Teenager Ballou Tabla commits to playing for Canadian men’s team

Ballou Tabla talks about representing Canada and what it means to him to be wearing the red and white jersey. (Courtesy of Canada Soccer)

One of this country’s brightest young soccer prospects has decided to pledge his international career to Canada.

In a series of posts on its official Twitter account, Canada Soccer confirmed Tuesday that Ballou Tabla will play for the men’s team in its Concacaf Nations League qualifying match against Dominica on Oct. 16 in Toronto, effectively tying him to the Canadian program for good.

Born in Ivory Coast, Tabla, still only 19, moved to Canada as a child and grew up in Montreal. He previously played for Canada at the under-17 and under-20 levels, and was named the Canadian U-17 and U-20 Male Player of the Year in 2014 and 2016.

However, he had yet to be capped by the senior team, despite Canadian soccer officials having multiple talks with the attacking midfielder. The Ivory Coast, his birth nation, also expressed an interest in calling him up, so Tabla’s international future appeared to be up in the air.


That’s no longer the case, though, and locking up Tabla, who plays for FC Barcelona’s B side in Spain’s third division, represents a major get by Canada.

Why is this such a big deal for Canadian soccer? Historically, a lot of players have turned down Canada’s advances when they had other international options – and it didn’t want to let this talented kid slip through its hands.

Tabla signed a three-year deal (with an option for two more years) with Barcelona’s reserve team this past January after a whirlwind stint in MLS. He joined the Montreal Impact’s youth academy in August 2012. He left the club to join CS Panellinios, a local amateur side, before he rejoined the Impact U-18 side in April 2015.

He played with the Impact’s farm club, FC Montreal, in the second-tier USL the following season. Tabla played one MLS campaign with the Impact, scoring two goals and tallying a pair of assists in 21 games (11 as a starter) in 2017.

Tabla was considered one of the hottest young products in MLS while with Montreal, and he was being tracked by several big clubs in Europe, including Premier League champions Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

In fact, Tablas caused a stir last summer when the Impact turned down a transfer offer for him. Tabla had been seeking a move to Europe and when he did not show up for practice it was interpreted as an attempt to pressure the Impact to sell him. He later took to social media and posted an apology for his actions on Twitter. Eventually, the Impact came to terms with Barcelona B on a transfer deal.

What makes Tabla so special? He’s quick and nimble, has accelerating speed when the ball is at his feet, and plays with a teenager’s sense of fearlessness.

He became the youngest player in Impact franchise history, at 17 years and 338 days, to play in an MLS game when he debuted last March against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Former Canadian national team manager Octavio Zambrano, who was fired in January, had been trying to convince Tabla to play for Canada, but to no avail.

Zambrano’s successor John Herdman appears to have had greater success, and was no doubt helped by the fact that back in June Canada was announced as co-host of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, alongside Mexico and the United States.

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