TUKWILA, Wash. — As France dominated global soccer at the turn of the millennium, winning the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships, there was one youth academy on the tip of everyone’s tongue the world over. Clairefontaine produced stars like Thierry Henry and made Les Bleus' talent factory the envy of the soccer world.
Such was the coverage around the academy, that a French TV station brought their cameras in and filmed the class of 1999 for a documentary series. Among the players featured were future France international Hatem Ben Arfa and Abou Diaby, while legends like Henry, Zinedine Zidane and Fabian Barthez made cameo appearances.
There was also a name who may not have grabbed the headlines like many of the academy’s other graduates but that now, 20 years later and at the age of 33, stands on the verge of the biggest moment of his career.
Quentin Westberg will be the last line of defense for Toronto FC as they seek to upset Seattle Sounders in front of a sold-out CenturyLink Field in the MLS Cup Final on Sunday (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TVAS, TSN).
“It was crucial, most of my identity is thanks to these three years at Clairefontaine,” Westberg said at Seattle Sounders' training complex on Friday. “It was a total blessing for me, for someone who was born and raised in France to be able to get in such a place is just a huge opportunity.”
Huge Opportunity, and a big responsibility.
“It’s a big, big academy, a lot of great players have emerged from this academy and also there’s a standard to try to maintain in terms of the playing style, in terms of what you learn, as a soccer player but also a man,” Westberg added. "I’ve learned so much and I’m so grateful for so many people that I’ve met there. It’s totally shaped my career from day one.”
Westberg has been living up to that standard of late and is a big part of the reason that Toronto have made it back for a third MLS Cup Final in four years. It was his penalty save against Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez that stopped TFC from falling into a 2-0 hole early on in their Eastern Conference Final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Westberg’s journey to a potentially starring role on the big stage has not been a conventional one. Born in the suburbs of Paris to an American father and French mother, he represented the U.S. at the 2003 U-17 World Cup. His career had taken him to six clubs, across France, Switzerland and Norway before Toronto FC called and signed him from Ligue 2 side Auxerre a week before the start of the 2019 MLS season.
Initially acting as a backup to Alex Bono, since getting his chance to assume the starting role in May Westberg has not looked back. He is clear he owes much of it to what he was taught at Clairefontaine.
“The most that I’ve learned there as much as I did tactically, technically is the respect of your sport, of your job and also the respect of the people surrounding you,” he said. “It’s something I never walked away from and this is probably the proudest thing in my career so far.”
After his winding journey to this stage, Westberg is flying high.
“I’m really happy I’m wearing this crest and representing this city and this great organization,” he said. “Ultimately this is what we look for. I’m just proud I’m part of Toronto FC.”