You were at Genk’s Academy. Why are they so successful in developing talent? Players like Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, and Dennis Praet, for example.
“Well, there’s a good thing they do with guiding young players, not only on the field but also off it.
“You have a lot of support around you as a player. I think they spend a lot of time on individual work as well, so that goes from technical abilities to following tactics.
“Over the years they’ve had some youth coaches that have experience guiding young players to become better and develop, so I think that’s a huge part of why they are successful.”
Belgium as a whole is a powerhouse in world football. Can you speak on the overall quality the nation has?
“It’s like any other country. I feel like in Europe there are quality academies around, but if you wanna talk specifically about Belgium I think it comes to scouting the best players from a really young age, and developing them further.
“So what happens, basically, is clubs are looking for local talent at five, six to seven years old, and they try and get them into the best academies and then move on from there.
“So I would say the level of developing young talent is great across Europe, but I think it’s all comes down to scouting young players in local areas, work with the best available, and develop them from there.”
Can you describe your time in College at the University of Albany on a scholarship?
“I went there when I was just turning 19 in September, so I moved there in August of 2016. I played there on a scholarship for two and a half years until last December, and it was a great experience, not only soccer wise but for me as a person too.
“Living so far away from home and coming into a new team was also a new experience for me because I had been at Genk for 13 years, so I was there for quite a long time. Getting into a new team where you don’t know anyone and have to speak another language was also a big part of developing as a player.
“I had an amazing time the past couple of years, it was great meeting new people and I have a lot of friends from then. Also, all over the world, as you know, there’s a lot of international players going to the States to play college soccer, so I’ve made some good connections and it was great experience for me personally.”
What attracted you in choosing Canada for your first pro contract? As an NCAA D1 standout, I’m sure you had other options to play in the States.
“It was basically trying to find a way to play professionally after my last college season. so, of course, the first option was the MLS Super Draft. I didn’t get selected in that, so then I had to find another way to become a professional player.
“Me and my agent worked out some trials. I went to Seattle, I think for two weeks, to try out for the Sounders 2, and then there was a team that was interested in me that plays in the USL Championship as well.
“But somehow that didn’t work out, and then I had a contact that’s in Sporting KC and he told me that an old youth coach of me that coached in Genk before was starting this new project in Canada, with a new team here at Forge.
“He told me to reach out to that old youth coach, Peter [Reynders] who is the assistant here, and so I reached out to him and he told me that there was this tryout going on in late January.
“I went to the tryout for a week and they liked me and said they were enthusiastic in signing me, and I just took a chance and signed my first pro contract. I don’t have any regrets, it’s been a fantastic first season as a pro.”
Can you talk about your coach Bobby Smyrniotis, and how his experience in Greece translates and his UEFA Coaching licenses as well?
“You can tell that he’s a coach that likes to play the game of football, the pretty game with a lot of possession, and move the ball around and create chances to defeat your opponent.
“It’s not a really direct way of playing like you see a lot in college I think personally, so that’s my philosophy as well as a player.
“I like to play in a team that wants to have the ball, that wants to play and create chances that way, and I think him being in Greece for a while and having those licenses, fits perfectly with his philosophy.
“It’s been a great experience to be a player of his, and you can tell that he’s a good coach.”
Did you expect to get so much playing time? Over 2000 minutes for you in year one as a professional and especially as a defender where it can take a little more time to mature.
“Yeah that was also my question at the beginning of the season. I just told myself to not expect too much, to work as hard as I can, and take whatever comes my way.
“I think I’ve done that since the first day I arrived here, and I hope the coaches like that. I think that’s how I somehow made my way into the team, and as the season went on I felt more comfortable and confident.
“As I’ve said before it’s been a great season so maybe I didn’t expect it to be that many minutes but I’m definitely not complaining about that.”
Six or eight months ago, could you picture the team not only dong well collectively but also reaching the finals in the league’s inaugural season?
“I think when I first got here to Canada, the ambition of the club was definitely to win the first championship of this league, so the coaches portrayed this image for us and we believed in it and worked towards it.
“We’re all just very happy to be able to compete in the inaugural championship, so I think team definitely pictured that.
“Being able to make the finals, we definitely believed it since the first day, so it’s actually good to see it happening now.
“Now it’s just about playing those two final games, and hopefully we come out on top.”
And what do you guys need to do come out on top over the two legs?
“One thing is to come out strong for the first leg and get a good result. Be composed and try to play our game, making it as hard as possible for the other team.
“I think those are the two key elements in winning this whole thing.”
Would you recommend Canadian football to anybody watching from the outside?
“Yeah. 100%. It’s been a great experience for me. I think the level of play is good, and for any younger player that wants to get exposure, and is looking for a stepping stone, it is a great option and a great place to be.”
How many languages do you speak?
“Only two and I would say I know a couple of words in a few other languages. I only speak Dutch and English, but I understand a lot of French, I understand a lot of German, and understand a lot of Spanish but I think it’s very hard for me to get in between two Spanish people talking and get into the conversation. So I wanna try and get fluent in Spanish, and I hope that day comes sooner than later.”
What’s your biggest dream, career wise? What are you hoping to achieve in the game?
“The idea was after college to make it to the MLS, so that’s definitely still a goal of mine.
“I hope that I get there one day, so anything is possible as long as you believe in it and as long as you work for it, so we will see if I get there and what’s possible after.”
Featured image: Forge FC