As Canada reflects on the historic accomplishments of the country’s performance at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, Ontario Soccer sat down with two influential figures in the early career development of Richie Laryea to examine exactly how the standout performer got to the world’s biggest soccer stage.
In this special World-Cup inspired Q&A article, Ontario Soccer sat down with Reggie Laryea, Richie’s Brother, and Joey Lombardi, Women’s U20 EXCEL/NDC Ontario Director and former coach of Richie, to speak about the Ontario soccer community that helped develop the professional athlete, who has become a fan favourite for Canada and Club side, Toronto FC.
Hey Reggie, how are you? I understand you went to Qatar – how was it?
Good, good thanks. It was an unreal experience [going to Qatar]. It doesn’t feel real that I was there, but it was amazing being there, being around the team. Watching Canada play. It was incredible!
Before we get into talking about Richie, I want to discuss your own background in soccer. When and where did you start playing?
I started off at a club called Toronto Uruguay with Coach Roberto Correa, who got me into the game after coaching my older brother Richie. I played there until high school and after went to Sigma Academy.
I then went to Akron University after getting a full-ride scholarship, following a Sigma showcase. I was at Akron for three years, but got a little unlucky with an injury, and my replacement performing well, so I came back and went to York University.
We did well in my first year and got to Nationals. I then got drafted by Ottawa, but then COVID happened and I never really had a chance to showcase myself.
Last year, I played with Guelph in League1, but got a little unlucky with injuries once again. I’m still figuring out what I’m going to do next year.
Thank you and best of luck. We talked about your childhood and experience playing soccer, however, did you play any other sports growing up?
I kind of played every sport, but soccer was always the one that stood out to me and felt I was the best at. Soccer was the one that I fell in love with.
Gotta stick with what you love. Lastly on your background, what would you say are the highlights of your soccer career so far?
Going to the University of Akron in the States, winning our conference and going to the Final Four. It was a really surreal experience.
Another one, I would say, was my first Canada National Team call up at U15. We played United States at Fort Lauderdale, and they had Weston McKennie on the team and Christian Pulisic and it was pretty cool, playing against those guys, seeing where they are now.
Very cool. Now to switch focus to Richie, what is he like off the field? With him being a professional, lots of people get to see him on the field with him being on TV and the biggest stages, but don’t get to see him off-the-field.
It's kind of funny, because on the field, my brother is very aggressive and people just see that fight to him, but off the field, he’s quiet, humble and always smiling and joking and a great person to be around. He always lightens up the mood in the room.
Lastly, what would you say are some of the key Clubs and coaches, that helped you and Richie throughout your soccer career and why?
The first two coaches I will say is Roberto Correa and his older brother Ernesto. Those two molded us and taught us to love the game and play with joy. And they were great people - I felt like they were my second dad that I could talk to about anything.
Another coach for me was Hector Pena at Dixie SC, Patrice Gheisar from Vaughan SC and Carmine Isacco. He really took me to the next level.
Thank you Reggie. Really appreciate your time and looking forward to getting this piece out. Happy New Year to you and the family.
Next, we spoke with one of Richie’s former coaches, Joey Lombardi, who coached Richie at the Regional Program when he was about 12-13 years old.
Hi Joey. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. To start, we would like to discuss your coaching career. How and when did you get into coaching?
I started quite young. I first started coaching part-time when I was playing senior men's locally in Brampton.
Part of the requirements to be a coach, you had to go through your coaching levels, you had to be certified. And I started doing these coaching courses, and for someone who loves the game, to sit in a room with people who are likeminded and talk soccer all day, it didn’t feel like a class, it felt having fun and I got hooked. So I started doing the coaching levels and eventually worked my way up to the A level.
I then got employed by Ontario Soccer in 2006 where I met Richie. In 2012, I got involved with Canada Soccer on the women's side. I then did two years with the Men's National Team, with Coach Herdman and crew until 2019. I did a short stint at Brampton Soccer Club and then I went back to Canada Soccer with the women's program, and I've been here since 2021.
I've loved it. It's been a great journey. I never imagined being able to work with the National Teams or go to World Cups. I never imagined my career would take me here and I've been fortunate to have a lot of great people help me along the way.
Very cool, and sounds like it’s been good for you. Now to switch over to Richie, when did you first meet him and what was your initial impression on him?
I first met Richie when he was 11 years old. He was playing for Club Uruguay. They played futsal in the winter in the Toronto area and that's where I first got to see Richie. At the time, he was small, but very tactically sound and very intelligent.
Richie then went into the district program, at U12 in Toronto. At that time I was with Ontario Soccer, and was responsible for that region and I would see Richie quite often at the Central Soccer District program. Richie eventually made the jump at U13 to the regional program that I was responsible for, and I got to work on a weekly basis with him at the Regional Training Center and got to see his development through ages 11 to 13.
Was there anything that stood out about Richie at training?
Richie, off the field, was obsessed with the game. He's the type of kid that would come to training talking about all the games that happened over the weekend – and discuss them in a very intelligent way, not just as a fan. He would talk about things like how teams set up with formations and which players were selected. He was a very intelligent soccer player. He would watch all the games, he was obsessed. He fully immersed himself and was very passionate.
And then on the field, he's the type of player that you could train for three hours a day. You couldn't keep him off a soccer pitch. I'd go to the hangar and go watch other games, that weren't necessarily his own, and he'd be there with his friends playing pickup soccer. He was the type of kid that was soccer, 24/7.
Was there a point where you thought to yourself - this kid has a chance of going pro, this kid has a chance of making the Senior Men’s Team one day?
When they're young, it's hard to predict whether a player will make that jump up to the next level, because there's so many variables that could impact their pathway positively or negatively. One thing that I saw with Richie was that he had a goal in his mind. He definitely saw himself going professional one day and would do anything possible to achieve that target.
What I saw as a coach was that his technical level was above the average player and his game intelligence was extremely high. So I thought from the technical, tactical side, that he was definitely a potential player to make it to that next step in his pathway.
When I saw he got drafted by Orlando City, I wasn’t surprised. It’s great to see a player that ambitious, achieve their goal.
One last question is, what advice would you give a young soccer player today who is looking up to players like Richie, who one day want to try and make a go of a professional career as a soccer player?
You have to be resilient, because somewhere down the line, there’s going to be rejection. It could be a situation where maybe you are at a certain Club or program where there’s guys ahead of you and you have to wait your turn. You have to be persistent. I think that's the key thing.
If you look at Richie, for example, his path wasn’t exactly straightforward. He went the university route, was released from memory by Orlando City, but then got picked up by Toronto FC and then that's where he got the opportunity. And again, because of Richie's mindset and resiliency, when he did get his chance, he took it and he embraced it and became a regular at TFC. And so that opened up the door for him to come to the National team.
That's great Joey! Thank you so much for your time today. I hope our discussion here gives kids something valuable to take away in terms of training, work ethic, dedication and so on. Thank you so much.