Karl Ouimette’s ascension into the first team is the Impact academy’s first indication of progress, but as long as he’s off the field it’s only slight.
When Joey Saputo, Nick De Santis and Matt Jordan met with the Montreal media in July of last year to discuss how the Montreal Impact was preparing for the step from the North American Soccer League (NASL) to the much bigger and better MLS, many concerns we’re brought up and many a question was posed.
Considering the Impact’s history of having local players play in the side and with the team needing to have at least three Canadian players in its MLS roster, one of the concerns was how the club was going to find Canadian and local players that would be good enough for the new league.
Saputo explained that the development of the Impact’s academy, which had begun only a year prior in 2010, was one of the team’s top priorities.
“What’s important to understand is that we don’t plan to build Rome in a day,” said Saputo. “We have the academy program that is in place that started with our U14 and U16. We hope to develop the Canadian content aspect of [the roster]. Right now we talk about three Canadian players, but who’s to say that we’re not going to have more Canadian players or local talent coming into the squad as we develop our young players through our academy system?
“It’s part of our responsibility to continue to develop the Canadian game and we’re doing it through our academy program.”
The Impact academy program began to show its fruit on June 5 of this year, when one of its players, defender Karl Ouimette, was given a professional contract.
But as the club’s academy program director, Phillippe Eullaffroy, explained at the time via an Impact press release, signing a contract isn’t much of a milestone if Ouimette doesn’t end up playing regularly with the team.
“Over the last few years, Karl worked on his weaknesses all while improving upon his strong points,” said Eullaffroy. "The door to a professional career is now open to him. We are extremely happy, but a contract is not a full career. We will have a true sense of accomplishment once he becomes a regular in MLS.”
Since joining the side, 66 minutes is all Ouimette has been able to taste of MLS so far. Though this lack of playing time doesn’t come as much of a surprise for the defender as he’s only just getting started, not seeing his name on the game sheet come match day can often be a tough sight to swallow.
“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,” Ouimette told Goal.com. “But every day you have to prove yourself and make space for yourself. It’s difficult being a youngster, but you just have to keep pushing and hope for more minutes next season."
One of Ouimette’s agents, Nikos Mavromaras from Kafute Sports Management Agency, explained to Goal.com that getting minutes is crucial for the development of young players but, at the same time, always the most difficult thing to attain.
“It is very important for a young player coming into a league like the MLS to get playing time,” said Mavromaras. “In the best case, a player like Karl who is on his first contract could get some minutes in league play, but could also take great advantage of the MLS Reserve League, which will give him a smoother transition. Getting playing time is definitely the greatest challenge."
Ouimette has featured in nine of the Impact’s ten reserve games this season, but explained that playing in the reserves, though certainly helpful, can only give a player so much.
“For sure [the reserve league] isn’t the same and it’s a lower level, but it does give you a pretty good general idea of what the league is like,” said Ouimette. “But certainly the intensity isn’t the same, because the objectives aren’t the same.”
Whether Ouimette can get playing time for the Impact’s first team in MLS will be head coach Jesse Marsch’s decision and the native of Racine, Wisconsin told Goal.com that Ouimette’s lack of minutes so far this season is simply because, for now, there are better players ahead of him in the center back position.
“When we’ve put him on the field, we’ve put him on the field because we believe in him and we trust him,” said Marsch. "He hasn’t factored in as much because he’s down the pecking order and he’s still trying to establish himself and now show that he can move himself up the ladder.
"But in terms of now his understanding of being clear in what he needs to do every day to get better and how he does it and how he comes out and trains every day and what not, he’s done very well.”
For now, Ouimette is just thinking about giving his best in training and relishing every chance he gets with the first team.
The Impact academy is still very much a work in progress and it will probably take more than the certainty of Ouimette’s fate as a player, to ascertain its merit.
But for sure, the local boy is the club’s first glimmer of hope.
Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com Canada.