Meet The Canadian Premier League Emergency Goalkeepers
With the Canadian Premier League only allowing each club to have a maximum of 23 players on its roster, it’s no surprise that many clubs have opted to only retain two goalkeepers as full-time roster additions. In the event that one of these players gets hurt or leaves for international duty, however, a club with only two rostered goalkeepers can pick up a third on an emergency contract, lest another injury leave them without any proper players between the sticks.
So far, this has happened to four clubs: FC Edmonton, Forge FC, Valour FC, and Pacific FC. It’s also something that will happen soon to Cavalry FC, given that Marco Carducci will be due to travel with the Canadian national team in the near future.
Clubs don’t actually lose a roster spot by calling in an emergency goalkeeper, so in many cases these players were neither officially announced or retained long enough to actually appear on the official league roster listing before they were gone.
So, who are the emergency goalkeepers who’ve been called up so far? Let’s take a look.
Svyatik Artemenko (Valour FC – 19 years old)
Much like Valour FC’s young goalscorer Tyler Attardo, Artemenko introduced himself to head coach Rob Gale through the Got Game Open Trials in Winnipeg. The young Canadian represented Manitoba at the Canada Games, and has even turned down multiple scholarship offers from different universities in order to pursue an opportunity to play in the Canadian Premier League.
The 19-year old describes training with Valour FC as a great feeling, saying that Gale’s club trains with a quick tempo and high standards. With Tyson Farago still out injured, Artemenko knows that if anything happens to Belgian shotstopper Mathias Janssens, Svyatik’s professional career could get an opening chance to take off.
You never know what might happen in sport. You will always get a chance, you just don’t know when it’s coming and you always have to be ready for it. That’s why I always walk into practice with the mentality that I’m going to be starting the next game so that I could train to the best of my ability so that if my chance comes, I’m ready for it both physically and mentally.
Out of all four goalkeepers who have been called in as emergency backup keepers, Artemenko has stayed with the first team the longest.
Chris Ezoua (FC Edmonton – 19 years old)
When the Eddies needed a backup goalkeeper for an away trek against York9 FC, the club had a key advantage over its CPL opposition: it had an academy to dip in to. Jeff Paulus has reportedly made it clear to academy products that they could be called up to the first team at any point in the CPL season where warranted, and longtime academy member Chris Ezoua is now the perfect example of this.
When he found out he was going to be training with the first team, he was understandably excited about the opportunity:
Being called up was simply amazing. It is a pleasure knowing I am dependable to compete with the older guys and fill in whenever I am needed. It was a great experience being a roster player and being able to travel while being up close and personal with the team.Chris Ezoua
Ezoua wasn’t ultimately with the first team for a long period of time, as the club didn’t take too long to have both of its rostered goalkeepers back in the mix. There’s no hard feelings from Ezoua, though: he looks up to regular Eddies shotstopper Connor James, who is an academy graduate himself. In fact, Ezoua hopes to emulate his success in the future:
Having a short-term contract motivated me to improve myself as a player and reach the levels of Connor James and Dylon Powley. It’s a dream of mine to one day play for the first team and be the team’s number one goalkeeper. Seeing Connor come through the academy and then advance to the first team has easily made him one of my role models because that’s the main goal of our academy. He has always been great to work with, having a great understanding of the game, and his position makes it really easy to become a better goalkeeper.Chris Ezoua
Of course, James isn’t the sole educator at Clarke Field. The club’s goalkeeping coach, retired Canadian international Lars Hirschfeld, also got a shout out from the 19-year-old:
Our goalkeeper coach Lars Hirschfeld has also been really awesome to work with because he brings so much knowledge about goalkeeping and The Beautiful Game. He always works on the smallest details that a lot of goalkeeper coaches do not tend to focus on, which I really thought helped hone my skills.Chris Ezoua
Baj Maan (Forge FC – 19 years old)
When Quillan Roberts made the Guyana national team roster for the Gold Cup, Bobby Smyrniotis needed a temporary backup goalkeeper in the event that Triston Henry got injured. Like so many players before him, 19-year-old goalkeeper Baj Maan found himself moving throughout the Sigma FC to Forge FC pipeline.
Maan never made an appearance during the time Roberts was gone, and is no longer training with the Hamilton-based club. The young shotstopper has made seven appearances for Sigma FC in League1 Ontario action, conceding eleven goals for an average goals against of 1.57. His club currently finds itself in fifth place after fifteen games played.
Maan – who had also taken part in Toronto’s Got Game Open Trials – was informed early-on that an emergency callup for Forge FC was certainly on the cards. Baj says he looks up to the players on the Forge FC squad, stating that the opportunity to train with them on a daily basis when he was called up was an amazing experience.
Training with the squad at a professional level was unreal and I’m really glad I got to experience it, as I genuinely believe it helped me grow a lot as a goalkeeper and a person.Baj Maan
Baj started training with the club around late March, with his last session taking place around early July. The 19-year-old still keeps in touch with the Forge FC staff, but is now focused on his post-secondary education: having been accepted into Northern Kentucky University, he’ll be racking up some NCAA experience through the men’s soccer team during his time south of the border.
Tyrone Venhola (Pacific FC – 25 years old)
When Nolan Wirth hurt his ankle, Pacific FC head coach Michael Silberbauer needed to have someone on the bench while Mark Village took the reigns. The gaffer made an arrangement with local USL2 side Victoria Highlanders, a club which may be enticed to join the upcoming League1 BC in the near future, about bringing in Venhola as an emergency keeper.
Venhola was no stranger to Pacific FC: the club had talked to him about potentially joining the squad for preseason, though such an arrangement never came to fruition. Nonetheless, when Venhola took a phone call from Trevor Stiles (one of the goalkeeping coaches at PFC alongside Marius Rovde) asking if he could fill in for Wirth, Ty was quick to accept the proposition.
He describes his time training with the professional West Coast club as challenging, but fruitful:
Training with Pacific FC was challenging, both physically and mentally. When I joined Pacific I had just recovered from a bad quad injury on my left leg. This definitely added an additional challenge for myself, that I did keep relatively quiet to myself, but after the first week or so of training, it had returned to almost 100% strength. Mentally it was a lot more challenging. I continued to work part-time as a painter while with Pacific, and I certainly found it a big challenge to work for 2-3 hours in the morning, then train with team for 2-3 hours, and then head back to work for 4-5 more hours. Mentally this was something I hadn’t experienced before, specifically for the reason that Pacific would train at 10am, and I had developed the routine of always training at night with 4pm being the earliest I would train within the past 10 years of my playing history. On top of this, I was generally nervous and the training was more specific and intense than the goalkeeper training with Highlanders or university. Sessions were sharp, well put together and mentally engaging for 1.15 hours of pure goalkeeper training every session. I loved every minute of it, but I would be lying if it wasn’t a big change to the “routine” or standard that I was used to.Tyrone Venhola
Tyrone actually knew the goalkeeper he was called in to replace, with both having played for the Victoria Highlanders last season. In fact, Venhola had crashed on Wirth’s couch back when first moved to the Island. The man starting ahead of him, Mark Village, was also a known quantity: both players grew up playing for the Abbotsford Soccer Association, and had actually played against eachother a few times at the university level.
Venhola’s brief time with Pacific FC saw him endure what is one of the longest domestic away legs in the professional game: he traveled some 4,476 kilometers by air with the rest of the squad when Pacific FC travelled coast-to-coast to play against the Halifax Wanderers.
Traveling to Halifax was an unforgettable experience. I had only trained with the team for 2 days and on travel day, I was picked up by Marcus Haber and Ben Fisk at 4am on the Thursday morning to catch a 6am ferry from Victoria to [Vancouver] and then a layover from Toronto to Halifax. The travel day was a standard long one, but the guys on the team were great and made me feel apart of the team the entire trip. Unfortunately we lost the game 2-1 but despite the result the entire game experience was a dream. The Halifax stadium/crowd was fantastic and the whole game experience was highly impressive for such a new league. Even as a fan of the game and of Canadian Soccer, I certainly felt a deep Canadian pride and joy to see the success of the game growing in Canada and to see the league having success in its inaugural was truly special to experience as a player.Tyrone Venhola
For Venhola, he said being on such a short-term contract certainly added an interesting element into the equation:
I trained and pushed myself to my limit of exhaustion that month, balancing playing for Pacific but also working 6 hour+ days painting in the summer island heat. And being on a short term contract, I wanted to put myself in a position for them to consider signing me or for to continue to join them. I’m not sure if it was specifically the short term contract but rather the opportunity. I know many friends who had joined Pacific FC in pre-season and had opportunities themselves with training stints etc, and I would be surprised if their answers would be any different to mine. When given such an opportunity like that, anyone who has pushed themselves to play at the highest level possible, will also push themselves to earn a contract or feel the pressure from themselves, teammates and coaching staff to perform to the standards set by the club and by the individual player.Tyrone Venhola
It was early July when Venhola parted ways with Pacific FC after about a month of training with the squad. The 25-year-old, who just recently celebrated his birthday, says he’d be all ears for a return to Pacific FC or any Canadian Premier League club. In fact, he’s even got a YouTube highlight compilation for scouts to take a look at.
While none of the four emergency backup goalkeepers have been able to rack up any minutes in the Canadian Premier League so far, the day will eventually come when someone gets a shot. Artemenko found himself warming up last night when Janssens took a knock, but so far a debut for any emergency goalkeeper has yet to come.
In a league experiencing many firsts, it’s bound to happen eventually. It’ll be interesting to see if whoever gets called into action is able to use the opportunity to further their career in the Canadian Premier League.