During the off-season I've been profiling some of HFX Wanderers' new signings with interviews and articles. Today is the turn of Louis Beland-Goyette who was kind enough to give 40 minutes of his time for a phone call yesterday. If you haven't already done so, you can find the earlier features on Omar Kreim and Alessandro Riggi by clicking on their names.
Thanks for taking the time to take this call, Louis. First up, I’d like to briefly touch on your introduction to the game as a youngster in Canada. Do you remember how you got started?
Thanks, happy to do it!
Well, I started playing when I was 4. Obviously living in Canada I pretty much grew up playing soccer in the summer and hockey during the winter, and I did that until I was around 12 – 14 years old. But it got too intense playing both, and my love for soccer was much bigger than hockey, so I decided to choose that as the sport I’d play. I think it was the right choice.
Something I always wonder about professional sportsman is how early you realize you’re more talented than your peers. Was there an obvious difference between yourself and the other kids you were playing with?
For me, the difference growing up - and even my parents would say this about me - was that I was very passionate about soccer compared to the other kids. They’d come to have fun but I was there to win.
Even after training I’d go back home and continue practicing in my backyard, or I’d watch any soccer I could find… Spanish, English, anything. So yeah, I think the main difference between me and the other kids when I was young was the passion I had for the game.
Did you have a favourite team or player growing up?
I used to watch a lot of Chelsea. I was a big Didier Drogba fan and luckily for me he ended up being my teammate for a bit at Montreal Impact. It’s kind of weird because we’re really not similar players but he just has that swagger that I love.
Myself and all my childhood friends would always imitate him. We’d try to take shots in that weird way he sometimes did, like with his ankle. Funnily enough he tried to teach some of us younger guys at Montreal how to shoot like that when we ended up being at the same club. It’s a technique he’s mastered.
In 2011 you joined the Montreal Impact academy. How did that opportunity come about and what did you learn in the years you spent there?
It came out of nowhere! My dad saw an advert in the newspaper about Montreal creating an academy. Until that point I never thought I could be a professional, it just never even crossed my mind that being in Quebec I could be a professional and make a life out of it.
So when we saw that advert in a newspaper I registered for a trial and everything just started from there.
But to come to the second question, I learned everything there. Before I’d had good coaches but the importance was never on the tactical or technical aspects. Then, at the academy it was all different. During the first years there it was never about the result. Never, ever. It was always about how we played, how tactical we were, how technical we were.
Every tactical or technical idea I have now I learned from that academy.
You soon made the jump to the Montreal Impact first-team and started to make appearances in the MLS. How did you feel to suddenly be playing at that level?
There was a big jump for sure. Before I got the call up I was playing in the USSDA and playing against kids my age. I was very comfortable at this level. But then I got the call at 17 or 18 years old about joining the Montreal Impact first team and all of a sudden I was in a locker room among men who needed to feed their families and playing against men in the same situation. It’s a very professional environment.
Professional soccer is extremely result-focused and you have pressure from everybody. The fans, the club, the president… so that’s when I really realized it was a big step up. But then the USL came to Montreal and I spent the next two years playing there.
I think USL is a league that’s very comparable to MLS, which is a very high level, so after two years when I got another chance with Montreal Impact and the MLS, I was much more comfortable in that professional environment.
As a player who has experienced both, I’m interested to know how you view the difference in quality between the USL and CanPL?
Well I think it’s difficult to tell because the CanPL has only been going for a year. I will say that the USL was a very good level for me though. I enjoyed myself a lot. There were big challenges every year, there were amazing players… Tyler Adams was in the league at the time. Aaron Long and Marc-Anthony Kaye, too. It was very competitive and a big challenge. It was a fun league to be in.
You joined Valour for the inaugural CanPL season. Recently there has been a lot of speculation regarding the environment behind the scenes at the club with certain sources suggesting there were big problems last season. Is this something you experienced in Winnipeg?
No, I wouldn’t say problems. I think people are saying that because certain players have left, but I think that’s normal in soccer for every club.
The only thing I would say from my time there is that it’s very difficult when you have players who haven’t experienced a professional environment before. It’s like what I was saying earlier about going into locker rooms full of men playing for their jobs, players dying on the field just to get a win… I feel like at Valour because we had a lot of inexperienced, first year professionals – which is okay because you have to start somewhere – but it created an environment that wasn’t professional enough. And I’m not saying it was the club’s fault, it was just the way it was. And it wasn’t just a Valour problem, by the way, because it was the same for a lot of clubs in the CanPL
For me personally, I had to adjust to this environment and I think it was a big learning experience. Now I know what it’s like to be in a less experienced team, so the next time I’m in that position I’ll be ready.
It was announced earlier this month that you’d joined HFX Wanderers. How did the move come about? Was it a tough decision to make?
If I looked at the end of the season from a personal perspective, I was very happy. I’d had a good season, and having a good season is important when you’re a player who is a free agent. So I had offers on the table.
After that it was time to make the decision of where to go. Halifax came in and expressed their interest in me pretty early, so I thought to myself that if I was going to stay in the CanPL it would be with Halifax because it’s a project I believe in. I then had some good conversations with the coach, Stephen Hart.
Obviously I played there last year, too, and saw how good the fans are in the stadium and also the environment around the club, so in the end it was an easy decision. And obviously by showing an early interest in me it was clear they wanted me. So discussions went very well and I’m delighted we made it happen. Let’s hope we can create something good this season.
You mentioned the fans there, and that’s something I wanted to touch on. I often wonder if we, as fans, overstate our importance when it comes to influencing players who are considering whether or not to move to a club. Is that the case or do the fans really impact the attractiveness of a club?
Honestly, I think it plays a huge role. A player is lying if he says it doesn’t affect them. When you’re a professional you’re always looking for that adrenaline rush and those experiences. You want to live these moments fully. So it definitely factors in the decision of where you want to play.
The best way I can describe it is when you play for a team and go away to play a club with a lot of fans, you get excited. You’re happy, you’ve got the adrenaline…it’s all part of the experience that you want as player. So when you’re making the decision of where to play you do look at the stadium and the fan base. For me, the Wanderers fans made me really interested in the project. It makes me proud that I’ll get to represent them next season.
You’ll be coached by Stephen Hart next season. Is he someone you’ve worked with in the past during time in the national team youth set-up?
No, I think he was with the age group younger than me so I had Rob Gale. I remember hearing his name because obviously when you’re in the system you know the coaches, but I’ve never been coached by him.
I think if you asked most fans to predict the starting lineup next season, the majority would have you and Andre Rampersad as the first-choice midfield pairing. Do you have any particular memories of being on the opposite side to him during matches last season?
Yeah of course! I mean the league is pretty small so most of the players know each other and talk a lot. Even if there are rivalries we’re still friendly off the field.
When I knew there was interest from Halifax I started to look at their squad, especially the midfield. And actually when I was looking at moving, Rampersad still hadn’t re-signed but I was hoping he would.
When I play for teams I really try to make a strong bond between the midfielders because I think it’s so important to have good connections. If I look at his qualities from last year, I think we’re going to complement each other very well. He runs a lot, he fights, he’s good technically… I think they’re all qualities that are really interesting to me. I love playing with a player like that.
I remember playing against him last year and knowing it was going to be a big fight. So now he’s with me on my side, I think it’s going to be really tough for opposition midfielders.
I’d like to touch on the kind of player you are stylistically. There’s a touch of Sergio Busequets in there with how you control the game from the base of midfield. Setting the tempo, managing the game… is he a player you identify with?
Thank you, because I love this player. When I was at Impact academy, me and the other players would constantly watch tapes of him. Even at school, you know, we would watch tapes of him instead of listening to the teacher. He’s very clean on the ball and he constructs nearly everything from the midfield. I would always watch him receiving the ball under pressure to see how he angles and uses his body to get out of the situation. He’s just phenomenal. He’s someone I certainly look up to in my position.
Players who play in our position are never really in the spotlight so people don’t really recognize us. One of the reasons for this is we don’t really score from this position…
Well you say that, but I remember a certain 20-yard screamer versus Edmonton...
Ah well I try! That’s the thing, I don’t score often, but the goals I have scored in my career are usually out of nowhere and are nice goals. Hopefully I can score some uglier ones more often.
You’re a player who likes to see a lot of the ball and you have a really nice variation in what you do in possession. Is this balance between going short and long something you work on?
I’ve always tried to have variation in my passing because it’s so much harder for the opposition if you’re not predictable. I’m always thinking ‘Ok - short, short, now go long..’ and that’s something I learned tactically in Montreal.
You know if you play short, short, short with triangles that you’re going to attract the press so then you can look for a winger or attacker out wide... last year I had an amazing connection with Bustos and Petrasso who were often on the wing. Tactically they knew where I could put the ball so, for example, sometimes Petrasso would make a run and I’d play it in space for him to stretch the game. I do like short passes too, but the variation is important to switch things up.
Stephen Hart has mentioned that he sees you as a leader and someone he expects to be a big presence in the dressing room next season. How do you approach this responsibility?
I don’t force it because if it doesn’t come naturally then people in the locker room will realize it. I’ve had captains like that in the past. Sometimes the leaders aren’t necessarily the captain.
It’s important that next year in the Wanderers locker room whoever wants to talk and whoever wants to put an opinion out there should. It’s better to all be on the same page.
I think maybe that’s what I’m good at - I don’t try to force it too much I just try to use my experience and be open to people. I try to have everybody on the same page: on the field, off the field, tactically technically… all on the same page. So yeah, mentally at Wanderers we have to be on the same page next season. We’re not in this league as tourists that make the same mistakes as last year.
I’m not the type to yell at somebody or criticize somebody. I’m a very calm guy but when it’s time to say something I’ll say it.
I was captain at Valour and FC Montreal and I’m happy that this shows coaches respected my leadership style because it’s not always about talking. Sometimes it’s about putting it all out there, working hard, and leading with your actions. That’s my type of leadership.
What can you say about Alessandro Riggi? He was your teammate at FC Montreal and now, years later, you’ll be lining up alongside each other once again.
With Riggi we understand each other off the field so well because we were very close at FC Montreal. In terms of his style, I mean as fans I’d be very, very excited because he’s a very exciting player. Just watch his highlights. He’s the type of player that I respect and love because he works so hard and then alongside that you give him the ball and you never know what’s going to happen. So many times at FC Montreal the ball would come to him, he’d be one on one with a defender and next thing you know he’s taken a shot and curled one into the top corner.
When I spoke to Alessandro Riggi a few weeks ago, he mentioned how focused he was on a potential Canadian Championship match-up verses Montreal Impact – the club whose academy you both played in. Now obviously there’s a tricky tie against Blainville to negotiate first, but is the chance to play against Impact something you think about?
It’s difficult to talk about that because as we saw last year anything can happen in the Canadian Championship. If we were to make it through then it’d be special for me, but I’d still play it like any other game.
Of course I do have things to prove there though. But Blainville comes first and we have to respect them.
Last question: you’ll be calling Halifax home in the next few months. Is it a city you know a lot about?
Well, I see Chakib (Hocine) a lot because we train in the same group here in Montreal and he always says very good stuff about the city and the club. I don’t know too much about the city but from being there last year and speaking to the players on the team, it’s been nothing but positive.
I also spoke to Zach (Sukunda) and he had nothing but great words about to say about Halifax, so yeah I’m very excited. People I know from Montreal who’ve been to Halifax can’t believe I’m going there to live. They’re very happy for me. People from Quebec go on vacation to Halifax, so it looks like a very nice place. I can’t wait to get started.
Gary is an Arsenal supporting, Halifax-based Brit who moved to Canada in 2016 unaware that he was about to fall in love with another football team. He can be found on on Twitter in the following places: @FromAwaysHFX and @GaryG86 or on Instagram at fromawayshfx.