Viens describes 'unreal' experience to make her Canadian debut
After years of wearing jerseys of green and blue, Evelyne Viens finally donned the Canadian red.
The forward from L'Ancienne-Lorette, Que. earned her first cap with Canada’s women’s soccer team on Thursday against the U.S. at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando. Viens, 24, was subbed on in the 59th minute.
“It was a pretty unreal moment to go play the SheBelieves Cup against the States,” Viens told TSN. “Just to be able to step on the field and represent Canada was an amazing opportunity.”
Canada went on to lose 1-0 to their rivals after Rose Lavelle scored in the 79th minute. When Viens entered the game, it was a close battle with the top-ranked team in the world.
“[There was] a little bit of stress going in because it’s your first game and such an important game because it’s the United States. We all know the rivalry not only in soccer but in so many other sports. But I had good feelings when I got on the pitch and just being able to get my first minutes on the international level,” she said.
“It’s a fantastic milestone for Ev to come on and make her first cap,” Freya Coombe, Viens’s coach at Sky Blue FC in the NWSL, told TSN. “She covered a lot of ground and made sure she worked hard…She’s got that first milestone done and now she can concentrate on being more impactful for Canada.”
Viens, who currently plays for Paris FC while on loan from Sky Blue, has been at the Canadian camp for a little over a week. She was never a part of a Canadian team at the youth level, so she is enjoying her first international experience.
“It’s fun to be around so many Canadians. Soccer-wise, I think it’s pretty interesting to learn a new style of play and just getting so much new information quickly and being able to put it in place for the tournament,” she said.
“So far she has fit in well,” Canada head coach Bev Priestman told TSN earlier in the week. “I think for Eveylne now, it’s understanding how we play and the tactical element. But what I’ve already seen is that she can find the back of the net. I’ve seen that in training for sure. I think now, it’s testing Evelyne with good players against her and good players around her, and hopefully we’ll see that in the next while.”
For Viens, there is one major difference that she has noticed between playing for her club and playing internationally.
“It’s for sure the speed of play. Everything needs to be a second or two faster,” she said. “The moment you take the information, the ball needs to be released as quick as it came in. I think that’s a major difference I need to work on over my career – just getting faster and faster.”
“There are going to be elements where she’s still quite young, so I think there are some technical elements of her game that she can continue to work on,” said Coombe. “I also think her level of tactical execution, being able to play in different systems, whether it’s for Canada or Sky Blue – I think that’s a development area for any young player.”
The call-up has been a long time coming for Viens. She garnered a lot of attention during her four-year career at the University of South Florida, where she scored 73 goals in 77 career games to set school and American Athletic Conference all-time records. In her senior year, she broke the AAC mark for most goals in a season (25) and goals per game (1.25), among numerous other school and conference records.
But despite her impressive stats, she never received a call to camp from Canada Soccer. She was named to the team’s provisional roster ahead of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying in 2020 before ultimately being dropped for the tournament. Viens also acknowledged that she had previous conversations with Canada’s coaching staff.
“To be fair, Evelyne has been tracked even before my time and has made her path professionally,” Priestman, who became Canada’s head coach last fall, said following Thursday’s match. “Any player doing that and being brave and getting out of their comfort zone to go to another country and play professionally week in and week out will always be given an opportunity should they perform, which Evelyne has.”
Part of the reason Viens has largely flown under the radar may be because she was never a part of Quebec’s provincial team. She did attend several Quebec camps when she was around 13 but then decided on a change.
“After two or three camps I stopped because at that time, soccer was fun but it wasn’t all about soccer for me,” she said. “I wanted to take a step back… After that I decided to change clubs and started loving the game again.”
In Viens’s years as a teenager, the Quebec REX program, used to identify and develop young players, wasn’t completely up and running. Viens did take part in the 2015 Canada Soccer U-18 Cup, helping her club Haute-Saint-Charles win bronze.
Despite an unusual road to her international debut, Viens has no regrets.
“I’m really proud of my own path and how it’s happening,” she said. “Maybe I could have done some youth World Cups and stuff like that, but I’m right now with the [senior] national team and I just got my first cap and I want to get many more. For me, I don’t look back and [say], ‘What if?’ I’m more, ‘What’s next for the future? How can I get better?’”
Following her remarkable collegiate career, Viens has continued her scoring prowess in the professional realm, although the start of her time as a pro was also unusual.
She was drafted fifth overall by Sky Blue in 2020, the second highest a Canadian has been selected in the NWSL Draft, after Quinn was picked third overall in 2018. But after just five days in camp with her new club in New Jersey, COVID-19 restrictions hit and the team, like much of the world, was in lockdown.
“It was a pretty crazy experience,” she said. “We heard stuff about COVID happening but we don’t know what COVID really is at this point. Being in a lockdown for two and half months with my roommate who I’ve known for like five days – it was fun and I tried to make the most of it.”
Due to the pandemic, when the NWSL returned to action in late June, the league shifted formats from a full season to the Challenge Cup, a month-long tournament that was held in a bubble in Sandy, Utah.
Viens made her professional debut on June 30, subbing into Sky Blue’s game against OL Reign in the 70th minute. She appeared in all six of Sky Blue’s matches at the tournament and scored her first pro goal in the semi-final against Chicago, which her team lost 3-2.
“It was pretty interesting because we had no fans,” Viens said about her experience at the Challenge Cup. “I did not expect it to be like that. You expect to have your family around you and stuff. It was a pretty good feeling with what we overcame with the pandemic. It was just good to go on the pitch and know that the team was trusting me and believing in me.”
After the tournament, Viens made the decision to join Paris FC on loan in France’s top league, Division 1 Féminine.
“I just turned pro, so for me the most important thing was to just get games in at the pro level. Being able to go to France – it’s one of top leagues in the world, so it was just a great opportunity for me to evolve with a good team,” she said.
It was a whirlwind start for Viens. The day after she got her visa, she made her debut for her new team against Lyon, who have won the French league a record 14 times and captured the UEFA Women’s Champions League title for the last five years.
“It was pretty crazy,” Viens admitted. “Wherever you’re from, you always know about Lyon – they’re one of the best teams in the world. So being able to step on the field with this amazing team was a chance to learn more.”
Despite the added advantage of speaking the language, Viens acknowledged that there was a learning curve while she was making the transition from the North American style of play to the European game.
“Just from the technical standpoint, it’s way more focused on some small details that I’m not used to, and just learning a new style of play, how the coach wants us to approach the game. I needed some time to adjust and learn a new style of play,” she said.
That adjustment happened quickly for Viens. She scored her first goal for Paris FC on Oct. 3 against Montpeller, and in her next game, she netted her first professional hat trick in a 5-0 win over Issy. She currently has eight goals in 10 matches and sits in the top 10 in league scoring.
“I had scored my whole college career and now being able to do it as a pro and consistently has been so important, knowing I can do it at the next level,” she said. “Now I need to do it at the international level.”
“Can Evelyne score those goals that she scores week in and week out on the international level? That will be the true test,” said Priestman. “But already she’s been brought in as a goal scorer and I think that’s absolutely what we want to see from her on the international stage.”
“Put in situations where there’s a hint of a goal scoring opportunity, Ev finds a way to make it happen,” said Coombe. “I think with continued minutes for Canada, she’s going to show everyone else what we see with that real talent for goal. She’s an incredible hard worker out on the field, incredibly strong, and as her knowledge of the tactical element of the game increases, how Bev will want her to play and how Sky Blue will want her to play, I’ve got no doubt she’ll be able make a good impact on the team that she plays for.”
Canada’s next game at the SheBelieves Cup is Sunday against Argentina before they wrap up the tournament on Wednesday versus Brazil. After that, Viens is returning to France for a brief return stint with Paris FC before her loan with the team ends. She will then join Sky Blue for the remainder of the club’s preseason, which began earlier this month. The NWSL kicks off its 2021 campaign with this year’s edition of the Challenge Cup, which starts on April 9.
As for Viens’s international aspirations, she does have her sights set on making Canada’s roster for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics but her winding path in her soccer journey has taught her patience.
“I would like to make the roster for sure, but if it’s not this year, I will keep working with my club and get ready for a World Cup or Olympic year coming up,” she said. “It’s all about the long-term too…. It’s about being there consistently for Canada.”