Matt Silva opens with a story from his youth and the first moments he can remember being on the pitch as a kid in the Brampton, Ont. youth soccer ranks.
Undoubtedly many stories begin like this – with a mob of kids chasing a ball around and their parents camped out along the sidelines in lawn chairs.
There’s a pack of kids, some aggressive, others more timid and invariably a goalkeeper plunked down in his net picking dandelions.
Silva, Valour FC’s goalkeeper, has vivid memories like that, too. But his first foray in the net didn’t exactly hint at a future in the game as a professional.
“When I started I was just rotated into goal like everybody else and then you play defender, midfield and the other positions,” began Silva in a recent chat with valourfootball.club for our latest ‘Beyond The Pitch’ feature. “In house league my dad was my coach until I was about 12-13. When I first started I didn’t like getting scored on when I was in goal. I would cry because I hated it that much.
“My dad would get embarrassed and I remember after a game we’re going home and my dad said, ‘You’re not going in net again. I’m not going to sit there and watch you cry every time you give up a goal. Next time it’s your turn we’re going to skip over you.’
“That really made me WANT to play goal.”
Now, there can be any number of turning points in an athlete’s career. Perhaps it’s break here or some sage advice there. In Silva’s case, his first real turning point offered a hint at his determination. Desperate to get back in the net, he played goal during every recess at school. He worked at his physical game and also learned to not get so emotional when a shot got behind him.
Then, back to the house league…
“It got to be my turn again and I said to me dad, ‘I’ve been practising at school… I think you should let me play in net,’” Silva recalled. “He was against it, but my sister Stephanie said she had been watching me and how I had improved. I told my dad. ‘If I cry, I’ll never play in net again.’
“Well, I got scored on and looked over at him with a big smile on my face and gave him a thumbs up and a ‘Hey, I’m good. I didn’t cry’ look. We laugh at that now.”
Silva’s road to Winnipeg and Valour FC isn’t that much different than so many others who pull on the maroon and black kit. He turned in some solid work with the Toronto Lynx and SC Toronto into a scholarship at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, where he was the Northeast-10 Conference Rookie of the Year in 2010.
That led to his first pro contract with Kaya FC in the Philippines, then a three-year stretch with Bodens BK and Osterlens FF in Sweden before a return to Canada in 2019 with York9 and the inaugural Canadian Premier League season.
As a Canadian of Portuguese descent, Silva’s allegiances are naturally tied to Benfica. His father Joe was an outstanding athlete growing up, starring as a goalkeeper, a running back in football and in track.
“He’s small, but he’s powerful and he’s quick,” said Silva. “As I got older and got faster and stronger I always wanted to beat him in a race. There was a time when I was about 16 and we had gone to get groceries and I started poking fun at him… ‘Hey, you’re getting old. I’m faster than you now.’ He said, ‘Yeah? OK, let’s race to the car.’
“He was maybe in his mid-40s. And he just whupped me. He said, ‘I’m always going to be faster than you. Don’t forget that.’ I don’t know about now, but…”
His mother, Goretti, provided Silva with his grit and determination. She had a kidney transplant when he was young, but never displayed even a hint of her health issue. And it’s that perseverance which she instilled in him that he is leaning on now at a critical stage in his career.
Silva just recently turned 30. But after playing in 68 matches over three years in 2016-18 in Sweden, he’s made just one appearance over the past two seasons.
Signed by York9 In February of 2019, Silva injured his thumb in preseason and suited up for just one game. And last year, as the back-up to James Pantemis with Valour, he dressed for all seven matches at the Island Games but never saw a minute of action.
With Pantemis back in Montreal, Silva – as of right now – is Valour’s No. 1 stopper, although GM and head coach Rob Gale this week added another CF Montreal product, Jonathan Sirois, on a loan agreement and he expects to push for starts.
“I can tell you this: I am not a second goalkeeper. Period,” said Silva before the announcement of the Sirois addition. “That is a driver for me. I know what it means to be a professional, so I know how to act as a No. 2, but in my mind it’s acting. It’s not who I am or what I think I can do. That’s what drives me.
“That’s why I’m out here in Vancouver training and working with the best people – to be ready. I can be stubborn and if I want it, I’m going to try and get it. It’s been very tough the last couple of years. What keeps me going is I want to make people proud. I want to make people happy by playing.”
It’s here where we suggested his career, in a way, has come full circle – from the young boy who first cried when he gave up a goal and had to fight to get back in the net, to the promising pro who suffered through an injury and now is working to re-establish himself.
“I never thought about it that way until you just mentioned it, but it’s almost like I have come full circle,” he admitted. “It’s back to what happened when I was a kid and my dad wouldn’t let me play because I would cry when I got scored on. Maybe it is that.
“I had it taken away from me, but then I worked harder to get it back. That’s where I am now.
“Everyone is telling me, ‘Matt, you should be a No. 1. You deserve to play.’ So, I’m not delusional about this. I just want to prove it. That puts added pressure on me, but so what. I know I can do it and I just have to continue to fight for it. And I will fight for it.”