Samuel Piette never really imagined he could play the game he loved at the highest level, but now he's just one step away. In a series of emails with Goal.com, he told his story.
In Montreal, a city that normally endures long winters and where hockey is practically religion, soccer aficionados are not usually easy to find. In the off-island suburb of Repentigny, the reality is not any different, but for Samuel Piette who grew up there, soccer was the only sport that mattered and it was his cousin who first piqued his interest.
“I always played soccer. I started playing when I was 4, because my older cousin was playing, and at that time I was always with him, because he lives very close from where I live. So I went to his games to watch him and I told my parents that I would like to start playing also,” Piette told Goal.com.
Without a professional soccer league in Canada, and little in the way of professional teams at which he could develop or potentially play, the dream of becoming a soccer player had always been quite subdued.
“When you are child, it doesn’t really matter that the sport you practice isn’t really popular. But as you grow up and you realise that you want to do something with this sport, it’s really hard, because you feel like all the efforts are put into other sports, like hockey in Canada, so when you start getting older, you feel like you’re already too late,” Piette explained.
But Piette persevered, nonetheless, and excelled in soccer teams at the local level.
In 2008, when he was 13-years-old, Piette reached the final of the youth Canadian Championship with Boisbriand in Brossard, Quebec, and that’s when Piette’s prospects suddenly, and unexpectedly, began to change.
Philippe Gaillot, a scout for French club FC Metz, was present at the tournament, and was impressed by what he saw from the youngster.
“Samuel Piette was signaled to us by the Quebec Soccer Federation because of the partnership it had with our club. I went and watched the Canadian Championship in Montreal in 2008 and Samuel was very impressive throughout the whole tournament, which his team eventually went on to win” Gaillot told Goal.com.
Despite meeting with Montreal Impact academy coach, Philippe Eullaffroy, concerning the possibility of joining the Montreal Impact academy that was just getting off the ground, Piette had recently received an offer to join the prestigious FC Metz academy and his mind was already made up.
A month later at the age of 14, Piette left for France, a venture that proved to be a very difficult one. It was not so much the fact of having to adjust to an elevated calibre of soccer that was challenging, but more so having to live far away from home.
“The biggest challenge was to live alone, by myself, far from my family and my friends. Football-wise, it was another level, but after two, three weeks, you got used to it,” Piette explained.
Piette would spend three years with the Metz academy, a period that, as Piette recalled, was essential to his growth as a player.
“My time at Metz was really good. It’s a great academy, one of the best in France and I improved a lot during my time there” Piette stated.
However, with Metz being relegated to the French third division, and French Federation rules regarding foreign players that would inhibit Piette from obtaining a prolonged contract, Piette decided it was time to move on.
Fortuna Düsseldorf’s youth set-up in Germany’s Bundesliga was Piette’s next destination and where the midfielder currently plays. But before making the move east, Piette got an unexpected call from erstwhile head coach Stephen Hart to play for the Canadian senior national team, becoming the third youngest player in Canadian soccer history to do so.
“I was 17 when I got called up by Stephen Hart. At the time (February 2012 for the game against Armenia in Cyprus) I was in France. I was really excited of course, and it was also a big surprise and it gave me a lot of pride,” Piette stated.
The call-up also gave Piette a chance to meet up with another player from Quebec, Brossard native Olivier Occean, who plays for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga. Occean is one of the rare players from Quebec to have played professionally in a major European soccer league and also the first to score in one.
With Dusseldorf, Piette too, is starting to knock at the door. He now plays and trains with Dusseldorf’s Under-19 squad and with the club’s reserve team, which he hopes will lead him to a professional contract with a top-tier European side in the next few years.
A return home to Montreal isn’t by any means out of the question – the Montreal Impact would surely welcome a local player of his quality in open arms – but not until he’s tried his luck with the best in the business.
“For now, I would like to try my chances in Europe, but one day, I would like to come back home and play in the MLS,” Piette said.
Piette still does get to return home. There is the summer offseason and the German league's particularly long winter break, and every now and then, Canada needs him to come back and play for his country.
Piette is now playing for the Canadian Under-20 team in the CONCACAF Championship. Despite losing the first game of the group stage to Cuba, a draw with Nicaragua on Friday will put Canada into the quarterfinals. There the Canadians could meet the United States in a game that Canada would need to win in order to qualify for this summer’s Under-20 World Cup in Turkey - a tall order.
But that kind of challenge certainly won’t phase Piette. By now, playing against the odds is something he’s grown accustomed to doing.