It’s not a word you’ll find in the dictionary, but it’s one that is key to the success of any aspiring young athlete.
For Ethan Gopaul, coachability has helped take him a step closer to his dream. After joining the newly launched Whitecaps FC Academy Centre in London, Ontario last year, Gopaul has earned a spot with the club’s U-18 Residency team. He will move to Vancouver in August and train in a full-time professional environment with a direct pathway to the club’s MLS and USL pro teams.
“It’s crazy to think that a player with Ethan’s abilities likely would have never been discovered had we not started an academy here,” reflected London Academy head coach Alan Alderson.
On Saturday, Gopaul will get a firsthand look at the ‘Caps first team. He will be among a large contingent of London Academy Centre players at BMO Field, cheering on the visiting ‘Caps as they face Toronto FC.
It’s been a whirlwind year for the resident of Mount Brydges, a neighbourhood just outside of London.
Last July, he was included at the announcement to bring the Whitecaps FC Academy Centre to town. Those pictures made him a poster boy for the new program. But rather than inflate his head, they served as motivation.
“People would tell me that they saw me in the pictures,” said Gopaul. “But I wanted to get noticed for my play.”
He backed up his early publicity with his work on the field. In November he was named the ‘Caps London Academy Player of the Month.
“I think Ethan has always been very motivated because of his passion for the game,” noted Alderson. “I think what has happened since we have come to town is a recognition that there is actually a pathway, and with that possibility has come an additional drive and focus.”
As he set out, his play was getting noticed, and he earned the trial in Vancouver that he desired.
“He has a ton of speed, and his work rate is undeniable,” said Whitecaps FC recruitment officer Frank Ciaccia of what he saw in Gopaul. “Getting up to the speed of play with our group is always the biggest challenge, but he adapted well to it.”
The excitement of his trial turned to disappointment when he was told that he hadn’t initially made the roster. The club gave him constructive feedback on what he needed to improve and let him know that they would be monitoring his progress.
“When he came back after his first visit to Vancouver, the first thing he said to me was that he had never wanted it more,” remembers Alderson. “He wanted to do whatever he could possibly do to make it back for another opportunity.”
Offensively, he impressed, but he knew that without hard work on the defensive end he wouldn’t reach his goal.
“From December to April I worked on that,” tells Gopaul. “Coach told me that working hard defensively was something that would set me apart. He spent a lot of extra attention to help me improve.”
That defensive work was apparent. In February, his two-way play helped the London Youth Whitecaps win their first provincial title, the Ontario U-18 Indoor Cup.
Gopaul's progress saw him invited for a second trial in April.
He was nervous and didn’t play his best the first day, so he sought advice from his coach.
“Ethan is at his best when he plays with freedom to make crazy, fun, dynamic things happen,” tells Alderson. “You can’t do that if you are thinking about the outcome. I told him to enjoy the moment.”
He received inspiration when he went to first team training and watched Kekuta Manneh play – a winger who he admires and looks to emulate. He also spoke with Alphonso Davies, another young prospect from the Residency program who is making strides with WFC2.
With a renewed confidence, Gopaul found his form and was offered a spot – a chance to continue his dream.
As the first player to make the move from London, Gopaul is a pioneer of sorts. Beyond his first prodigy, Alderson is excited for what the future will bring to young players in Southern Ontario.
“There is a legitimate pathway for them, the Whitecaps know they exist and are monitoring their progress. Ethan’s move is a massive statement to the community.”
Ontario may be thousands of kilometres away, but with Whitecaps FC expanding their footprint, that’s no longer a barrier. Ciaccia sees this as a first step as he recruits Canada's brightest young talents from near and far.
“Ethan is demonstrating that it’s closer than they might think.”
Whitecaps FC Academy Centres are a network of regional training hubs linked through key staff, curriculum, and standards that provide professional supplemental club training for serious, motivated players. Whitecaps FC currently have a network from British Columbia to Ontario, including locations in Kamloops, the Kootenays, London (Ontario), Manitoba, Northern BC, the Okanagan, Saskatchewan, Squamish, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island. For more information, visit whitecapsfc.com/academy and select the academy in your region.