TORONTO – Fans got a look at one of the newest members of the club on Saturday night.
Goalkeeper Quentin Westberg made his debut for Toronto FC in the 3-2 loss away to Seattle Sounders FC. Having signed on February 25 after arranging his departure from French club AJ Auxerre, the 32-year-old had to wait patiently for his chance to play.
“It's always a pleasure,” smiled Westberg midweek. “That's what I've been doing for years, but I never get sick of it, plus Seattle is a decent place to play soccer.”
“The outcome, especially for a goalkeeper – losing and taking three goals – is not the best, but overall I felt good on the pitch, controlled what was controllable,” continued the Westberg. “We want to win, we do this to win, so there's a bittersweet feeling. Overall, great to be on the pitch, felt ready and was able to keep some positives out of this game.”
Westberg made two saves on the night, but it was another element of his game, one that TFC specifically sought him out for, that most pleased Greg Vanney.
“I like his distribution, his capability [there]. There are probably a couple times that he takes a little more risk than necessary, but that is finding a balance with our team,” said the Toronto coach. “[We] also can recognize his ability to do things, get to spots faster because part of his strength is to hit those spots. There is a relationship between getting used to him and him to the group that only comes with repetition and minutes. That was a nice add to the group.”
“[I'm] not sure there is a whole lot he can do on any of the goals. The third goal is shot from so close and hard, it's going to be a tough one no matter what. He made a couple saves that he should make, made them clean and appropriate,” continued Vanney. “Performance overall was solid, especially considering it was the first game behind the group and we, as a group, [didn't] play at the highest level we are capable of playing.”
Despite not having played a match since early February in France, Westberg saw no rust in his game.
“No, not at all,” said Westberg. “That's the good thing. There is always an adjustment to a different league, different country, different style of play.”
Nor did the turf throw him off.
“Turf is turf,” dismissed the goalkeeper. “I'm a purist, soccer is played on grass. But if it's turf it's turf, if it's dry grass, it's dry grass, if it's very wet and damp, it's all about adjusting, taking everything into consideration and adapting.”
And to make his debut in one of the most scintillating games of the season in front of a raucous crowd of 37 000-plus was a bonus.
“It's good, but when the whistle blows, it's gone. It's about performing and doing well,” said Westberg. “For myself, and a goalkeeper in general, about keeping things organized and communicating. It was loud, a great atmosphere to play soccer in.”
Born in France to a French mother and American father, Westberg represented the U.S. at the youth international level, where he first crossed paths with Michael Bradley and a handful of other MLS stars, including Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan.
More than a few of his former teammates from those days – Chad Barrett, Jacob Peterson, Nathan Sturgis, and Hunter Freeman – have graced the pitch at BMO Field.
But it was conversations with a more recent TFC player – Damien Perquis, with whom he played at Troyes AC – as well as those with mutual friends of Benoit Cheyrou that helped convince Westberg that Toronto was the place to be.
“I was at that point in my career that I wanted to experience something new. I had been playing in France for 15 years,” explained Westberg back in March. “Professionally, and to experience life on this side of the Atlantic, for myself and my family. Knowing Toronto could be an option, made it even better. I've heard only great things about Canada in general, how the country works, the values, raising kids here, plus being able to be part of this great club. It was the right moment, so I went all in when I knew there was a possibility.”
Family settling in, Westberg is pleased with his decision.
“We moved into our new house two weeks ago. Really happy with [it], the school for the boys and preschool for my daughter. Everything is good,” said Westberg. “Now we're enjoying Canadian life as a family.”
What drew Toronto's attention in particular is his ability with his feet, a once overlooked asset that is now very much in vogue.
“There is this one part where you have to goal-tend, be a shot-stopper, but the opposite side is you need to be the 11th player, read the game, know the game,” said Westberg. “If you want to manage and command from behind, you need to know what it's like to be on the field.”
That was one of many skills developed during his time at Clairefontaine, the world-renowned FFF football academy on the outskirts of Paris.
“It was a blessing, my soccer personality and soccer basis took such a huge boost from there,” reminisced the goalkeeper. “I was taught the fundamentals, not only on, but also off the pitch – leaving home so early. Hard at times, but very good experience.”
He will wear the #16 jersey for TFC, for both old and new reasons: “I had a lot of role models that have worn #16.”
“In France, [as a goalkeeper], you're allowed to wear #1, #16 or #30. Fabien Barthez, was my general manager [at Luzenac AP], so I had a special relationship with him, so it's a tribute. At the same time, one of my favourite players is Sergio Busquets, he wears #16,” explained Westberg. “Plus, coming in: 416. I couldn't wear the 416, so wearing the #16 was the right number to keep. It was perfect.”