After migrating to Canada, Wandrille Lefèvre thought professional soccer had evaded him for good. Last week, he signed with the Montreal Impact. Goal.com sat down with the player.
MONTREAL - Two years ago, Wandrille Lefèvre was just thinking about finishing his accounting degree at HEC in Montreal. Soccer was always his passion, but the dream of playing professionally had long been extinguished. He was 22 and the chances of making it pro were nil.
At least, that’s what he thought.
Last week, in an incredible change of fate, Lefèvre signed a professional contract in MLS with the Montreal Impact, achieving the dream he had as a boy growing up in France.
Born in the commune of Chartres just south of Paris, Lefèvre grew up in Montpellier where he excelled in various regional soccer teams and as with many young boys in France who played the sport, his hope was to one day play the beautiful game for a living.
“For my family, my studies were always the priority. But for sure, when you’re young and complimented for your play and selected for regional teams, you think, ‘well, why can’t I make it?’ I always told myself that if the chance to play professionally ever came about I would take it,” Lefèvre told Goal.com.
But when Lefèvre’s father moved to Montreal for work in 2003 when Wandrille was 14, that dream of playing professionally quickly began to fade as there weren’t any suitable youth setups where he could really develop.
“When I came to Montreal, and saw that the Impact was a professional team but that they didn’t have a youth team, a structure that could enable me to grow as a player within the club, the dream of playing professional started to feel like something more and more distant,” Lefèvre said.
Lefèvre was still keen on playing the game at the best level Montreal had to offer. He first played with the local Concordia AAA youth team where he would play from 2003 to 2006. In 2007, after graduating from Collège Stanislas, he began University at HEC and played with the Carabins, one of the top teams in the country.
A year later, the Trois-Rivières Attak was created and erstwhile head coach Marc Dos Santos approached Lefèvre to join the team, but finishing university had become his priority.
“By the time I had reached university, I barely thought about the idea [of playing professionally]. I still wanted to play at the highest level that I could, but I had become focused on finishing my studies. Playing for the Attak didn’t seem worth it and I never warmed up to the idea,” Lefèvre explained.
Another coach had taken notice of Lefèvre, Phillippe Eullaffroy, who was the McGill University men's soccer coach at the time. When the Montreal Impact academy was finally created two years later in 2010, Eullaffroy became its head coach and had kept Lefèvre in mind.
“I was coaching McGill and he was playing at University of Montreal and so I had the chance to see him play on many occasions. He was someone that had an impact on the games he played and I felt he had the qualities that could fit really well in MLS," Eullaffroy, now an assitant coach with the Impact's first team, told Goal.com via telephone from Portland. "When the academy started up I thought about Lefèvre, especially because we were lacking centre midfielders.”
The possibility of playing in MLS was one that Lefèvre couldn't turn down and he subsequently joined the Impact academy for the 2011 season, a decision made easier by the fact that the club encouraged him to complete his degree on the side.
For the first time since he left France, Lefèvre found himself dreaming again.
“When the opportunity to join the Impact academy came about, I felt like I was rewinding ten years to when I was a kid playing soccer thinking that I had a chance,” Lefèvre recalled.
Given the fact that Lefèvre was already 22-years-old when he joined the Impact academy, the understanding was that he would only have two years to develop.
“It was important for Wandrille to understand that he had to put in a lot of work and effort with the academy if he wanted to make it to MLS. Our understanding was that he would have two years to develop and hone his skills to get ready for the pros. It was a gamble we took together,” Eullaffroy said.
In the summer of 2011, when Lefèvre was called up for the Impact’s first team in the last half of its final season in the North American Soccer League, his hopes of playing pro began to recede once more as he didn’t feel that he had fared well with the team.
“I joined the team when they were in the NASL for the last half of the season, and at that point I thought it was possible for me, but then I didn’t do that well and at the end of the season they told me to go back with the academy. At that point, in the beginning of 2012, I felt it was going to be hard, because it was hard for me in the summer in the NASL and MLS was going to be even harder,” Lefèvre explained.
Nonetheless, Lefèvre persisted, and a year later, after the Impact had made the jump to MLS, he was training again with the Impact’s first team and featured in a slew of reserve games.
Physically he had become much stronger than when he first arrived from the Carabins and felt that his overall play was improving by leaps and bounds with the academy as well.
But more importantly, his confidence was restored.
“I started training again with the first team last summer and got a lot of feedback from Jesse [Marsch] and [Mauro] Biello and they were satisfied with how I was doing, as I got the chance to play in a lot of MLS reserve games, and did well and felt like I was getting better and better,” Lefevre said.
By the end of 2012, Lefèvre’s time with the academy had come to an end. Soon after, he was invited to the Impact's postseason training camp in Italy and shined in a 4-1 win against Fiorentina’s prestigious youth academy. Lefèvre was then invited for the Impact’s preseason training camp in January, knowing that that would be his last chance of making the team.
Last Tuesday, at age 24, Lefèvre was rewarded for his perseverance and officially joined the Impact’s first team in MLS, an achievement which, when looking back on his life, was very unexpected.
“When I think about my life, where I’m coming from, [getting the contract] was a big surprise. But in the last six months I was getting better and better and I was getting good feedback from the coaching staff, so I felt through the camp that I had a chance,” said Lefèvre.
"The coaches told me that my age didn’t matter. What they liked was the way I improved my game in the two years I spent with the club. I’m a bit of a late bloomer in terms of soccer, but I’ve done what I’ve had to do.”
Lefèvre has other aspirations beyond the world of soccer, like becoming a Canadian citizen in the near future and completing his CPA during his free time.
But now that he has both feet in the door with the Impact, he wants to become an established player in MLS, knowing that he will have to take full advantage of every opportunity that comes his way, much like he’s always done.
“I have to take things day by day and just focus on getting better. I’ve had discussions with the coaches and they’ve told me that if I work every day, I’ll get my chance and to make sure that when I do get that chance, that I’m ready for it.”