The development of local talent through the academy is at the forefront for the Montreal Impact. Over the years, the Impact faithful have seen the likes of Ballou Tabla, David Choinière, and Anthony Jackson-Hamel, among others, develop from teenage soccer players with loads of talent to young professionals with bright futures ahead of them.
This year, it was goalkeeper James Pantemis’ turn.
The 20-year-old Kirkland native signed a homegrown MLS contract with the Impact in November, although Pantemis had been training with the first team since the start of the 2017 season. Pantemis first joined the Impact Academy in 2014 from Lakeshore SC.
“When I started training with the first team, and I started being in a professional environment every day, the possibility of going pro really hit me,” said Pantemis, speaking with Impact Media after returning from Bologna. “The fact that I was able to keep up with everyone from the beginning really made me believe that this was real.”
Pantemis went to Bologna for a second training stint with Bologna FC 1909, the Serie A football club owned by Joey Saputo, President of the Montreal Impact. His first spell with the Italian team was in September, for a period of three weeks.
“I was expecting something different the first time I went,” admitted Pantemis. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I found the game, and the speed of the game, very similar to MLS. The consistency is the biggest difference. Everything is perfect. When I came back, I noticed a difference in my game. I was training with more ease and I was more confident, and I really focused on doing the little things right.”
Composed, focused, and always serious, Pantemis’ professional demeanour on and off the pitch is years ahead of his age. His mentality, he says, is a vital factor to his success as a keeper, something he further developed at the academy with the help of a mental coach.
“Goalkeeper is the hardest position,” added Pantemis, “People think it’s just saving the ball, but it’s a lot more than that. If you’re a striker, you miss, you get another chance. If you’re a midfielder and your long ball is off, you’ll get another shot. Being a goalie is different; The other team can get one opportunity and score, and it’s your fault. As a goalie, you need to learn how to deal with that and ignore your surroundings. It’s all mental.”
The young Pantemis grew up idolizing legendary Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas, and has followed the career of another Spaniard very closely, David de Gea. But as a Montreal native, his team has always been the Bleu-blanc-noir.
“I grew up playing soccer in Montreal and I still remember watching the Impact in the NASL,” said Pantemis. “Everything worked out and I’m playing for my childhood team. It’s a dream come true.”