TORONTO — They called him “Spider-Man.”
Lukumbi Tshindaye, 19, still doesn’t know why Canadian Premier League coaches marked him with a nickname during this week’s #GotGame Open Trials in Laval, Que.
Perhaps it was his dyed-red hair, he suggested to CanPL.ca. Or, perhaps, it was his ability to cover a lot of ground rather quickly.
The Quebec City midfielder seemed to be everywhere during the CPL’s two-day tryout, the second stop of seven on the league’s coast-to-coast talent search.
“I love this game,” Tshindaye repeated while resting between scrimmages.
His appreciation for it, he offered, is bolstered by a past that includes hope and hardship.
“I was a refugee,” Tshindaye explained. “My mom asked for Canada to help us. We had nothing to eat. We had nothing. We were poor.”
Born in the Democratic Rep. of the Congo, Tshindaye was five years old when his family relocated to neighbouring Rwanda. It would be four more years before Canada “blessed” his family with acceptance.
“I remember football (in Rwanda)!” he reflected, recalling his early days of soccer, now a decade back. “But I didn’t have a team. We just played to enjoy the game, because football is always enjoyable. I fell in love with this game. I want to do something with this sport.”
Tshindaye added: “God blessed us and Canada accepted us.”
In doing so, his new home also provided him with the opportunity to pursue his dream of one day becoming a professional.
“I’m really happy,” Tshindaye continued. “Life is really difficult in Rwanda. If I was there, maybe I wouldn’t be playing right now. I’d be working.”
Instead, Tshindaye is working to carve out a career. After a single season in the PLSQ last year with Dynamo de Quebec, the tenacious midfielder rolled the dice in Europe, bouncing from trial to trial in Germany during a seven-month period.
“Spider-Man,” as the CPL coaches affectionately called him, had offers abroad, but ultimately turned them down and returned to Canada. He made his way back to Quebec two weeks ago before learning about the CPL’s Open Trials.
“My coach told me we have the Canadian Premier League. It was interesting,” Tshindaye added. “I’m home. Maybe my dream is to become a big player, but I need to start (in Canada).”
Whether that happens remains to be seen. Tshindaye was a standout player on the second stop of the CPL’s seven-city tour, but with trial dates in Hamilton and Toronto fast-approaching, the midfield engine will be compared to trialists on display in Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver Island over the next six weeks.
“This could be another step for me,” Tshindaye added. “I remember two years ago I wasn’t like this; I didn’t play like this. But I started to work hard and touch the ball every day. If I’m called, that’s God. God has a plan for me, I think.”
At least one CPL coach called him the “pick of the group” on Day 1 of the two-day tryout.
“He brings energy but understands how to play simple,” the coach described Tshindaye. “He’s a good passer — a player who models his game after N’Golo Kante. He’s a great engine in the middle of the park.”
Tshindaye smiled upon reading those comments a day later.
As he sat with CanPL.ca, the 19-year-old also described his characteristics as a player.
“I have good technique,” he said. “I’m not too big, but I like challenges. I like to go and challenge players. I like to talk on the pitch and do things simple. I can dribble when I need to, but I play simple.”
In the end, though, Tshindaye said he derives his passion and commitment and energy from a single source.
“(My mother) always pushed me even though she doesn’t know about soccer,” he explained. “But she pushed me to dream big.
“She dreamed big. That’s what is motivating me. I need to work hard. I have an example: My mother.”