The Stingers men’s soccer goalkeeper shares his humble beginnings in the world’s most popular sport
Karl Gouabé enjoys the sensation of stopping a speeding soccer ball. The Concordia Stingers men’s soccer goalie admits that one must be a bit crazy to be a goalkeeper.
“For some reason I like getting balls kicked at me,” said Gouabé, a first-year communications student.
Unlike most athletes playing in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), Gouabé hasn’t been playing soccer his whole life. Gouabé grew up in Yaoundé, Cameroon part of a family of six children, and he didn’t have the opportunity to play soccer growing up.
“We had [other] priorities. My mom had six kids and all of us were [working],” Gouabé said. “There was no time for soccer.”
At the age of 10, Gouabé’s life changed when he was adopted by a Canadian humanitarian visiting Cameroon.
“My [adoptive] mother used to work for UNICEF, so she picked up a Cameroonian on her way back. Luckily it was me,” Gouabé said with a smile.
In his new hometown of Chelsea, Que., a small town of about 7,000 people located just north of Ottawa, Gouabé became friends with kids who played soccer. Whenever they went to practice or to play in the park, Gouabé felt left out because he didn’t know how to play.
When Gouabé’s mother noticed he had an interest in sports, she signed him up for soccer, football and basketball. He fell in love with soccer right away.
“Soccer just took over everything,” Gouabé said.
An interesting part about Gouabé’s journey to protecting the Concordia net is that it didn’t start with him stopping the ball—Gouabé started out as a defender. That all changed during a game when Gouabé was 15 years old. His team’s goalie got injured. Without a back-up keeper, Gouabé’s coach turned to him.
“[Their reaction was to] send the biggest guy in there, and sadly that was me,” Gouabé said. “I think, until now, that was the best game of my life.”
Gouabé played the rest of that season as keeper while the original goalkeeper recovered from his injury. The coach gave Gouabé the option to return as a defender the following season, but Gouabé refused. Balls have been kicked his way ever since.
Two years later, Gouabé made Outremont’s AAA team, and a year after that, at 18-years-old, he played semi-pro soccer in Ottawa. Gouabé’s career really took off when Toronto FC signed him to their youth academy. He spent a year training there before an injury forced him out of Toronto and brought him back to Montreal. He joined the Impact academy, but after a year, injury once again put his professional dreams on hold. He left the team and took a year off.
During that time off, Stingers head coach Greg Sutton let Gouabé work out with the team and offered him a spot on the squad. In his first season, he is displaying the skills he learned at both academies, and has been named the Stingers “Male Athlete of the Week” for the past two weeks.
Gouabé’s recurring knee injury has followed him throughout his career. Gouabé has patellar tendonitis, known as “jumper’s knee,” which affects the tendons between the kneecap and the shinbone. This condition weakens the knee’s ability to extend outwards.
“I can’t generate power without pain,” Gouabé said, while looking at his wrapped up left knee.
Gouabé, an energetic person who always has a smile on his face, does find it tough to be held back by his knee but that doesn’t hinder his motivation.
He draws inspiration from the two most important women in his life: his adoptive mother and his biological mother. His adoptive mother has been with him for most of his soccer career, and he looks to her for encouragement when the going gets tough.
“She’s the first person to tell me to go and practice,” Gouabé said. “She’s the first person to tell me, ‘you’re not injured, now get out of bed.’”
“She’s gone through tough times and I’ve witnessed how she’s bounced back every time, and it’s just phenomenal. She does inspire me to do better,” Gouabé added.
As for his biological mother in Cameroon, Gouabé said she inspires him in different ways.
“My mom raising six kids—you just see the difficulty in that. I couldn’t quite grasp it since I was 10 years old, but now I see it,” Gouabé said.
Like any other athlete, Gouabé has a favourite professional player he looks up to—his is Carlos Kameni. Kameni is the goalkeeper for the Cameroonian national team and for the Málaga CF club team in Spain. He has been playing in Spain’s top division since 2004, and has faced off against some of the game’s top players including Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (Ronaldinho) and Samuel Eto’o. He also became the youngest soccer player ever to win an Olympic medal—at the age of 16 when he led Cameroon to gold in 2000. Kameni represented his country twice at the FIFA World Cup.
For Gouabé, Kameni is one of the best keepers in the world and he attempts to draw on his playing style. Gouabé said his YouTube history is often full of videos of Kameni highlights.
“Before games, I look at his videos. When I’m bored, I look at his videos. When I’m sad, I look at his videos,” Gouabé said. “He’s been my idol since I was 15. He’s by far my greatest inspiration in soccer.”
Gouabé has another professional keeper in his life to draw inspiration from and that man is coach Sutton. Sutton played professionally from 1999 to 2012, including two tenures for the Montreal Impact. Sutton has a wealth of knowledge that Gouabé uses in his game.
“Mentally, physically, he knows how to prepare a keeper,” Gouabé said. “I know I have an advantage on the other keeper because my coach has been a pro goalkeeper.”
Sutton was also a former student-athlete, so he knows some of the other challenges Gouabé faces. Since the two share so many similarities, Sutton always has his door open when Gouabé needs someone to talk to.
“It’s so easy for me to go talk with him,” Gouabé said. “He makes it so much easier for me to connect with him. I’m still learning some things from him.”
Despite facing setbacks in his young soccer career, Gouabé has persevered so that he can continue do what he loves: getting balls kicked his way.