Valour FC forward Tyler Attardo didn’t envision his 2019 being quite so impactful.
The then-17-year-old went into the end of 2018 as a prospect out of the residency program of Italian club Chievo Verona, amid word of a professional soccer team coming to his hometown of Winnipeg. Whispers reached his ears of a possible coast-to-coast open trial series for unidentified Canadian talent, with a stop in, you guessed it, Winnipeg.
So, a quick return home, and Attardo was given his number – 1140, to be exact – to compete in the open trials for one of the very limited spots in a Canadian Premier League roster. After two days of testing and in-game scouting, Attardo turned heads. He was described as “dynamic,” with one scout calling him one of the best finishers in Manitoba – perhaps the best finisher in the entire trials, period.
But that’s what scouts say. Practical application is a whole other story.
Luckily, the now-18-year-old has been nothing short of practical up top for Valour this season; quietly effective, Attardo has tucked away a joint team-leading six goals in 2019, including a brace in Valour’s 4-2 road win over York9 FC last weekend.
Attardo’s 2019 has been nothing short of exemplary, especially considering the journey he took to get to the pros.
“I wasn’t too sure where I really wanted to go or what I really wanted to do,” Attardo reflected. “But then, when I heard about the open trials, there was nothing else on my mind. Being able to play in Winnipeg, in front of my home fans, and to be given this opportunity, has been amazing.”
Valour coach Rob Gale figures Attardo could have been a star anywhere, though.
“He’s talented enough to go out and earn opportunities,” Gale said of his young striker. “He is a great story. I’ve been in youth development a long time. You’ve got to be patient.
“We’ve talked to Tyler about that earlier in the season and said ‘You’ll get opportunities’ – and, sometimes, he’ll get battered and physically clattered, and get targeted, and other times, there’s more game to come from him. But, what he’s done is, he’s kept his head down, he’s worked hard, on and off the field.”
That Gale has produced – or, at the very least, been given the task to develop – one of the country’s brightest young stars is fitting; the former Canada youth national team manager (under-16 to under-20) has spent the better part of the last two decades doing exactly this. As such, he’s learned a few valuable lessons when it comes to youth player development, which he’s applied with Attardo.
“You’ve got to keep working them off the field,” Gale affirmed. “We brought in players like Michele (Paolucci) so they have experienced players around him to learn from. But, (Attardo is) a sponge. He’s out there every day, doing extra work on the technical side of his game, the finishing. We have to keep doing that.”
It was at this point in Gale’s monologue where the big picture crept in, which usually tends to be the case when in conversation with the Valour coach.
“If we want to move on in this country, this was the purpose of the league,” Gale explained. “We need support, top to bottom, to hopefully breed the next Jonathan Davids, Alphonso Davies, and Cyle Larins. Young players who got opportunities at the right time in the right environment prove they can become professional, long-term footballers.”
It took a trial to identify Attardo. He didn’t come out of the CPL-U SPORTS Draft. He wasn’t a product of an MLS academy. But there’s beauty in the story, beyond the sentiment; for Gale, it’s a realization, a first step toward the ultimate goal in development.
“You have to have multiple pathways in any development platform,” Gale said. “As football clubs, we try to build a structure – all the work you never see – to provide environments and pathways.
“We have to continue to build pathways, partnerships, development programming. We have to work with U SPORTS, the NCAA, work with youth environments, build regional development where clubs make those stronger, coach education, I could go on. I’ve been in Canadian soccer for the last 15 years.
“Sometimes, it’s a challenge. It’s frustration and hard work, but you’re in it for the long game. I know that better than most. You have to create more pathways with increased opportunities.”