After a difficult 2012 with the Montreal Impact, the 20-year-old central defender from Terrebonne is starting to see the field in the team's sophomore season in MLS.MONTREAL - On June 5, 2012, Karl Ouimette became the first Montreal Impact academy player to sign with the first team in MLS. It was an historic moment for the club, and one that signaled that the Impact were indeed serious about developing local talent. However, obtaining a professional contract is one thing, but actually playing games and getting minutes is another, which is something Ouimette would quickly discover.
The Terrebonne, Quebec, native only played 66 minutes in his first season with the Impact, for as far as centre backs are concerned, with Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari, Nelson Rivas and Hassoun Camara already in the side, Ouimette found himself – as erstwhile head coach Jesse Marsch put it – at the bottom of the “pecking order.”
Ouimette’s transition to MLS didn't turn out to be an easy one.
“When you’re always starting with the academy and you’re used to playing games every week and being on the field all the time and then you get into a position where you’re not even on the bench and you’re in the stands, for sure it’s difficult. But every day you have to prove yourself and make space for yourself,” Ouimette told Goal.com at the time. “It’s difficult being a youngster, but you just have to keep pushing and hope for more minutes next season.”
This season, Ouimette is starting to get his chance. In fact, he’s played in three of the Impact’s six league games so far, which is a lot more appearances than Ouimette would have expected himself to have at this point in the season.
“I wouln’t have thought that I would have played three games that fast, but you got to be ready," Ouimette told reporters following training on Wednesday. "We’re a team, and if someone goes down, you have to be ready to get the job done."
Ouimette finding space in the starting lineup has had a lot to do with other centre backs picking up injuries. Nesta was out of the lineup for two weeks after hurting his adductor against Toronto FC in March, and Matteo Ferrari, who missed Sunday’s game against the Columbus Crew with a calf injury, will be out for the next two to three weeks as well.
Assistant coach Phillippe Eullaffroy, who coached Ouimette during his time at the academy, sees that the defender is improving his game, but nonchalantly admitted that he’s committed several substantial errors so far this year.
“His progression might not be evident from the outside, but from the inside we see that he’s a lot more comfortable tactically and in his placement," Eullaffroy told Goal.com in French. "He still makes important errors – he gave away some bad fouls against Kansas City and he misread a play which left Columbus forward Federico Higuain in alone on the Impact goal - but when mistakes are significant and clear, they’re also easier to correct.”
Eullaffroy highlighted three areas where Ouimette needs to improve his game.
First, the coach explained that Ouimette needs to be better able to play out of defence.
“What we would like is that he be more confident in his technical qualities and his distributive qualities. Right now he does see the tactical solutions when he has the ball at his feet, but he isn’t always willing to take them,” Eullaffroy said. “On this aspect, he has to really have confidence in himself, to make that pass when he sees it, even if it might be a difficult one and feel that he can make it happen."
Second, Eullaffroy highlighted the need for Ouimette to be more decisive in his one-on-one physical battles.
“Physically we would like for him to have more assurance. We’ve asked him to be less timid in the physical duels, and feel that he’s the man of the situation and that physically he’s a monster,” Eullaffroy said. “He has to really feel like he can dominate in this area.”
And third, Eullaffroy explained that he needs to be a lot more relaxed on the field.
“Physically we know that he’s a guy that can easily recover from a game. He could play two games in 24-hours without any issues,” Eullaffroy said. “The problem is more a mental one. 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.”
Ouimette also explained that he needs to be more vocal.
“I need to communicate more. Sometimes I’m a bit shy on the field,” Ouimette said. “It’s going to come. At the academy I was somebody that talked a lot and that’s something that really helps teammates.”
Being able to play alongside veteran defenders like Nesta and Ferrari and learn from their experience has also been extremely helpful for the youngster.
“These are players that have played at the highest level in the world and it’s an honour to play with them. Both guys have different qualities, different ways to see the game, so I’m able to learn from both,” Ouimette said. “They bring different things that I can try and integrate into my own game.”
Ultimately, what it all really boils down to for Ouimette is growing in confidence in his ability and getting the chance to show it.
“It’s now been three games for me so I’m now feeling more comfortable around the players. They give me confidence as well,” Ouimette said. “Playing around these guys is good and being on the field against Columbus was very nice, I think, we played good, but just being on the field is a great thing for me.”
With the Impact having six games in the next 18 days, Ouimette knows his next chance will come soon.