February 25, 2019—the date a veteran goalkeeper, who almost no one knew in North America, had joined Toronto FC to replace back up Clint Irwin after treble-winning starter Alex Bono was handed the keys to be the club’s number one yet again after a shaky 2018.
Fast forward a few months, and here we are — all playing witness to the magic of that same goalkeeper pulling the rabbit from his hat on a number of occasions, coming up big for Toronto FC in key games as the Reds are now 180 minutes away from adding a second star.
No, this is not fiction. This is the story of Quentin Westberg: edge, talent, and the ability to capitalize on your chances.
Made in Clairefontaine
Reactivity, explosiveness, positioning, and distribution: these are all important features for a goalkeeper but not necessarily enough on its own to be a game-changer. Mentality and attitude are what separates the good from the great, and it appears Westberg has checked those boxes.
Amidst all the recent praise of Westberg, it would be fitting to dive into the roots of the goalkeeper and take a step back a few years.
In France, Westberg was one of the ambitious pupils at Clairefontaine: the famous French Football Federation academy where numerous world-class players have graduated, namely Thierry Henry, Blaise Matuidi, and Kylian Mbappe. His teacher at the time was none other than World Cup and European Championship winner Fabien Barthez.
“It was a blessing,” said Westberg during his early days as a Toronto player. “My soccer personality and soccer basis took such a huge boost from there. I was taught the fundamentals, not only on, but also off the pitch – leaving home so early. Hard at times, but very good experience.”
Westberg’s integration into this team has been an insurance of security in 2019 for the Reds, in particular to a leaking backline, who only found its rhythm when another chief at the back arrived in Toronto: Omar Gonzalez (read more about his impact here).
However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing in the spotlight at BMO Field for the 33-year-old.
Seattle turning point
Once he landed in Toronto, Westberg was destined to start on the bench, only coming into the side for Alex Bono to allow the then-24-year-old to get some rest when coach Greg Vanney decided to rotate the squad through busy stretches of play.
In fact, Westberg sat on the bench for the first four MLS games this season as TFC opened their campaign with three wins and one draw. Everything seemed routine, with Bono eager to refind his 2017 form.
On Match Day 5, however, it was Westberg’s turn; and credit to Vanney, as the TFC manager — who saw something in his veteran goalkeeper — decided to play Westberg for a tough away match against the Seattle Sounders.
And while, TFC ultimately fell to Seattle for their first defeat (3-2) of the regular season, Westberg stood out for his commanding character at the heart of the backline. In addition, his head coach was impressed by his technical repertoire, something that Vanney highlighted during his post-match press conference.
“I like his distribution, his capability [there],” said Vanney after the match. “There are probably a couple times that he takes a little more risk than necessary, but that’s just finding a balance with our team. [We] also can recognize his ability to do things, get to spots faster because part of his strength is to hit those spots. There is a relationship between getting used to him and him to the group that only comes with repetition and minutes. That was a nice add to the group.”
With Vanney always insisting on being technically perfect, Westberg was a key addition for him.
In fact, the goalkeeper is almost always part of the possession game when TFC are on the ball playing almost as a “sweeper-keeper”. His distribution, in particular long-range, is also a detail that should not be underestimated as his ability to comfortably pick a pass helps the team to tremendously when faced with pressure.
Larger than life goalkeeper
On October 19, 2019, with the 64th minute on the scoreboard at BMO Field as TFC led D.C. United 1-0, for just a moment, the whole world appeared to stop for the home supporters.
England’s all-time leading scorer Wayne Rooney had broken loose and was in on goal to hand D.C. the equalizer and get his team back into the match.
But with all the odds against him, there was Westberg to save the day on an inspiring night. Two excellent saves denied the former Manchester United legend, preserving TFC’s clean sheet at that time.
It could have been the sliding doors for D.C. United had either of those chances gone in because even though they still managed to snatch an equalizer deep into stoppage time, restoring parity midway through the game could have helped them avoid an embarrassing extra-time onslaught.
It was a scary moment for TFC, but it was an opportunity that allowed Westberg to justify, once again, why he’s earned his number one role at the Canadian Club.
Westberg repeated his outstanding performance against New York City FC in the Eastern Conference semifinals, when he denied Valentin Castellanos, with less than 60 seconds on the clock and his team clinging to a one-goal lead — courtesy an Alejandro Pozuelo paneka.
The TFC goalkeeper had to stretch himself to come to his team’s rescue, preserving the narrow lead and sending the Reds two steps away from MLS glory. However, TFC fans should not have been surprised by these impressive stops, as Westberg had already been spectacular in flashes during the regular season — especially during Toronto’s recent 12-game unbeaten run in league play.
Without Jozy Altidore and Gonzalez, TFC have had to have several players step up.
And what a better time for the former PSG youth goalkeeper to find his form as the Reds embark to Atlanta, on the back of Westberg, to try and extend their unbeaten run to lucky number 13.
Does the Toronto shot stopper have any more rabbits left in his hat?