At 24, James Pantemis has played more international games for his country than he has for his club. His 10 caps at u21 and u23 levels far usurp his 5 first-team appearances for Montreal.
Not only that, his opportunities have been so limited playing mainly third fiddle behind Clement Diop and Evan Bush, he’s only ever been involved in 19 top class games with his club. At 14 inclusions as an unused sub, even places on the bench were few and far between.
That’s not a lot since he jumped on board with the first-team in November 2017.
If there has been progress, it’s that at least now he’s installed as the undoubted second choice.
Pantemis spoke yesterday how his seven-game loan-spell at Valour FC in CanPL’s Island Games last season, helped prepare him for his three consecutive MLS appearances in 2020. Those opportunities arose when Diop was forced to leave for France to answer a family emergency. When the Frenchman returned he was re-installed between the posts.
Those games took Pantemis’ first-team appearances to just 12 (with both clubs) in 4 years! So how does he retain his sharpness?
“There’s no secret. My trainings through the week are my games. If I get an opportunity 11v11 during the week, I take that as my chance to show and be ready, so mentally it’s as if I am playing the [real] game.”
It’s all the more remarkable that Pantemis maintains such a high-level when called upon by his country. He was over-worked during the recent Olympic tournament in Guadalajara, contributing as much as anyone to Canada’s unbeaten yet unconvincing run to the semi-final.
Critics will point to his error for the Honduras equalizer in the last group game and the misplaced pass that led to Mexico’s opener in the semi-final defeat, but neither defines what was a good tournament display by the Kirkland native.
You do wonder why more loan spells were not arranged for Pantemis since becoming a senior player at Montreal in 2017. The question seems even more incredulous when you consider the ridiculous situation of a top tier professional football club operating without a reserve team.
I can’t think of another top flight club in world football where such a situation prevails. I suppose somewhere there are other examples, but it’s almost as rare as a Sammy Piette goal!
His games, his big opportunities, came in the shape of training games, where Pantemis simply had to frame his mind as though ‘this is the real thing’. No wonder he looked so nervous when making his debut at Stade Saputo v York9 FC almost two years ago.
“My games in the Canadian Championship and with Valour FC felt very different. I was more confident with the run of games (7) with Valour. Getting the repetitions in and my rhythm going... doing what I do best. Those matches helped me a lot when I came in for the three MLS games last season.”
Now 24, this year simply has to represent some kind of breakthrough for James Pantemis. Admittedly this writer was amongst the doubters. How could I not be? We never had the opportunity to see him play and of course when that happens, you wonder why he’s not getting games.
On the other hand, you had to assume he was good enough, or else why was he still there? But successive coaches never seemed to have enough confidence to put him between the sticks, or even on the bench.
Pantemis’ national team u23 performances have added fuel to the fire suggesting he’s progressed still further from his limited outings in MLS last year. Clement Diop at 27 is approaching the career peak for a goalkeeper. Generally it would be considered his best years are about to be realized. He’s agile but error-prone, although that judgement is reflected by a busy season often spent trying to atone for a porous defence in front.
There’s not that much to choose between the two men, but of course only one can play and the Frenchman is on pole position currently.
It will be interesting to observe how Wilfried Nancy manages the situation. If the status quo remains, an important decision beckons, and it might be that the 24-year-old Canadian has to take the initiative.
Pantemis has performed miracles in maintaining his sharpness for those occasions when he’s needed. But for how long can he keep doing this, by simply training?
He cannot be the only one who feels he’s good enough to tie down a first-team spot and time is moving on. If regular first-team football cannot be secured in Montreal this season, it’s not ridiculous to suggest that James Pantemis’ future lies elsewhere.
His opportunities have been much too limited at Stade Saputo... He needs now to be tested by the best. At 24, he owes it to himself...
Time to reach for the sky...
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 22). Recorded last evening (31 March), the TBIR team discuss the National Team’s Goal Rush; Almost but no Cigar (the U23s in Mexico), CONCACAF WC qualifying format & Wilfried Nancy’s Tuesday video-conference... Plus all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!
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