'I have so much more to prove': As De Brienne thrives for Valour, whispers of MLS interest emerge
Matteo de Brienne has always had a knack for the extraordinary in front of goal – and a pretty darn good arsenal of acrobatic celebrations to go along with 'em.
Naturally, he’s also put together a highlight reel that's the envy to many of his peers.
A Robin Van Persie-esque over-the-shoulder volley back in his Ravens days? Got one of those.
An acrobatic ninja-style bicycle kick last year for Valour against Forge? Light work for him.
It's why hardly anyone was surprised to see De Brienne score that goal last weekend against York United. Never mind that he hit it with his weaker right foot. Forget that he struck it with such ferocity that goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos managed to get a hand on it and still failed to save the rocket. And put aside the significance of scoring the crucial equalizer in what ended up being a 1-1 draw.
He believed in himself. Why not have a hit?
"A lot of the guys at training are always telling me to cut in, cut in, and I had to prove our coach Daryl Fordyce wrong, he always says I have no right foot," De Brienne joked with OneSoccer’s Adam Jenkins and Oliver Platt afterwards. "So I decided to have a crack with my right, and I was fortunate enough to put it in the net."
GOAL 🎖️@ValourFootball find an equalizer vs. @YorkUtdFC as Matteo De Brienne runs into acres of space and stuns the 'keeper with a long-range drive 🎯#CanPL | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/LzCjZlq8YE— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 4, 2023
This is not a story (just) about scoring great goals. This is a story about desire.
It was the desire to prove his coach Fordyce wrong that helped craft another highlight-reel moment. That mentality explains a lot about how De Brienne has found so much success so far this season: When he sets his mind to something, he often attains it.
Just look through his journey to even get to this point. A former Vancouver Whitecaps academy player, De Brienne signed for his hometown Atlético Ottawa ahead of the Island Games in 2020, but never once featured for the club.
As a result, he headed to Ligue 1 Québec’s South End United for the 2021 season, before a stint with FC Manitoba later that summer. There, he caught the eye of Valour FC, even training with them, before he enrolled with the University of Carleton later that fall.
Back in his hometown, he thrived, scoring an impressive six goals as Carleton fell in the U SPORTS National Championship final (in which he also scored). From there, he finally ended up signing for Valour, who swooped in to grab him before draft day, in which De Brienne was expected to be a top prospect given that he was just 19 at the time.
Now in just his second season at the club, he;s quickly become entrenched in the team’s fabric, becoming a key regular for the team. After playing just 894 minutes last year in all competitions, he’s already amassed 810 minutes this season – every minute of every game so far.
Plus, he’s doing it in a brand-new role, too. Always a winger in his younger days, as well as a striker at times last year, head coach Phil Dos Santos has been converting him into a left back this year.
Which, to De Brienne’s credit, is a role he’s adjusted fantastically to. Defensively, he’s really grown into his new position, and now he’s only getting more comfortable offensively, which is scary given his ability to make things happen in the final third.
All while learning to manage the seemingly endless bundles of energy that he possesses, he’s looked like he’s been playing there for years, with a player-of-the-game performance against York proving to be a great example of that.
Therefore, while it’s not a role he initially anticipated playing in coming into this season, after scoring an impressive three goals last year despite the limited minutes, he’s taken to it very quickly.
“I've really enjoyed the process, and the fact that my teammates and coaches have trusted me in a new role, I’ve really enjoyed it,” De Brienne told OneSoccer of the positional shift. “It's a new challenge, but I'm always happy for those. So far, it’s been good, but I have a lot more to give.”
“I find myself a bit more restricted, but it's really taught me to calm my game down so that I'm not always expending my energy, and so I think it's really helped me control myself and maintain myself more so that I can help the team out for longer periods of time.”
“He's a good guy. I think he's done really well, he's done a big job for us,” teammate and roommate Marcello Polisi added. “Maybe he didn’t want to start there, but I think he’s grown into that role fantastically, and the sky's the limit for the guy.”
As a result, Valour’s profiting from that, in a big way.
Not only is De Brienne chipping in at both ends, helping the team concede the fewest goals in the CPL, while adding a goal and an assist of his own, but he’s single-handedly driving them up the league’s U21 minutes chart, too.
It’s easy to forget, but having just turned 21, he’s still eligible to claim those minutes in CPL play, of which teams need 2000. Because of that, those 720 league minutes he’s played have helped Valour sit first in that category with 1485, over 600 minutes ahead of second-place Vancouver FC.
As a result, he’s also a leading favourite for the league’s Canadian U21 Player of the Year award, too, given how good he’s been for Valour.
Safe to say, it’s been quite the start to the campaign for De Brienne. Given where he was at the end of 2020, it’s been a meteoric rise, yet shows the importance of being given an opportunity in the CPL, as before, he could’ve easily fallen through the cracks after not signing with the Whitecaps.
Instead, De Brienne is now one of the key faces of the CPL, and can look ahead to his career and only imagine what’s still to come for him as a player.
“I think the CPL has been an incredible stepping stone for me,” De Brienne admitted. “And it's only getting better and I think the quality of the league is getting better, so I think it's really helped me grow as a person and as a footballer at the same time.”
Speaking of which, that future is already starting to take shape in front of him at the moment, as his strong play has also helped him garner MLS interest as of late, as was recently reported by Transfermarkt.
Given his age and position, that’s not all that surprising, just further highlights his recent performances.
Plus, it shows that teams are taking note of these sorts of performances. And why not? Given that the list of past U21 Canadian Players of the Year winners includes Tristan Borges, Diyaeddine Abzi, Mo Farsi, Julian Dunn, Chrisnovic N’Sa, Victor Loturi and Sean Rea, players who all moved abroad after their exploits (although Borges later returned), there’s precedent for U21 standouts to make that jump from the CPL.
Especially when one looks at De Brienne’s positional versatility and work rate at his young age, that sort of thing will immediately stand out to coaches, and for good reason.
It has caught the eye of Phil Dos Santos, who is doing what he can to help it along, knowing that De Brienne is only scratching the surface of his potential.
“I was away for a week, and there’s interest? Good for the kid,” Dos Santos joked last week. “But I think at the end of the day, when you play with the right spirit and commitment to your team, it’s key.”
“Every day, he trains like that, he's always wired and I think good things are going to happen for him. He's still a young player, so there's a lot of potential, but every coach likes to work with that base, that starting point that he has. So yeah, we're happy for him, but you know me, it's always about what the next level is for players, and now it's finding what that next level is for him”
And for what it’s worth, De Brienne still has a lot of unfinished business to take care of before he entertains a transfer, too, as he himself doesn’t feel he’s quite proven everything he can yet in the CPL.
For other CPL teams, that’s a scary proposition, but one that Valour won’t complain about, especially given what they’ve seen from him so far.
Seeing that they’ve been struggling to nab a win as of late, winless in their last seven league games despite drawing six of those games, they feel that those results aren’t a true reflection of their performances.
Therefore, look for De Brienne to help them in that push. Until someone thrusts a contract in front of him, he’s keeping that MLS interest out of mind, knowing that if he builds on what he’s doing, it’s only a matter of time before he follows in the footsteps of past CPL U21 standouts in making that jump to the next level.
“I mean, rumours are rumours, but until someone thrusts a pen and paper in front of you, I don't want to believe anything,” De Brienne said candidly. “It's always nice to hear that when you’re doing something well, but I know me, I have so much more to prove. So it’s just about getting myself to the next level and proving myself even more than I have.”
“I'm looking forward to winning a few more games at this point,” he continued. “I’m not one who enjoys ties, but playing away is never easy, so I’m really looking forward to regrouping, taking it one game at a time and hopefully getting some three points on the board.”