Young duo turning heads for SK Selects

Fresh out of high school, Bekwayo and Fountaine are garnering attention in SK Summer Soccer Series

By Matthew Gourlie 

There weren’t any goals in the SK Selects second home match of the SK Summer Soccer Series but there was plenty of exciting, attacking soccer.

Adding to the excitement for the home fans at SMF Field in Saskatoon was the fact that two of the most dangerous players for the home side were a pair of players who have just graduated high school — Saskatoon products Kuhle Bekwayo and Ash Fountaine.

“Both are football junkies. They love the game. They love training. They love playing,” said Bryce Chapman, director of soccer operations for the SK Selects, who is also the head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s soccer team. “Both of them have a really positive swagger about themselves. They’re confident, but very humble young men. That’s a massive piece when I’m looking at players — you want to have that confidence, but you want to be humble with it within the group.”

Fountaine

Ash Fountaine

The Selects played to a 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 25 before the Whitecaps won a penalty shootout. Despite the lack of a result, the squad made significant strides since their 2-1 loss to Calgary Foothills in their Series debut in May. Fountaine was a bright spark in the first half of the opener showing his willingness to take people on and get forward down the left flank.

“They’re two different types of players. KB (Bekwayo) is a central midfielder so he’s kind of the creative guy and a lot of things go through him in regards to our run of play” Chapman said. “Ash has some speed and he’s maturing and growing into the game some more. He can take players on, but he can play within a system and he’s becoming a little more disciplined. They’re both extremely exciting young players to watch – even for a non-soccer fan coming out.

“This series has become very important for their development. In the last two games they’ve played against older players and it’s a tough transition when you start coming up against better quality opponents than they might be used to within our soccer community. For them to step up and have that confidence, that swagger, but then to also have that ability to start influencing these last two games, it really shows the potential that they hold.”

Bekwayo

Kuhle Bekwayo

Chapman felt it took Bekwayo a little more time to find his rhythm against the Whitecaps, but once he settled in Chapman was impressed at how he fared against David Norman Jr., Michael Baldisimo and Simon Colyn who all are on the Whitecaps MLS roster.

“You look at the central midfield and he was playing against two players who are on first-team contracts for Vancouver. As KB grew into the game he became one of the better players on the park. I thought Ash had an immediate impact. He probably should have had a fantastic goal at the end of the first half, but he made an early imprint on the game and started to push our opponents back a bit simply because he has that aggressive mindset. He likes getting at players and he likes attacking them.”

The dynamic duo will get another chance to capture the imaginations of Saskatchewan’s soccer supporters Sunday when the SK Selects host Toronto FC II (3 p.m., SMF Field at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex) in Saskatoon. The gates and beer gardens open at 1 p.m. with a concert by The Johner Boys taking place.

Series promoter Joe Belan said that former Toronto FC player and Canadian under-23 international Mo Babouli expressed interest in joining the SK Selects to get on the pitch for the August match, but they couldn’t get an arrangement worked out in time. Still, Belan was pleased to see a player of Babouli’s pedigree was taking note of what was happening in Saskatchewan.

This may be the last game of the series, but all involved are hoping it is merely the prologue for a Canadian Premier League expansion team in the near future.

In the immediate future, Bekwayo and Fountaine have their freshmen season with Chapman’s Huskies to look forward to. Chapman coached Bekwayo’s older brother Luigi at the U of S and both players have been on his radar for a while. With the boost the Series has had in their development, he believes both can make an impact early in their U Sports careers.

“The importance of this series is that now it shows me that they can step into a university team this fall and start to really compete for big minutes,” Chapman said. “I think both of them have the opportunity to start putting a big stamp on their Huskie career, which is exciting. They add a couple of elements that we don’t have. Ash is that fast, attacking winger and then we have a couple of guys who are maybe graduating this year so KB is coming into a situation where he can learn from some older players, but also play a pivotal role in our central midfield areas.”

SK Summer Soccer Series

Chapman became the Huskies head coach in 2004. In the subsequent 15 years, he has seen the culture around U Sports soccer change. He expects that approach will only grow as more pathways to becoming professional appear and more young Saskatchewan players get better opportunities at an earlier age.

“The players that are coming through now are all really football-minded,” Chapman said. “They’re starting to see some realistic pictures and saying that they’re going to take a real run at becoming a pro. On the university front, the university game is starting to take a stronger hold in our communities and that’s across Canada West and the country, not just in Saskatoon. The players are coming in with a different pedigree and with a different mind-set. It’s not just a pastime or a recreational approach to the game.

“The Series is exciting, but it’s just as equally important that these players have the opportunity to continue their growth. I think it’s really important in Saskatchewan because we aren’t going to have the population of the top-end players like you do in Ontario or B.C., but we have some really good players. For them to continue developing they need to continue to play in important matches and big matches like this in front of 3,000 fans. And hopefully, we can get to 5,000 fans on the 11th.”

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