Community Clubs Junior Leagues Soccer

Brogan Engbers fuels his passion for coaching as he recovers from major shoulder injury that struck just before end of contract with Toronto FC

By Dan Plouffe

Spring is the time of year for rebirth and renewal, and that desire is clearly burning stronger than ever in a community thirsty to emerge from COVID. Brogan Engbers can also relate.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper from Ottawa has felt down in the dumps plenty of times during his soccer career – his latest setback came when he tore apart his shoulder in the final weeks of Toronto FC II’s season, as his deal with the Major League Soccer club was about to expire.

“When you’re searching for a contract, it’s not the most ideal situation,” shrugs Engbers, who underwent surgery to repair his torn labrum in late November.

But like he’s done many times before, Engbers has found a way to reignite the fire, and his new role as high performance staff coach with Ottawa TFC Soccer Club has done just that.

“I’m going to take this time to focus on my recovery, but there is no better time to challenge myself in coaching, which I’m really passionate about as well, and to be involved in soccer on the non-playing side,” notes the Liberty University grad who studied business administration and sport management. “For me, I want to be involved in the sport for the long term, so it’s great having the opportunity to get this experience early.”

Engbers learned resilience and dedication in his early years as a provincial-level gymnast and with Cumberland United (which became Ottawa TFC in 2018). He, along with his family, applied that commitment when he was recruited into Toronto FC’s academy as a 13-year-old.

“My mom and I, we would drive up from Ottawa to Toronto on Thursday and stay until Sunday. We did that every week for about three years,” recounts Engbers, who later moved in with “the best billet family you could ask for” when he lived with the TFC academy director/future head coach.

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After representing Canada at the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Under-17 Championship, Engbers went on to play NCAA soccer in Virginia, which he looks back on as some of the best years of his life. There were highs and lows – good times where he was playing well, and others where he was benched.

“That definitely challenged my mental fortitude and really made me wonder: ‘Is this something I want to do?’ You know, it’s a pretty cutthroat business,” recalls the former Flames keeper who started 14 games over three seasons. “But even going through that, I realized, yes, this is what I want.”

Brogan Engbers (centre) at a Team Canada development camp in 2015. Photo: Bob Frid/Canada Soccer

After finishing his degree, Engbers attended preseason camp with Toronto FC and earned a contract with TFC II. He wound up spending his first three months with the first team in Florida (TFC’s impromptu home early on in COVID).

“In terms of soccer, that was probably some of the biggest growth that I’ve experienced,” Engbers signals. “That’s the highest level of professional soccer in North America, so you’re forced to adapt pretty quickly.”

Engbers didn’t get many minutes during two seasons with TFC II, but he still feels like he grew as a player and person. The shoulder injury is again testing his resolve, but whenever he’s faced hurdles, Engbers has come to the conclusion time and again that he wants to keep pursuing soccer.

“It’s a love of the sport really. There are very few times in my life where I’m as happy as when I’m on the field,” explains Engbers, who’s looking forward to playing games for Ottawa TFC’s men’s premier team once he’s fully recovered in a month, and then seeing what pro opportunities may surface.

Brogan Engbers. Photo: League1 Ontario

“It’s easy for some people to say, ‘This isn’t for me, it’s too much, it’s not possible,’ and become discouraged, but for me, it’s part of the journey,” he adds. “And part of what makes it fun is facing the adversity, trying to find a way to get through that.

“I haven’t been very fortunate, I’ve had a lot of injuries over the course of my career, but I just can’t imagine my life at this point without playing soccer and being involved in soccer.”

TFC product seeks to strike ‘perfect balance with high performance and fun’ as coach

Engbers is now excited to employ his learned lessons in his new role with his childhood club that’s gone on an “extreme upward trajectory” since he joined TFC a decade ago.

“It’s got to be enjoyable. It’s got to be fun, and it’s got to be challenging,” he says of his coaching philosophy, underlining that skills and tactics are secondary to relating to young players and building a connection with them. “From there, once that bond has been formed, the opportunities for what you can accomplish with them individually and with them as a team are almost endless.”

Engbers, who previously coached younger players at TFC and with a club near Liberty, has responsibilities that cover a wide spectrum of Ottawa TFC’s club operations. He’ll act as Ontario Player Development League program administrator/venue coordinator, head coach/administrator for the under-9/U10 age groups, he’ll help coach goalkeepers, and he’ll work as assistant coach under club general manager Pavel Cancura with the OPDL defending-champion U17 girls.

“I’ve only been here a few months, but in my mind, they’ve struck the perfect balance with high performance and fun,” highlights Engbers, who’s joined his younger brother Kaden as a staff coach at Ottawa TFC. “To come into an environment like that is exciting and amazing, and with the staff – I’ve never been part of a group that is as close and tight and has so much fun at their job. It’s a really, really unique place.”

Ottawa TFC general manager Pavel Cancura. File photo

Adding a number of younger staff coaches in recent years – mostly homegrown from within their club – has reenergized Cancura.

“I’ve actually kind of found a renewed passion myself,” indicates the club’s leader of a dozen years, who put in a lot of work to grow the club over that time, but has often felt exhausted trucking through COVID.

“Now we’ve got a great group around their mid-20s with that same kind of energy, which is pretty neat,” Cancura notes. “When you’re in the business of basically inspiring people and building up others, that type of energy is key.”

And that vitality is now bubbling to the surface as the 2022 season nears – Ottawa TFC’s U15 OPDL girls will be the first local team to see action this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Millennium Field.

“Especially since we’ve gone outside again for training, the whole vibe is like, ‘Man, we’re close,'” Engbers underlines. “All those winter months you spend grinding away in a dome, it’s all for the moment where the season kicks off. All the work you’ve done leading up to that point is now going to be on display. It’s super exciting.”

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