
[Highlanders Head Coach] Thomas Niendorf came and took a couple of us. If he didn’t take 2-3 of us, I probably wouldn’t have gone with the rest of them, but it was a good opportunity to get out, see the west coast, and play football over the season. We settled really nice. Victoria is a beautiful place as well. The season didn’t go as planned, but I’d say I’m grateful for the experience anyway. I was most excited about the experience of playing somewhere else, somewhere nice, playing with friends and getting to it again instead of going home and training on my own.Cory Bent
Bent was asked to play with a much more defensive mindset at the Highlanders, stating that he found himself in a role that was the complete opposite of when Capers gaffer Deano Morley had him do in terms of position and responsibilities. While his summer season didn’t unfold like he had wanted, Bent left the Highlanders with more versatility in his back pocket.
Thomas asked me to do something different, which is fine. I think that was the first time I’ve learned that other cultures might see me in a different light than other cultures, and that’s probably going to happen in football all the time. I think it was a great experience for me, learning new responsibilities. It’s something I’ll probably have to do in the future too, so I’m happy it happened there. It was a little rough getting to understand it, but in the end I think I’ve finally done it, and now I won’t have to go through that rough patch because I’ve already done it. It was tough at first, but the experience has gotten me further and will make it easier in the future for me.Cory Bent
With his first PDL season under his belt and his Capers career taking off, Bent was an outside bet during the first-ever CPL-U SPORTS Draft in 2018. While the youngster was hopeful to be included in it, he didn’t find himself on the selections list back in November 2018. He used the snub as motivation to keep working hard and come back stronger for the next year.
I wouldn’t say I thought I was a surefire pick or anything, but I thought I had a chance to maybe get drafted by someone. It didn’t happen, and that was okay. I had a really good summer after that, and I feel probably more prepared to come into the league now than I did had I actually got drafted in 2018. It was hard at first, and then it really gave me the motivation to turn it around and come back fighting this year. I’m grateful, not that I didn’t get picked, but I’m grateful for the way it happened and how it panned out in the end.Cory Bent
The next summer, Bent – like several other current Canadian Premier League players – plied his trade for the Calgary Foothills in the USL2. By this point, the CPL was in the midst of its first season. With Cavalry FC being coached by former Foothills boss Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and featuring a roster containing many former Foothills athletes, the CPL side enjoys a close relationship with the Foothills. This professional connection was a big draw for Bent.
I think one of the main things that was offered to me is that I’d be close to the CPL team in terms of training schedule and playing-wise, training with them occasionally, which is mainly why I wanted to go there. The reason I feel so prepared to go in now is that I’ve been around one of the best teams that were in the CPL last year, in my opinion. They probably should’ve won everything with the two seasons that they had. We trained alongside them, we did the exact same things as the CPL guys, which is why players like Aribim Pepple were able to step right up. I think they run a system quite similar to the ones in the UK, with the academy life, and all the ages underneath, coaching and stuff. I was really looking forward to getting into a really well-run system, and it was certainly that, for sure.
Bent had a good summer with the Foothills, and it was quickly followed by his fourth year with a Capers side which saw him cement himself as one of the squad’s headlining players. By the time the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft arrived, Bent had scored 24 goals during his time with the Capers, earning three Atlantic University Conference First-Team All-Star selections and two First-Team All-Canadian selections. The capers had won nationals back in 2017, with Bent being named the U SPORTS Championship MVP.
Looking back at his four years with the side, Bent says it was no surprise that four different Capers players were selected in the latest CPL-U SPORTS Draft.
I think you can see our culture on the pitch. It’s one of the main things. We’re such a tight-knit group off-the-field too. I think there’s only one or two players at Cape Breton who lived off-campus, the rest of us were all within like twenty meters walking distance in the same apartment building. We spent a lot of time together, we take care of eachother on the pitch, playing to eachother’s strengths and covering eachother’s weaknesses. We really found what it means to be a team in the right moment. You can see the DNA of the players and the coaches and what they’ve instilled. Ever since I got there, that’s how it’s always been. We hold eachother accountable. I think one of the things that kept catching coaches eyes is that a lot of our players have already been in professional environments. You can see that they can move on to another professional environment. You get that experience and carry it with you.Cory Bent
Following a 2019 nationals run that saw the side pick up bronze courtesy of a match-winning penalty from Bent, the 2019 draft saw the youngster arrive as a much more confident player: after his summer with the Foothills and putting in another good season with the Capers, he felt he had earned the nod. He didn’t know where he would go, but he was confident in his ability to jump up to the Canadian Premier League level. While Halifax seemed an obvious link, Bent says he didn’t have any indications that the Wanderers would use the first pick of the draft on him.
There wasn’t too much word before. There’s always rumblings, this might happen, that might happen, but we’re pretty much still in game mode up until the draft really. There’s only one day between the end of nationals and the draft. I didn’t have too much time to think about it, I was mainly concentrating on the game, and it was the last time I played for the Capers so I wanted to enjoy it with my teammates after that, then we flew home and before I knew it, it was the draft and I was selected number one in the league. I was really happy about it. It all happened quickly, but I’ve had a lot of time now to appreciate it and know that there’s a lot of work.Cory Bent
Of course, nothing is set in stone when one gets selected in the draft: it’s merely an invitation to trial with a CPL side, without any formal contract offer or MLS-style acquisition of player rights to barter. Last year this led to the likes of Easton Ongaro being picked by Cavalry FC, signing on with the Eddies, and then becoming a revelation. For Bent, the process was more straightforward: he trailed with the Wanderers, and he found himself such a good fit that he signed a professional contract as opposed to a developmental one.
One of the great things about this team is that everyone’s around the same age. There isn’t too much of an age gap. You relate to eachother quite heavily, it was really nice. Everyone is treated equal and it made me a lot more comfortable coming into a trial period. Because of that situation, you’re on trial and you know that you’re on somewhat borrowed time, but even the faculty, the staff, the coaches, physios, everyone made me feel like I was already a part of the team, and that made it really easy for me to just go out and show what I’m capable of.Cory Bent
Before preseason was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hart had already taken Bent aside and said that he liked what the youngster showed, and let him know that the club was hoping to make a contract which would work for everyone. It wasn’t certain at that point, said Bent, but both parties were always working to making things official. Last week, the moment finally came.
Bent’s journey to professional football has been a long one: having gone through the English academy system and plied his trade at the amateur and semi-professional levels overseas, he then jumped to U SPORTS action in Canada and spent two different summer seasons playing at progressively higher domestic levels outside of university. Now, he’s ready to test himself in the country’s only domestic professional league.
After the Wanderers finished dead last in the inaugural campaign, Hart instigated a large-scale squad rebuild which now sees an exciting roster ready to make Wanderers Grounds a fortress: the club brought in domestic talent like Louis Beland-Goyette, Alessandro Riggi, and Daniel Kinumbe, with international arrivals like Alex Marshall, Jems Geffrard, and Brazilians Joao Morelli and Eriks Santos turning heads, too. On paper, the squad looks good. Bent thinks making playoffs is an attainable goal for the club’s second-ever season.
I think I’m just hoping to get a good amount of game time so I can learn from experience and learn from my teammates. In terms of team goals, I think we can make it to the playoffs and challenge. I think that’s what everyone wants to do, ultimately. For myself, I just want to get out there and have the opportunity. It’s my job now, but that doesn’t mean I will stop having fun with the game. I’m looking forward to getting out there, enjoying myself, and learning at the same time.Cory Bent
Now biding his time waiting for the season to start, Bent once again finds himself living alongside his longtime Cape Breton roommate, Peter Schaale. A fan-favourite himself, Schaale arrived through the 2018 CPL-U SPORTS Draft and is now rostered as an international player (so is Bent, who signed a pro contract). The 22-year-old is happy to have such a familiar face to show him the ropes of professional action.
It gives me someone to be around, to show me everything, so I feel like I’ve been here a little bit longer and he’s always happy to help in any situation, you know? He’s been a real good friend of mine for years. He’s made it really easy for me, alongside everybody else in the team, to settle in.Cory Bent
While only time will tell how his first season of professional action unfolds – especially given the modified season format that may occur due to the pandemic – Bent is just looking forward to playing a direct game on the pitch and proving himself. He likes to beat players and be exciting, though he refrains from calling himself a flashy player: so long as he can assist or score, he says it doesn’t matter how he gets there.
Like many new additions to Hart’s roster, Bent also brings in a good amount of versatility: he can play on either side of the wing, and his time at the Capers proved he could also be slotted in up top whenever needed. Last year the club’s roster struggled with injuries in the midst of a tough travel schedule, so this kind of versatility will give Hart options in the event that his number of match-ready players undergoes a similar drop.
The English forward is excited to test his mettle this year, saying he’s happy to be around players who have the same goals as him. In a more long-term scale, he’d like play in MLS or make a return to Europe at the professional level, but he says he doesn’t plan far ahead (“I can just about tell you what I’m doing tomorrow”, he jests). For the time being he wants to learn from other professionals and elevate his game with the Halifax Wanderers.
It’s been a longer road for Bent’s arrival to professional soccer. His next journey looks even longer yet.