Aiden Rushenas has always wanted to go professional in soccer. Now an HFX Wanderers draft pick, he has proved himself to those who doubted him.
“Certain coaches would tell me ‘You don’t have what it takes to make it.’ But these things, I didn’t pay attention to them. I knew what I could do,” said Rushenas.
The goalkeeper for the Dalhousie University Tigers’ men’s soccer team over the past two seasons, Rushenas was selected 10th overall in the second round of the Canadian Premier League U SPORTS Draft by the Wanderers in December. The league is considered the highest level of Canadian men’s soccer.
Only 16 players across U SPORTS men’s soccer, a competition featuring dozens of teams, earn the privilege to be selected.
“Being able to have this opportunity is something that I’m proud of and I take great joy, and I’m super excited to get started and show what I can do in a pro environment,” said Rushenas.
The Dal keeper led Atlantic University Sport (AUS) in saves in the 2021 season, placing third in that category this past season. The second-year Tiger also was a part of the Wanderers’ U23 squad last summer.
He was briefly a member of the main HFX squad last summer. He signed a short-term contract for an Aug. 1 match, where he served as an extra.
“I remember one of the first few times Aiden joined us and around our training sessions,” said Matt Fegan, HFX Wanderers sporting director. “He took me aside and I’m not even the coach, I’m the general manager, and said how much he was enjoying being in this group and how badly he wanted to pursue these opportunities.
“I think when you show that kind of desire, those things tend to come back around in good ways for you with how it can lead to further opportunities.”
The Wanderers are in a bit of a culture shift, said Fegan. He said Rushenas is one part of the team’s efforts to reinforce its roster with Atlantic Canadian talent. Rushenas, from Toronto, fits the mould for a player who has moved to Atlantic Canada and thrived playing on Canada’s east coast.
The next level
Fegan said he thinks Rushenas has what it takes to go a long way in professional soccer.
“I think he will admit he still has a lot of development to do ahead of him,” said Fegan. “And there’s no better person in Canada to learn that under somebody who’s played for Trinidad 82 times under our goalkeeper coach [Jan-Michael Williams].”
Last summer, during Rushenas’s time with the U23 Wanderers squad, the keeper worked with Wanderers goalkeeping coach Williams, who made 80 appearances for the Trinidad and Tobago national team in his career.
Williams said some of Rushenas’s performances in practice last year were fantastic, as he made some “ridiculous” saves. There is nothing stopping Rushenas from reaching the top level of top clubs and the Canadian national team, said Williams.
He recalls HFX captain Andre Rampersad approaching Rushenas after a training session to congratulate him on his strong play.
“After I saw that, I went to [Rushenas] after and I was like, ‘How does that make you feel?’ And he said, ‘That makes me feel really good,’ because he had a fantastic session,” said Williams.
Equally, the young keeper values the relationship he’s quickly developed with his Wanderers goalkeeping coach.
“I just can’t wait to get back into it and learn even more and grow even more with him as my goalkeeper coach,” he said.
Looking to grow as a keeper playing at a higher level with the Wanderers, the speed and pace of the professional level are something Rushenas said he has always wanted.
“If you’re stuck playing at a certain level, then you only grow so much,” he said. “But when you’re playing with the best and you really got to minimize your mistakes and be 100 per cent decisive in everything you do.”Aiden Rushenas has always wanted to go professional in soccer. Now an HFX Wanderers draft pick, he has proved himself to those who doubted him wrong.
Cover: Trevor MacMillan