Riviere is on track to be among Canada's next generation of elite soccer players
August 27, 2019
Optimism abounds despite the disappointment of Canada failing to make it out of the round of 16 at soccer’s Women’s World Cup in France this summer.
A few young exciting players are continuing to emerge, offering hope for the future.
Canada was the third youngest team at the World Cup with an average age of 25.33 and there were three highly talented 18-year-olds among the 14 debutants in the 23-member squad.
Just 24 hours before Canada’s second game against New Zealand, Jayde Riviere learnt that she would be starting at right back in place of veteran Allysha Chapman who played every minute in Canada’s five matches in the 2015 World Cup.
“Coach came up to me after our final practice and said, ‘I want you to be confident because you are starting tomorrow’,” said Riviere who was the squad’s second youngest member behind forward Jordyn Huitema. “Christine Sinclair (the 36-year-old Canadian captain has scored 182 goals in 286 appearances with the senior team) then came over and told me, ‘Just play your game’. Their comments were very reassuring even though I didn’t have any butterflies in my stomach and was ready for the biggest moment of my young career.”
Going into the tournament, Riviere’s biggest concern was that she and Chapman play the same position and that the younger players might be perceived as threats challenging the seniors.
“When players are not starting or getting the minutes they are used to, they might get cranky,” she said. “But that wasn’t the case with our senior players. They were very welcoming and only concerned with Canada fielding its best team. Allysha also helped me with the learning curve.”
Entering the World Cup with just five caps, Riviere looked at ease in her second international start where, after 15 minutes, she moved up into midfield when coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
“I am a very calm person and when the whistle goes, I block everything out of my mind and the focus is on the game,” she said. “That was the biggest crowd that I had ever played in front of and I just felt good. After the match, the coach said he was impressed with my performance and that I looked as if I belonged.”
Just two months before the World Cup, Riviere – in her first start -- was knocked silly by a Nigerian player in a friendly in Spain. Playing through the intense pain, she believes, was a defining moment.
“I went into that match with a groin injury and re-injured it when I received a hard knock,” she noted. “I was in a lot of pain, but I told myself the team needed me and I chose to stay in the game which we won 2-1. I think that caught the attention of my coaches and teammates.”
Verbally committing to the University of Michigan in 2014, Riviere stayed the course with the Wolverines. Of the 28 American universities offering full scholarships, the University of Florida and the University of West Virginia – the alma mater of her Canadian teammates Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence – were also considered.
“It came down to the Wolverines environment, coaching staff, close proximity to home and the fact they have a high academic ranking,” said the teenager who is pursuing Kinesiology studies.
Shut out 1-0 by Penn State in the Big Ten tournament quarter-finals last October, the Wolverines roster includes two other Canadians. They are junior midfielder Sarah Stratigakis and redshirt senior Sura Yekka who debuted with the national senior team in 2013.
Faced with the possibility of being offered a professional contract while in university, completing undergraduate studies is Riviere’s priority.
“My dad asked me what I would do if I get a contract offer and my answer was, ‘I don’t have a clue to be honest’,” she said. “I need my academic qualifications because if soccer doesn’t work out, I will have something to fall back on. Right now, I am leaning to staying in university for four years.”
Huitema chose to bypass university after French club, Paris Saint-Germain, offered her a four-year contract last May.
She and Riviere were part of the Vancouver Whitecaps Girls Elite Super REX program that allows the top women soccer prospects from across the country to attend school, train and play together daily in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Originally a midfielder, Riviere was converted to a winger by then coach Bev Priestman in the run-up to the 2016 Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) Under-15 tournament. She played the position until former Canadian women’s soccer coach John Herdman asked her try out at full-back.
“He was looking for someone for the position and thought I could fill the role,” she said. “Even if I am not familiar with a position, there’s no harm in trying it. My biggest adjustment was worrying about the defensive aspect in the back line as I was used to attacking. As the shortest and less experienced of the defenders, I had to figure out how to react to crosses. It was quite the learning experience.”
Introduced to the sport by her parents, Riviere spent two years at Bill Crothers Secondary School where she was the Female Athlete of the Year in her freshman season and the scorer of 50 goals in 20 league games.
“I had a lot of energy as a young child and my mom was looking for an outlet for me to release some of it,” the only child, who played for the Markham Soccer Club for three seasons, pointed out. “My dad took me to the field at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering and did a lot of drills with me. I remember him saying if I wanted to take the sport seriously, I would have to make many sacrifices.”
Dominican-born Tony Riviere, a Toronto Police Superintendent, played the game at Seneca College and in the Toronto District Soccer League.
“I love soccer and one of the things we did together was watch the English Premiere League on Sundays,” he said. “At one point, Jayde knew all of the Manchester United players’ names. In the winter, our basement was transformed into a mini soccer field where I taught her a few drills. She showed at a very early age that she had potential and that was an incentive for me to work with her so she could realize it.”
Emily Lui is extremely proud of her daughter’s achievements.
“Balancing school and soccer hasn’t been easy for Jayde,” said the Hong Kong-born marketing manager. “She has missed parties and sleep overs that are things young kids grow up doing. As she got older, the school work became harder. After coming back from tournaments, friends would call asking her to join them to hang out. She turned down those requests and hit the books in order to catch up. That takes a lot of discipline.”
Riviere graduated on time with honours and is set to do the same in university while seeking to establish herself among Canada’s next generation of elite players.