James Pantemis trains with the Canadian men's national team. (Photo: Canada Soccer)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A young Canadian goalkeeper, with two Canadian Championship games for an MLS club and a sniff at a national team camp (but no caps) under his belt, takes the road less travelled and joins a CPL outfit.
Who does this describe? Marco Carducci, or James Pantemis? You’d have been forgiven if Callum Irving crossed your mind, too, although he wouldn’tquite have fit the bill.
Frankly, it’s almost scary how similar Pantemis’ current situation, after signing with Valour FC, is to Carducci’s in early 2019. He’s a year older, and he’s been at four more senior national team camps than Carducci had been at when he signed for Cavalry FC, but Carducci had 22 USL games (with Whitecaps 2 and Rio Grande Valley) to Pantemis’ two with FC Montreal.
Their pre-CPL resumes are pretty much a wash. The two players even went toe-to-toe last season, when Pantemis started for the Montreal Impact against Cavalry at Stade Saputo in the Canadian Championship.
Pantemis has been called to a pair of recent Canada camps under John Herdman, joining them in September for the Concacaf Nations League and in January for the winter camp in California. He still hasn’t seen any game action, though, right now it certainly feels like he’s behind Carducci in the battle for third in the depth chart (after Milan Borjan and Maxime Crépeau).
Why is that? Consistent. Playing. Time.
We say it over and over again about every player who succeeds in the CPL, and it’s true. Tristan Borges earned regular minutes and turned into a superstar. Tyler Attardo is set to play in Chile as an 18-year-old because he had weekly games in a professional league. Carducci won himself a carand became the league’s best goalkeeper by taking the starting job at Cavalry. You’d run out of breath trying to list all the players who went from an MLS or USL bench to a CPL starting job in 2019.
Apparently, Pantemis was paying attention while languishing on the bench in Montreal last year. “Why not me?,” you can imagine him thinking.
Indeed, why not him? Right now, Valour FC has no other goalkeeper under contract, with the futures of both Mathias Janssens and Tyson Farago unclear. The club could use a player like Pantemis, if he’s able to do as Carducci did and make a name for himself as a starter. It’ll be darn near to the exact same path.
Not lost in this story is the boost Pantemis can give Valour, of course. They gave up more goals than anyone in 2019, and this move is the latest in their almost-wholesale defensive overhaul. Really, it might be one of the most impactful signings so far ahead of 2020.
The opportunity for Pantemis is the biggest win here, though.
One of Carducci’s stated goalswhen he signed in Calgary last winter was to get on Herdman’s radar. Pantemis is already very much on it, but he could use a boost up the depth chart; if Herdman and Mauro Biello see him holding down the fort in Winnipeg week in and week out, he’ll be in much better shape.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we’ve learned this off-season is that Canadian players believe in the CPL pathway now, especially for youngsters with national team aspirations. Thomas Meilleur-Giguère or Hanson Boakai could tell you that.
The heir-apparent to Borjan for Canada is Crépeau, but coming up the ladder just behind him may be this new generation of CPL-fuelled goalkeepers in Carducci and Pantemis.
The latter, born in 1997, will be eligible for the U-23 team to compete in Olympic qualifiers in March. Pantemis might be the starter for that Biello-coached squad, which could bump his stock a little further in men’s national team circles.