Meet Antoine Coupland, Ottawa's teen soccer prodigy
Coupland of Chelsea, Que., made pro soccer debut last weekend at age 15
Antoine Coupland could be enjoying the summer like any other 15-year-old, hanging out with his friends or gearing up for his first driving lesson, but he's got other goals.
Last weekend, the soccer prodigy from Chelsea, Que., became the youngest player to hit the pitch for the Ottawa Fury FC.
Wearing No. 16 on his back, the left-footed midfielder sprinted on as a substitute in the dying minutes of a 4-0 win over the Swope Park Rangers, helping the Fury vault into sixth place in the United Soccer League's eastern conference.
"At first I was really nervous, but then when I got on the field I was so zoned in I forgot about everything," Coupland told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning shortly after his professional debut.
Coupland's highlight of the game, as described by team captain Carl Haworth, was a counter-attack in which he dribbled the ball a long distance up the field and set up teammate Christiano François for a scoring chance.
The goalkeeper made the save, and Coupland said a little more patience could have created a better scoring chance.
That's all part of the teenager's growth after graduating from the St. Anthony soccer club's Futuro Soccer Academy just two months ago. He had spent five years in that program.
"I think I'm learning every day, training in a professional environment, with professionals like Carl," Coupland said.
"That's just another learning opportunity."
Field of dreams
The trajectory of Coupland's soccer career remains a blank slate, but there is some precedent for his dreams to come true.
Take 18-year-old Alphonso Davies and 19-year-old Jonathan David, for example.
Born in Ghana, Davies moved to Canada at a young age, played his youth soccer in Edmonton and then made his professional soccer debut with the Vancouver Whitecaps when he was 15.
Last summer, at just 17, Davies transferred to one of the world's best soccer clubs: Bayern Munich.
David, meanwhile, spent his early years in Haiti before moving to Ottawa when he was six.
He played his youth soccer in Gloucester, then at École secondaire publique Louis-Riel, before making his pro soccer debut last summer at age 18 with Belgian soccer club Gent.
"Like every kid, I aspire to go to Europe," Coupland said, "and one day play for FC Barcelona."
He wants be a superstar like the face of FC Barcelona, Argentine superstar Lionel Messi.
Messi has arguably been the world's best soccer player over the last decade.
"Messi is my idol. I aspire to be like him. He's a bit like me — left-footed, likes to dribble, likes to score goals," Coupland said.
'We've created that pathway'
Those ambitions used to be near-pipe dreams for young Canadian kids, but 30-year-old Haworth, who grew up in Barrie, Ont., said things have changed.
"We've grown the sport to a point where they're realistic ambitions now," said Haworth, who has spent his entire pro soccer career with Ottawa Fury FC.
"We've created that pathway now where they can play professionally in their own country, in their own cities and ... try and make it to that next level."
Coupland has a lot of work ahead of him before any European dreams come to fruition, but his captain said he plays the game the right way.
"He's a very honest player. He's going to come in and work hard. He's going to do what's best for the team, very tenacious ... he's got the creative spark," Haworth said, adding that Coupland could be a role model for other young local players.
"To see him working hard every single day in training and where he's come from … to see him step onto the big stage and make that debut, it's really inspiring for those kids."
Coupland, Haworth and Ottawa Fury FC play their next match on Saturday night in Memphis, Ten.CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning