It seems an odd subject to broach with a man who stands 6-7 and sports a wingspan wide enough to seemingly go post-to-post across a soccer net.
Yet so much of every conversation with Valour FC’s goalkeeper over the last 10 months or so revolves around the growth of the man – not literally, of course, but figuratively – and how he has quickly settled into his place with Winnipeg’s Canadian Premier League club and in the professional game.
Selected third overall by Valour FC in the 2021 CPL U-Sports Draft, Yesli began last season as the understudy to Jonathan Sirois – the league’s top keeper in 2021 – before earning his first start and then another, and another after that, en route to becoming one of the team’s shining stars by year’s end.
Yesli made nine CPL starts a year ago – as well as the club’s loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship – and posted sensational numbers with four clean sheets and a goals-conceded average of just .889.
Again, that represents a ton of growth over just a few months.
“It’s one thing to be practicing, it’s another thing playing,” Yesli said in a chat with valourfootball.club after Day 3 of training at the WSF Soccer Complex. “You can be good in training but when you get in the game on the field it’s completely different. It’s like when you have an exam at school: the game is the exam, and you study at home during practice.
“It was a big challenge and I’m happy I was able to live up to it and it helped me grow a lot. As a player you always think, you always know, you can play at this level or even higher. That’s how we are as players; that’s how we need to be. It was proving to the coaching staff and to the team that they could trust me. That was the most important thing for me.”
That trust especially grew last August when Yesli grabbed the starting chores and stood tall during a stretch that saw the club post four wins and a draw against one road loss against HFX Wanderers – in which the only shot that beat him was a penalty.
And as Yesli’s minutes grew, so did his voice – so much so that he became a respected leader in the clubhouse by season’s end.
“That comes from confidence,” said Valour GM and Head Coach Phillip Dos Santos. “It’s very hard when you’re not playing – even a veteran leader like AJB (Andrew Jean-Baptiste)– to exercise your leadership qualities to the maximum. It’s like there is a group going to work, but the leader is not there fighting with them. Rayane really grew when he started to play and contribute. That’s when you really start to see the personality of someone coming through. This year he’s part of our leadership group and he’s someone we count on a lot.
“His maturity is something we saw from him last year. What he lived and experienced last year was very good for him and so was his time this offseason in France with a First Division club (AC Ajaccio, last month).
“It was his first real professional year for him last season. Things happened very fast. There’s people who have the ability to grow and mature quickly and he’s one of those.
“He has that aura and that presence. This will be a big year for him.”
Indeed, with Sirois having returned to CF Montreal, Yesli is settling in – as Dos Santos puts it to the ‘pole position’—in Valour’s net along with recent addition Jordan Tisseur.
Yesli is constantly working on his craft, crediting Valour goalkeeper coach Patrick Di Stefani for their constant communication, and wants to take another huge step this season along with the squad. So much of his work ethic comes simply from his path to professional ball. Yesli was never part of an academy system and has had to scratch and fight for every opportunity – including the one he’s experiencing now with Valour.
“I took an unconventional road,” he said. “I haven’t been in a professional academy for six years or anything like that, but I’m still here. It’s always been a big fight for me wherever I went. I’ve been to Italy. I’ve been to Ireland… to many places. With the goalkeeper position there’s only one guy playing and it’s always a big fight. But that helped me to grow mentally and I’m happy to have had those experiences.
“I feel comfortable here in this environment and think I can play a role in helping my new teammates settle in and then live up to the standards this club is all about. I’m really grateful. This is the organization that drafted me, that gave me my first chance and even my first contract. That’s why I’m going to give everything back to this club.”
-Valour will be training on Friday at WSF South from 10-11:30 a.m., with the session open to the public.
-Good piece here from the CPL site on former Valour star Sean Rea and his advancement to the first team with CF Montreal: https://canpl.ca/article/it-really-gave-me-a-confidence-boost-sean-rea-ready-to-star-for-montreal-after-standout-cpl-season