French Connection: An Interview with Evelyne Viens

The young forward opens up about her journey and the latest stop in Paris.

By Nick Boffa

In the current circumstances, one could be forgiven for apathy, or worse, at the thought of yet another Zoom call. Yet, as we connect with Evelyne Viens in Paris, she is bubbly, open and happy to oblige. The 23-year-old forward is enjoying life in the French capital as she takes in a loan spell at Paris FC playing in Division 1 Féminine, the highest level of women’s football in France.

Viens is a native of Québec and began her footballing journey in her hometown of L’Ancienne-Lorette. As many younger siblings do, she followed her brother down to the local club and began playing as much as she could. As a youngster, the attraction was as much social as it was for the love of the game. “It was just a great opportunity to be with friends and play a sport”, Viens recalls. She fondly remembers backyard battles with older brother, Nicolas, as a fundamental part of her early footballing education and hostilities quickly resume whenever she gets the opportunity to return home. As Viens realised she had talent, a move to a bigger club was organised in order to play and train more regularly. Pathways for talented juniors vary so widely around the world and the 23-year-old credits her stint between high school, where she also played volleyball, and college as a significant factor in her eventual recruitment to NCAA school, the University of South Florida (USF). “We (college team Cégep Garneau) played a game in Montreal and a USF scout was there to watch another girl play so he recruited me at the same time.”

“My biggest challenge was to go and play in the NCAA.”

Despite the fortuitous nature of her recruitment to USF, and the challenges presented by moving away from home and the language barrier (coaches immediately advised her that she needed to be vocal on the field to be successful at USF), Viens made an immediate impact. In her first year, the Québécoise forward was named in the all-rookie team, top-scored for USF, tied the school record for goals in a season (including a hat trick) and was crowned the AAC Rookie of the Year. She was off to an impressive start and her good form continued throughout her four years at USF. The forward collected personal accolades at will but tasted team success as well; USF twice won their division and made it to “Sweet 16” in 2019 (a tournament comprised of the top 16 college sides in the country). In 2019, Viens led USF for goals for the fourth straight season and with an Accounting major to her name, it was time to front up for “Draft Day”.

Evelyne Viens after being picked by Sky Blue in the 2020 NSWL Draft. Image: Evelyne Viens

“The draft is a unique experience – you just have to put your name out there.”

The highs and lows of throwing one’s name in the ring for a draft is an anxious experience for any young athlete and is a rite of passage in all American professional sports, with NWSL being no exception. With four years of exceptional college form behind her, Viens went into the 2020 Draft in a strong position, aware of interest in her through her agent and coaches at USF. However, she is able to succinctly articulate the experience of the athletes, particularly the added uncertainly of live trading of picks on the day. “You just sit and wait with your family and you don’t know when your name will be called,” she explains. Viens describes the whirlwind nature of the event with clarity – “all of a sudden your name is called, you give your speech and realise you are off to live in another place. It’s very sudden.” As it happens, she wasn’t waiting long – Evelyne Viens was picked by Sky Blue FC at pick 5 and her footballing voyage continued ahead. Next stop: New Jersey.

“It’s a great event (the draft) as a young woman to have your name called. It’s the beginning of a new chapter.”

It’s indicative of both her prowess and the elite demands of the NWSL that Viens was the only player from her successful USF squad to have her name called on draft day. She trained with the men’s side at USF for a month before pre-season started with her new employers, which was short-lived due to the Covid-19 shutdown in the United States. It was the shutdown that presented the opportunity for the young French-Canadian to head out on loan due to the revamped season taking the form of a month-long tournament. “It (the loan) normally doesn’t happen that much but our general manager was in favour of us getting game experience for next year. They found the opportunity at Paris FC and it was the best (chance) for me to get better and experience a new culture,” she explains. Viens is effusive about the impact of learning a new game style for her development as a player. “In France the style is more technical whereas in the US the game is a lot more physical,” she explains. Paris FC is her third team in the space of just a year hence a period of adaptation is needed to pick up the finer points of the league. Viens is confident that she’s in the best place to learn and it’s hard to disagree with her given the leadership at the club; manager Sandrine Soubeyrand played for France a staggering 198 times. Culturally, the forward is clearly enjoying playing in a francophone environment. “It was really hard learning English (at USF) so it’s nice for me to be speaking French and building new friendships here,” Viens admits.

Of course, lockdown notwithstanding, there are far less elegant surroundings to play football than Paris.

“One of my ambitions is definitely to make the national team in Canada.”

Some things will never change and one such constant is the mindset of any professional footballer – one doesn’t look too far ahead. However, young players need to balance that unwavering focus with goals of a more long-term nature. Viens, while focused on honing her skills in the French capital, is keen to experience professional life back in the NWSL. No conversation about goalsetting would be complete without mentioning the desire to represent your country. Viens is open about her need to learn and develop as much as possible in the now, while keeping one eye on her goal of earning a spot in the Canadian national team. “It’s definitely a goal of mine to make the national team and whilst I’m on loan here, I want to experience playing in the NSWL too.” As a player, Viens possesses an array of attributes that most strikers would be jealous of; she’s got pace and is a clinical finisher in front of goal. This is a view seconded by Harrison Devenish-Meares, a former USF goalkeeper now playing in Romania, who rates Viens as the most skilled female player he’s seen.

“I’m definitely interested in doing something in business in the future.”

Viens takes on French legend Wendy Renard of Olympique Lyonnais. Image: Evelyne Viens

Off the pitch, the young Canadian is adding to her studies with an MBA, ensuring that she’s well prepared for life after football. “I would be interested in returning to the football industry perhaps or doing something in business. Football is such a great way to meet great people and build networks so I’m lucky to have that opportunity.” Like any young player, Viens models her game on players she looks up to – she names Americans Rose Lavelle and Christin Press as particular inspirations, both of whom are currently playing in Manchester with City and United respectively. Viens is unequivocal about her toughest opponent – Wendy Rénard of Olympique Lyonnais. “She’s an amazing player and someone that you notice on TV but then she is just incredible in the flesh when you play against her.” Viens is keen to get the absolute most out of her loan spell in the French capital, add to her game and you get the sense she’s just getting started on her football journey.       

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