You were born and raised here in Gatineau. When did you start playing soccer?
I was 6 years old when I was enrolled into a league in Aylmer. Actually, I was enrolled into figure skating at first, to play hockey, to get better at skating and I didn’t like it at all! At first, the parents could go on the ice and get the kids that weren’t behaving or weren’t doing the exercises. As soon as they stopped allowing the parents to go get the children, I just sat in the corner for an hour and a half and didn’t move…so my dad removed me from that! And I started playing soccer. We played at my cottage. We made goal posts with snow and that’s how I got really into it. My dad would always dribble by me and score. I was 5 at the time so I didn’t really understand what he was doing but once I started catching on I really liked it and I played everyday at school afterwards. And then I got enrolled in soccer after this.
Then you started playing youth soccer at FC Outaouais. What was the biggest thing you learned from your youth career and what inspired you to continue?
Yeah, at 11 years old, I moved from Aylmer. I had a coach back then named Benoit Lafond who always put me with older players and pushed me to go try for FC Outaouais so that’s what I did and I spent 5 years there. And I learned a lot from the Sport-Études (CNHP) program, which I did in Hull. Just playing soccer everyday and playing against older guys as well, guys that I knew a bit about who played for FC Outaouais as well. My generation we had a good group so fortunately for me, it helped me develop faster.
What was the point that you thought it might be worth it to pursue soccer professionally?
When I went for the provincial teams I was 13 they picked from sections régionales or Jeux de Quebec, so I got invited to a camp and later on I got invited to the provincial Sport-Études. So right there I knew that if I wanted to be a professional one day, that was the right way to go. So I had to leave my parents at the age of 14 and move to Laval.
That must have been a big adjustment.
Yeah, it was. At first I was really excited because you know, you’re not going to live with your parents anymore! It’s a new experience all about soccer. But it was hard. I remember after the winter break when I came back home I didn’t want to leave. It was the first time I had spent a lot of time with my friends from home and going back was hard. We had long days. We would start school at 7:45am and I’d get back home around 6:00 at night …very long days…so it’s hard, you have to be really motivated.
So then from there you moved to Trois Riviere to the Montreal Impact youth team the Trois Riviere Atack.
Yeah, so in 2009 Trios Riviere it was decided to make it more of an academy with Montreal so they picked into the CNHP players and I got lucky enough to make the team that year.
And you were actually coached by former Ottawa Fury coach Marc Dos Santos around this time as well.
Yeah, not really at Trios Riviere but he coached me at CNHP for one year when I was 16. I liked him a lot. He’s very good in terms of player relations. He’s very philosophical. And he gets players and he knows how they think. He won’t act the same way with every player so depending on how you are he’ll act differently. That’s what I liked about him.
Was he part of a connection that got you onto the Atack?
No, not really. When they came to pick players from the CNHP, they switched the coach and I think Marc was with the first team at that time. The new coach’s name was Philippe Eullaffroy, who is still coaching FC Montreal. He’s the one who took everything over. He was at McGill before. And again I knew that if I wanted to be a professional that was the way to go especially in Quebec. That was pretty much the only option I had, I’d have a better chance of becoming pro.
Were you still in school at that point?
I was. I was in CEGEP in accounting. I didn’t finish though. I didn’t like it. As soon as I went pro…I had 7 courses left to do but with soccer and everything it became so hard because I would leave for weeks at a time and come back and we’d have an exam and I didn’t see anything that was on the exam so I quit that. And I realized along the way that I didn’t really like it so I’ll return to something else. At least I realized it sooner rather than later!
When you were on the Atack, they had a really good year in 2009.
Yeah, we won! To be honest I think we didn’t play great that year but we found a way to win. We had a good mix of young guys and older experienced guys so that helped us a lot. And then the next year, pretty much all of the older guys left and it was a pretty bad year. We didn’t even make the playoffs that year. But in terms of long term it helped us a lot because the next year in 2011 we were good and 2012 we went to the final. So I think that year that we didn’t do well we learned a lot. When you don’t win, you learn.
I want to ask you about the game the Atack played against Toronto Croatia in 2009, which they had fixed. Playing in that game at the time, were you aware that something strange was going on?
No, we had no idea. I found out the same time as everyone else when the reports came out. I don’t recall the game in particular but I know that they were a good team so looking back on it now, when we won, I think it was 4-1, maybe it’s kind of shady. But even in the finals, against Serbian White Eagles, they had a PK and the guy roofed it 10 yards over the bar. I don’t know. It’s kind of a grey area. But we had no involvement whatsoever and we had no idea it was going on. You kind of look back and think about it and it’s like “yeah maybe there was something about it.”
How did these years with the Academy system prepare you for MLS?
Well, to be honest it doesn’t really prepare you for MLS, it just prepares you to be a better player. At the time, the Impact weren’t in the MLS, we didn’t even know what was going on. It was announced in 2011 that they would go to MLS but I was the second one to graduate from the Academy to the MLS. And we were always told by the Academy that we were experiments. They didn’t know what to expect, how to form us, how to train us for the next step. So with us knowing what we did well, and our mistakes, they could pass it on to generations that are coming and hopefully get a player that will play there for his whole career. That would be nice.
And so graduating from the Academy to the First Team, what was that feeling like signing your first pro contract?
I was very excited! You don’t really realize it at the time. But you put in so much work and effort into becoming a professional soccer player and when it happens it doesn’t really strike you until a few days later I guess, or until your first game. There’s a packed crowd just yelling at you and they’re cheering you on…or yelling insults at you! That’s when you realize that you’ve made it to the big leagues and it’s a great feeling!
What was your experience like overall at the Impact in MLS?
It was good! Unfortunately it didn’t end well, I got waived, but I take a lot of positives from it. I had a great time in Montreal; I love the city. I have friends there that play with the team in the city of Montreal. My girlfriend’s actually in Montreal so I try to go there every two weeks to see my girlfriend, see my friends. But, yeah, it was a great experience.
What are the memories that stand out to you?
My first game was pretty special. My first goal as well. It was an important goal too; it helped us get a point to clench for the playoffs further on. It was a very important point. And my last goal that I scored this year. At the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 I hadn’t played very much, so it was hard and to get that goal was very rewarding and it was headed from 30 yards out so it was a great feeling, I blacked out actually, I don’t remember anything but my friends and family were there so it was great!
And of course there was the run in the CONCACAF Champions League. What was your experience with that?
Yeah, it’s very different. It’s kind of similar to what you can experience with the National Team. Going to play in the Azteca, going to play in Costa Rica where fans were throwing Coke, pennies, a bunch of stuff, yelling a bunch of stuff, it’s kind of scary at the time but when you look back at it again, it’s just a great experience to live the passion that they have over there and to experience it was pretty cool. And to get to the final too…it was packed and crazy! I was on the bench and I couldn’t even talk, I had to yell to my teammate right beside me because I couldn’t hear anything! Unfortunately we didn’t win, but it was a great experience!
Last year you made your debut with the Canadian National Team. A lot of the guys start in the youth systems and it seems like you were just picked! How did that happen for you?
Yeah, I had a decent end of the year in 2014, I scored a couple of goals, was playing a lot more regularly than the beginning of the year. At the time Benito Floro was trying a lot of new players. He was trying to get them through the system and try to make them learn the tactics with the National Team. So I got a chance to get called up at the end of 2014 and again at the next camp in 2015. Playing with the National Team is great. To represent your country is the best feeling in the world because when you’re a player you can change clubs but you can’t change countries so that’s what’s special about it.
What was the biggest thing that you came away with from those experiences?
Well Benito had a different mentality than in North America, kind of old school, but players really bought into the system. Unfortunately we didn’t qualify for the Hex but I think we had decent results and the program has progressed even if there’s been a lot of criticism. But at the end if there’s a lot of criticism it’s because people are getting more into it than they were four years ago. I think Benito set a good standard and a good foundation for the years to come so hopefully the next qualifiers we can make the Hex.
Benito was coach for 3 or 4 years, and when I think about everything, it seems that it’s not enough time to change a whole program.
Yeah, and we have 10 day camps, sometimes you have 2 games in there so you have 2 or 3 days of training, decent training, and then you’re into pre-game, post-game. So it’s hard to store all that. And I know it’s the same for every [national] team. But I wouldn’t have minded if Benito would have stayed, to be honest. But the CSA felt that we needed to go in a different way and that’s fine.
Unfortunately, this year you were waived, suddenly it seemed, from the Impact and went to FC Montreal this year.
Yeah, kind of out of the blue but at the same time I keep telling media this, they asked me how I reacted when I was waived, and I always said I wasn’t surprised and that’s the problem. It came out of the blue but I wasn’t surprised. Players that are from there, homegrown players, never had the trust that foreign players have. I don’t know if it’s because when you see a player everyday versus when you see a player elsewhere. I had this conversation with one of my teammates regarding Laurent Ciman, who won Defender of the Year last year and he was like, “yeah, but he makes a lot of mistakes on defense” And I was like, “yeah, you see those because you see him everyday.” But look at someone who plays in Toronto for example, who sees Laurent from time to time, and he’s making great tackles. He looks like the best player in the league, the best defender in the league, and I think he is. So maybe that’s the thing for us when they see us everyday versus when a guy comes from Argentina where they haven’t seen a whole lot of him, just highlights, it’s easier to choose him instead of us. So I think that’s a big problem. It’s a problem in Montreal and they’ll have to correct it. There’s not a player that’s been from the Academy that has had a good chance of being a starter. It has to change if you want to develop your players and show the players that are coming through the system that they can have a great career there in Montreal, with Toronto, or with any of the Canadian teams. You have to put faith into those players. I was in Montreal for four years, I saw maybe 4 or 5 left backs come and go. I was still there and I never really got a chance.
Do you think that has something to do with the way MLS treats Canadian players?
A Canadian, if he doesn’t get picked by Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto is a foreigner everywhere else. It’s hard for Canadian players to make it through MLS if it’s not through those three teams. But the CSA are working hard and have been working hard for the past years to get that rule out. They’ve been putting pressure especially this year because it’s so important. You can’t count as a foreigner in your own league, a league that’s in part of your country. MLS has to take responsibility for the progression of Canadian soccer as well, not just US soccer. So it’s on their part to meet us halfway.
What led to your decision to come back here and play for the Fury?
After I got waived, I let my agent deal with all that stuff. I just wanted to take time for myself and not think about soccer too much. When I got back, he told me Ottawa was interested. I knew Julian de Guzman so I talked to him a bit and I talked to Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé who was here last year on loan, and they said good things about the team and about the facilities. And my family’s from here so that helped my decision a lot. And it was good for a transition because I didn’t want to commit to anything for the next 3 or 4 years just out of the blue without really experiencing it. So signing with Ottawa was a good way to calm things down and transition to whatever I’ll do after that.
And you’re back playing in your hometown. Can you describe the significance that has for you?
It’s big. I feel like I have a responsibility to make the sport grow here, bring people from Quebec to the Ottawa Fury games and get them attached to the Fury. Every person I’ve talked to, ex-player I’ve played with, or a friend, or a family, every time, they tell me “now I have an excuse to come watch a Fury game.” So if I can be the excuse to get them to our stadium, then cool!
What differences have you seen between the leagues in North America?
I think in the NASL there’s better individual players than USL. But I’d say between the NASL and the MSL it’s decision making and tactical awareness are the two biggest things because having seen both there’s plenty of players on Ottawa that are good enough to go to MLS but if you’re chasing the ball for two minutes when they get it, with they lob it forward or keep try to keep it and make a play. That’s the thing that’s been missing. It’s a big difference; it makes a big difference. So technical awareness and decision making. Apart from that, individual players are as good as MLS.
There have been very strong rumours about a Canadian League.
It’s important. So again, if MLS doesn’t oblige to that rule of foreign players, even if they do, I mean it’s important to have a league in Canada. Cause we hear a lot about Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, but there’s a lot of other regions where we could develop players and bring in that league and try to get teams in other regions out East for example, would be great for Canadian soccer. Apart from moving here or to Toronto or Montreal there isn’t really a way to make it to a professional level when you’re from over there. So it’s important for growth in Canada for sure.
How would you feel about playing in that league?
It all depends, I mean, it’ll start from scratch so I don’t know what the level’s going to look like, attendance, but for sure after a few years if it’s good, I’ll come for sure.
Do you have any goals for yourself for the future?
Um, not really. Well, I do but I want to play. I just want to play. And that’s not like before. I mean in Montreal, I didn’t play a lot, if I played it was usually off the bench and I was fine with my role back then, or I thought I was. But now that I’ve seen a lot of minutes here in Ottawa, I just want to play. So wherever I end up, I want to play.