By Stuart Miller-Davis
There’s no one representative of the growth of soccer talent in the nation’s capital quite like local prodigy Antoine Coupland.
The 15-year-old inked a professional contract with Ottawa Fury FC in July, making him one of the youngest Canadians to ever sign a professional deal. When speaking to the Sportspage in August, Fury head coach Nikola Popovic was happy to flaunt the team’s newest draw.
“Antoine is a very talented boy,” he said following a training session at TD Place Stadium. “We have him here and he can be the future of this club.”
At his age, though, Coupland isn’t worried about being a star. He’s just there to learn.
“I’m learning every single day and I think it was absolutely a good decision for me to come here,” Coupland said.
After five years with the Futuro Soccer Academy based here in Ottawa, Coupland was faced with the decision of accepting a trial with Sheffield United of the English Premier League or to go pro with the Fury. Ultimately he chose to stay on this side of the Atlantic.
“I think what came into that decision was that here the environment is so much fun,” Coupland said. “The guys are so much fun and always love to play around.”
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Being the youngest player on the team Coupland said he also knows his role.
“I’m the one picking up after training but that’s the way it is and I love it,” he said. “I’d like to get more minutes but there’s other senior players that have earned their spot in the starting 11.”
Popovic said it is important for the talented young player’s progression to be playing at a high level.
“Him being 15-16 years-old and being able to be around a professional environment and playing at this level is huge for his development,” he said. “We have to always be looking at things we can emphasize and things we correct. On the field, in the meetings through video, we are explaining what the requirements for him are to achieve at this level.”
Alphonso Davies, who signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 before being sold to Bayern Munich for a then record fee, and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who joined Toronto FC II in the USL League One, are a rare breed of Canadians who joined pro clubs as teenagers.
When asked if there is any added pressure to be mentioned in the same sentence as players like Davies and Jonathan David, who grew up in Ottawa and plays for the national team as well as for Gent in Belgium, Coupland responded calmly.
“Not really,” he said. “(Davies is) a great player and doing great things at Bayern Munich. For me, he’s like my Canadian idol, he’s such a great player and I hope someday to be on the same national team as him.”
Both Coupland and Popovic agree there is a great soccer community in Ottawa, but the Fury bench boss pointed to the Canadian winter as a bit of damper on the growth of the sport in the city.
“Around the city I see a lot of people on the fields playing and this is very important for the development,” Popovic said. “During the winter we are covered by snow and it is more difficult to find places to practice. There are a lot of people who like the game, who play the game. This is the essential thing to develop. Now if we can overcome this, we can do a very good job here.”
Coupland said he thinks Ottawa is doing a great job getting kids ready to take their games to the next level and pointed at the FIFA Women’s World Cup matches hosted at TD Place as a real marker of the growth of the game in the city.
Back on the pitch, Coupland hopes one day to play professionally in Europe, with his sights set on the FC Barcelona specifically, but would also love to join David and Davies with the national team.
Popovic said he thinks having dreams like Coupland does is a key to achieving them.
“I think it is important to say that anyone with ambitions, who have a dream, a goal, if you really believe in something you can really achieve it,” he said. “I think he can show this and be a hope for every Canadian young player who wishes to be a professional player.”
Ottawa’s Samuel Charron was a standout for Team Canada at the IFCPF World Cup Sevilla 2019, winning the event’s player of the tournament award, despite this country’s 12th place finish. Charron, who is a captain for Canada, scored six times in six games and was four times named Canada’s player of the match in the July tournament.
Two 2001-born women’s players from the nation’s capital were invited to an August camp for national-level players below the age of 20. Ottawa South United’s Olivia Cooke and Ottawa Gloucester Dragons’ Kayza Massey were two athletes on Canada Soccer’s 20-player invite list.