Despite the headlines, 2016 was an impressive year for Québécois players. Break-out performances from neophytes and thrilling acts from established veterans encapsulated a truly astounding 2016 season for graduates of the academy. Below, Mount Royal Soccer examines some of the accomplishments that Québec players achieved over the last 11 months.
In 2015, le capitaine started only 6 games for l’Impact de Montréal, and was rumoured to be in a state of disagreement with head coach Frank Klopas. After a stunning performance in the 2015 MLS Post-Season, Bernier has once again found his form in the middle of the pitch, starting in 13 regular season games in 2016, and playing in 20. He has achieved this while competing for a place in the starting XI against both Marco Donadel and Hernan Bernardello, both experienced players with considerable skill and drive. His presence on the pitch has been a blessing for the Impact, and his ability to distribute a pass from the lower midfield to heavyweights further up the pitch has been instrumental in many Impact victories. Despite only registering a single assist in 2016, this season may well go down in Impact history as the Brossard native’s best performance in Impact blue. Oh, and he became the first Impact player to ring the North-Star Bell at Stade Saputo.
Maxim Tissot had a rough start to the 2016 season. Early in the season, the Impact parted ways with the academy graduate to free up roster space. Tissot found his way back to Outaouais after barely two weeks off, settling in with le Fury d’Ottawa across the river in the Canadian Capital. Since joining the Fury, Tissot has started 19 games… of 19 played. He has proven himself to be one of the most potent attacking forces along the left-flank in the NASL, able to successfully transition the ball from defence to offence with relative ease. He has even netted himself two goals for the Fury this year, both from a left-footed shot. He has netted himself a couple of assists to boot. The 2016 season has been the most soccer we have seen Tissot play since the academy days, and he has developed and honed his talents in Ottawa. Tellingly, Tissot has found his way back into the line-up of the Canadian National Team, where he has played in several matches since June. Hopefully, we will be seeing more of the Gatineau native in the 2017 season in Ottawa. He has more than earned his place.
Despite FC Montréal’s dismal 6-2-21 record in the 2016 USL season, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé managed to have a good season. Gagnon-Laparé started 16 games, bagging himself an assist in the process. However, the record of FC Montréal is deceiving, and does not encapsulate the development and skill of the players that comprise the roster of the club. Gagnon-Laparé is currently on trial with Stade rennais in the French top-flight, Ligue 1. There is no doubt that Ligue 1 is a more difficult league than MLS, and to earn a trial with a club there is noteworthy. To do so having spent the last 12 months with an academy team shows that there is something more to Gagnon-Laparé than we have seen in either Montréal or Ottawa in past seasons.
Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla
L’Impact de Montréal think that have truly found themselves a diamond in the rough in Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla. In late 2016, they signed the 17 year old Ivorien-Canadian to his first professional contract. Ballou has been on the radar of clubs all over Europe and the United Kingdom, including Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. The fact that l’Impact was his first choice shows that in 2016, Montréal is as attractive a destination for talent as any other major centre. Ballou has represented Canada at the youth level, and has played consistently with FC Montréal, and will now be able to prove himself with l’Impact in MLS regular play.
These players are not alone in their accomplishments. Other academy graduates and local talent from all over Québec had excellent performances in 2016 as well. However, one thing is certain. As soccer continues to grow and improve all over the region, 2017 is on track to be even better for the academy and its graduates than anything we have seen. I, for one, cannot wait.