In his second full season with the Montreal Impact, the 21-year-old defender is finding the mental toughness that he lacked when he first arrived in MLS.MONTREAL - On the night that defender Karl Ouimette was told that he was going to play from the start for the very first time, the Terrebonne, QC native could barely sleep. The idea of playing at home and in front of a large crowd was daunting. He was nervous, to say the least.
Though Ouimette's first start in central defence at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal would end well, with the Montreal Impact blanking the visiting New York Red Bulls 1-0, in the two subsequent games against Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City, the young defender wasn’t as lucky. His nerves hadn’t lessened and the mistakes were glaring. And the repercussion which followed was severe: he didn’t see the field again for months.
The Impact’s first academy graduate would have to learn the hard way.
“For sure when you make mistakes and you’re young, you’re not easily forgiven,” Ouimette told Goal Canada. “It’s not that I played a bad game against Kansas City last year, but at that point you understand that one detail can have you excluded from the lineup.”
But now in his second full season with the Impact, the 21-year-old doesn’t feel like he’s the same timid player that he was a year ago.
“I’m a lot more confident and the important thing is that I keep working and continue to build that confidence,” Ouimette said. “The fact of having had a full year with the senior team under my belt has helped, even if I didn’t play much, I really feel like I have a place in the team.”
Speaking with Goal Canada last season, Ouimette’s former academy coach, Philippe Eullaffroy, identified several areas where the young defender needed to improve, all of which boiled down to a lack of composure.
“The problem is more a mental one,” Eullafroy explained at the time. “A great deal of concentration and attentiveness is asked of him, because the smallest error could be enough to make a team pay dearly.
“He has to find the means to be able to relax mentally and find that serenity to be able to play his games well.”
In this respect, Ouimette feels that he’s made significant headway.
“It’s just more normal to be on the field now,” Ouimette said. “You talk more, you have more confidence. You make better much decisions. You don’t only do your own job but you try to make your teammates better as well.”
New Impact head coach Frank Klopas, who’s been eager to offer the team’s younger players a chance at playing time, has now made Ouimette a fixture in defence, having him start in the Impact’s last three games against Chicago, Kansas City and Philadelphia. And in what’s been a difficult start to the season for Montreal, Ouimette has been one of the team’s few bright spots.
Speaking to assembled media after last week’s game against Philadelphia, where the Impact recorded their first win and shutout of the season, Klopas praised the performances of his young defender.
“I think Karl is doing really well,” Klopas said “He’s a very good athlete and he’s only going to get better with games.”
Having grown in self-assurance, Ouimette, now more than ever, feels he’s up for the challenges that come his way.
“For sure when you get minutes, it builds your confidence,” Ouimette said. “You start to know what to expect, and you become less fazed.”
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