James Pantemis is no stranger to battling for the #1 starting spot at CF Montreal.
After spending multiple years in the role of understudy to Evan Bush and Clement Diop, he’s determined to reclaim the starting spot he lost towards the end of last season to Sebastian Breza.
It was somewhat of a double-whammy of disappointment for Pantemis. The ‘keeper in possession of the regular season shirt is traditionally benched for Canadian Championship games, but in 2021 Wilfried Nancy kept with Breza. Pantemis had to make do, claiming his national championship medal observing from the sidelines as the reserve.
The 24-year-old Kirkland native says he’s not looking too much into how last season ended and feels everything is up for grabs as Montreal’s eleventh season as an MLS club approaches.
This pre-season will be more significant than ever for the club’s goalkeeping contingent. Breza may be in pole position after last season, but neither man can confidently claim establishment as the firm #1 at the club. Not yet anyhow.
“Definitely, it’s going to be an important two weeks for myself and the team… to show we’re ready,” said Pantemis, speaking after training yesterday.
“There’s nothing better than competition. It makes you push. It makes you want to be better. Obviously, I’m taking [the challenge] with open arms.
“We all did our job last year. It finished the way it finished. If Nancy thought it was for the good of the team to change to Breza last year, I understand. But yes, it was difficult to hear. I’m not looking too much into that… the way it ended.”
While enjoying several recognitions at various levels within the national program, Pantemis’ development at Montreal has been hampered by lack of regular playing time. The club not having a reserve team has not helped.
At 24 his regular club appearances logged really should amount to more than 30 (covering FC Montreal, CF Montreal and Valour FC).
It’s a credit to the player how well he’s performed during call-ups to the national program despite such sporadic match-practise. How Pantemis stepped into the breach during last year’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Guadalajara is a perfect case in point.
Now it’s up to him to reclaim the #1 jersey from Bologna-loanee, Breza.
“The (starting) position will be given to whomever has the best pre-season,” said a focused Pantemis, who claims his confidence throughout has never wavered.
“I don’t think too much about the decision. It’s about showing my teammates they can have trust in me, that my coach can trust putting me in the net. It starts, obviously, with the training sessions here and the friendlies that are coming up.”
Meanwhile left-sided defender Zorhan Bassong is hoping to establish himself more in the team during 2022. Clearly a work-in-progress, 2021 was his breakthrough year in MLS. Bassong saw off the challenge of Ugandan Mustafa Kizza for first team rights, then vied with fit-again Mathieu Choiniere for a starting slot.
“Last year, in a kind of way, was a season of adaptation,” Bassong said. “This season, I hope to be more ready. I know how the league is. There won’t be any more surprises. I think I’m ready to take a bigger step. I’m not a rookie anymore.”
Bassong showed last season he has the physical attributes to make a career at his hometown club. As with many developing players, the coaching staff will be looking for his levels of concentration and discipline to improve.
Like Pantemis, he’ll be viewing the beginning of 2022 as a clean slate with hopes to displace the player incumbent in his position as the previous season ended.
Choiniere may well get the initial nod ahead of Bassong, but competition is never a bad thing....