VANCOUVER, B.C. – There was a time, not that long ago, when the Canadian men's national team wasn’t the country of choice for a number of Canada’s promising young dual nationality players. Things have started to change for the better in recent years, a trend proliferated with head coach John Herdman at the helm.
Perhaps the most high-profile commitment that Herdman has secured in his tenure has been that of exciting 19-year-old winger Ballou Tabla, who is set to earn his third cap in Sunday’s Concacaf Nations League qualifier against French Guiana in Vancouver on Sunday (6 pm ET | TSN2 in Canada).
Born in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Tabla moved to Canada with his family when he was 8 years old, representing his adopted home at Under-17 level. When it came to committing to his international future, the young winger wanted some time to weigh everything up, before pledging his allegiance to Canada in September.
“The decision was between my family, my friends, and all the people around me,” Tabla told MLSsoccer.com. “Then after I had a long conversation with John and my family, I felt this was a good decision to take for my future.”
Tabla was named the Canadian U-17 Men’s Player of the Year in 2014 and U-20 Player of the Year two years later but hadn’t featured for a Canadian national team at any level since appearing for the Under-17’s in March 2015.
His commitment to the program came as both a relief, and perhaps a little surprise, to many, but brings with it the exciting prospect of having two of the most talented young North American players, Tabla and Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, tearing up the wings for Canada in the same team.
The potential this team has right now is huge, and that played a part in Tabla’s decision to commit to Canada.
“Offensively, we’re very dangerous,” Tabla said. “We have Alphonso Davies, myself, Cyle Larin. We have all these technical players who can bring a lot offensively. We have Jonathan [David] too, so I think we can do some good things for the future and for the competitions coming.”
A clear talent from an early age, Tabla came through Montreal Impact’s academy system, signing a MLS Homegrown deal for the 2017 season. His stay in MLS was brief, lasting just one season and 21 appearances, before joining Barcelona’s B team on a three-year deal in a much heralded move.
It’s been a big adjustment for the young winger, but one he feels he’s adapted to well.
“In the beginning I wasn’t speaking Spanish,” Tabla admits. “But I learned there. I took some classes. It was different. The life, the city. I had to adapt myself to my teammates, to my coach, and to everybody. It took me maybe one month, then after that I was comfortable. My teammates made me comfortable in the locker room and outside and then I felt comfortable on the field. Now I’m happy.”
This year has seen him loaned out to Albacete to the end of the season. A division above Barcelona B in the second tier, he now finds himself involved in a promotion battle with a place in La Liga on the line, and he’s loving every minute of it.
“It’s to get me some minutes,” Tabla said. “The team right now, we’re trying to get to the First Division. It’s exciting and for me it’s a good opportunity the club has given me and Barcelona have given me to get some minutes.”
It’s a hectic time for Tabla, but he’s still managing to keep tabs on his old team and league from afar.
“The Impact is my first club, so that club is in my heart,” Tabla said. “I follow them, I watch their games. I watch the MLS, the Toronto games, the LA games, all the teams. For me, it’s getting better and better every year.”