All season long Matteo de Brienne consistently shone as a bright light in what was a dark and stormy Valour FC campaign.
And Thursday night in Hamilton Valour’s versatile left back/winger – who just completed his second season with the club — was honoured with the Canadian Premier League’s Best Canadian Under-21 Player award.
De Brienne bested a group that also included James Cameron of Vancouver FC and Forge FC’s Kwasi Poku and was selected following voting by CPL club technical leadership and selected media members locally and nationally who cover the CPL regularly.
“I have to thank everyone from my teammates, the coaching staff, the medical staff and the fans because without all of them I don’t think I’d be able to achieve this,” said de Brienne in a chat with valourfootball.club. “This isn’t an individual award in my mind, it’s a collective because without all the guys on the field this wouldn’t be possible.
“These accolades are nice and it’s great that the work pays off. A year ago I was listed under ‘notable’ and not on the Top 10 for the Under-21 award. I gave myself a goal of wanting to finish in that Top 10 this year as a personal goal. Being named a finalist alone made me happy to see the progress.”
De Brienne, who turned 21 in May, made 20 appearances for Valour this season, scoring three goals and adding three assists in 1,570 minutes. Last year, in his first season with Valour, he had three goals in 22 matches and 885 minutes and his growth – both in his ability to play multiple positions along the left side and up front and his maturation as a pro – was evident to everyone.
“The journey has been a roller-coaster at times, but I’ve really enjoyed the process,” said de Brienne. “Last year I came into the team and was just hoping to make the team, because that’s just how competitive that group was. And then I slowly made my way into the starting XI and staying there for a bit was a very big confidence boost to help myself and my game.
“I took that into this season as well even though I didn’t know where I was going to play after finishing last year as a striker and playing a bit on the wing. But playing a bit at left back wasn’t the biggest of changes for me because I had played in that role before. It was a new opportunity for me and I’m glad the coaches had faith I could make it work. That also helped boost my confidence because the team felt it was a role that would allow me to help the team.”
De Brienne is Valour’s second straight winner in this category, with midfielder Sean Rea honoured last season before returning to CF Montreal of the MLS. Jonathan Sirois also won honours in a Valour kit, being named the winner of the Golden Glove in 2021 as the CPL’s top goalkeeper and is now a star at CF Montreal.
The question for Valour now is whether de Brienne will return for 2024, or also be looking at another opportunity.
“I’ve never really focussed too much on what’s next, but on every single game,” de Brienne said. “Like I said, I enjoy the process because I know nothing will be steady. That’s what makes me the best version of myself when I have to face adversity. Through all of that, I’m always making sure I eat, train, and sleep properly so that everyone gets the best version of myself on game day.
“The best thing I can say about that now is at the moment I’m making sure I take these two weeks off to relax and really get myself away from football,” he added. “Once I come back, I’ll sit down and look at my options. That’s just how I do things all the time.”
As the CPL’s Best Canadian Under-21 Player, de Brienne was awarded a unique piece of Inuit soapstone art, conceived by artist Taqialuk Nuna. The Polar Bear statue is because ‘like a developing player, the animal grows from a playful young cub to one of the most respected and formidable animals roaming Canada’s North.’