“The moment I get comfortable is the moment I’m in trouble.” | Matteo de Brienne

It’s the only way Matteo de Brienne knows – head down, full speed ahead – and he certainly won’t be easing his foot off the gas pedal any time soon.

Valour FC’s young forward authored a solid rookie season in the Canadian Premier League in 2022, scoring three goals in 22 matches and 885 minutes of action. That goal total ranked him tied for third on the club last year, and with Moses Dyer, Sean Rea, Alex Riggi all having moved on, it leaves him as the highest-scoring player currently on the squad.

Yet, to understand de Brienne at all is to know the 20-year-old Ottawa product won’t spend a nanosecond attempting to pat himself on the back. Young as he is, he already understands fully that in pro sports nothing is guaranteed.

“I won’t let myself get comfortable,” said de Brienne after a practice session during Valour’s preseason at the WSF South complex. “The moment I get comfortable is the moment I’m in trouble. There’s a chance out there to reach a bigger goal and I’m going to do my best to achieve that.

“The way I take it is every day is a new opportunity and I’m still a rookie trying to prove myself. Yes, this is my second year, but I’m trying to earn my spot on the squad and in the (starting) 11 or in the 18 (dress roster). Every day is a challenge.

“I grew up in a very competitive family,” he added, with a grin. “It taught me to take every game like it could be your last. That’s my perspective for every single day, every single game.”

De Brienne was signed by Valour in January of ’22, just days before the CPL U-Sports Draft, after a superb season with the Carleton University Ravens and a stint in the summer of 2021 with FC Manitoba, traveling with Atlético Ottawa during the 2020 Island Games but not seeing any action and being part of the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program.

His first goal came on June 15th against Cavalry FC and added his second in his first start, a 2-1 home loss to Pacific FC.

Yet, de Brienne will be the first to admit his first season in professional football was hardly a straight arrow pointing upwards.

“There were a lot of positives, but there were a lot of moments where I had doubts,” he said. “It was about picking myself up. It was about, ‘OK, you’re here. Calm yourself down and enjoy the moment.’ The moment I started enjoying the game was the moment everything started to go a bit smoother for me. That’s been a very positive part of the journey for me.

“It was big for me just to get into the 18 because before that I had been in and out. The moment I was in the 18 there was a bit of comfort and then it was chasing the next goal of being in the starting 11. Then it becomes how long I could stay in that because soccer is a game of ups and downs.

“I learned a lot. Social media, for example, is a big thing. When you turn pro there’s posts about you everywhere. I took the initiative to delete or limit my social media to my family. I can tell a difference.”

Critical now for de Brienne in his development is what that next step might look like, and he’ll be battling for minutes among Valour’s revamped forward group.

“Now it’s about sustaining for him,” said Valour GM and head coach Phillip Dos Santos. “He’s in an environment where the competition is going to be stronger, and he needs to build on what he was able to achieve last year and then sustain it. That’s the next step for him.

“It’s an important year for him because there are some rules in the league that promoted the players in the U-21 bracket. The truth is he’s getting out of that (de Brienne turns 21 in late May) and the reality is a lot of times young players are getting the minutes and it’s organic, but it’s also in the back of the head of a coach.

“Last year he came in and deserved every minute he had. Now he’s competing against everyone else. With Matteo, we never question his work ethic, his commitment. Now he needs to breathe a bit more on the ball and have a bit more clarity in his game and how will he progress in that aspect and grow to be a consistent player for this team.

“He’s in a better moment now than he was at this time in preseason, no doubt,” Dos Santos added. “He has experience now with the demands of the pro game and how the margins are small and how you to value the little things. So, he comes better prepared.

“He’s fighting. He’s a fighter. We’ll see how it translates and how he deals with the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster of the season.”

Indeed, Valour already knows this much: de Brienne will always be grinding.

“Every single day I step on the field I’m thankful I’m with an incredible group of guys,” he said. “This is the dream I want to live. I’m still young and I want to see how long I can make this last.”