16-year-old enjoys ‘much faster and more physical’ level of play with Calgary’s Cavalry FC

Sixteen-year-old Aribim Pepple, who grew up playing soccer in Calgary, has been called up to play with the Cavalry FC pros in a deal that runs through the upcoming 2020 season. 

It’s pretty heady stuff, but Pepple says he’s going to keep the same focus on his goals that helped get him here.

“I’ve been working towards it my whole life. So obviously I did believe I was capable of doing it,” Pepple said. “And then this year when I was playing with the USL2 team that was just my goal the whole time, to make this.”

Pepple, an attacker who scored five goals in his last five games with Foothills FC,  is also a member of the U-17 Canadian national team. This takes the level of play even higher — and Pepple says he’s up for it.

“It’s much faster and more physical,” he said. “So the few minutes I played, when I come on, I notice every time there’s a guy like, right on me. So you have to make your decisions quicker and it’s taking a bit to get used to. But yeah. It’s good.”

Needless to say, he’s looking forward to Wednesday’s game against Pacific FC. 

“I’m just learning. Like stretching after practice, warming up before, making sure I take care of that well, so I can just play as long as I enjoy it.” he said, adding that he has a vision of the big leagues. “Honestly, I just wanted to try and play as many games I can here, score as many goals and then hopefully if a big club in Europe comes, I can move on after doing well here.”

Pepple was born in England and started playing before the age of five. When his family came to Canada, he joined the Calgary Foothills soccer club and earned himself a spot on the USL2 team, where he says he got his first taste of “real men’s football”.

For now, he says the higher level of training isn’t more strenuous, because keeping fit is just part of the process.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s hard when you’re doing it because you’re just doing what you love. It’s just fun.”

Mental game

And when it comes to the mental game, this 16-year old has been playing long enough to have a few insights.

“It’s a physical game but there’s also very mental game side; I enjoy that really,” he said.

“Mental, it’s a big part of it because for example if you make one mistake and you’re down on yourself then it’s going to affect you for the whole game … confidence is huge in this sport.”

 Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Cavalry FC’s head coach and general manager, says Pepple has a great combination of skill and mental maturity.


Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Cavalry FC head coach and general manager, says new player Aribim Pepple has a great combination of physical skill and mental maturity. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

“Aribim’s exciting, I think he’s exactly what the Canadian Premier League is built for, a league by Canadians for Canadians,” Wheeldon said. “He’s 16, he’s built like a man, but he’s a very smart player — he’s very explosive.”

Pepple advanced from the soccer club’s academy system, where he proved himself to the coaches with his combination of mental skills, pace and power.

‘Ride the rollercoaster’

“He’s a very good finisher,” Wheeldon said. “He’s not one that just smashes out it with his laces, he guides it, he passes it in, and that’s a rarity. So I think when you see a good finisher like that, we can work on hold-up play. We can work on one-v-one, we can work on his defensive pressing. But what he has is these natural skill sets that we want to make sharper.”

On top of that, Wheeldon said he thinks the teen can handle the mental game.

“The game is, you know, more mental than anything else. Ability is one thing fitness, physicality is another but if you don’t have the mental edge … you’re never going to survive in the game. You’ve got to be able to ride the rollercoaster. I think he’s got that right mentality for it too.”

For Pepple, the best part is getting to play soccer full time.

“I get to come in every day from around nine to three and just do what I enjoy,” he said. 

He said his new teammates are helping him keep it real.

“They treat me like I’m one of their own, like they treat me like a normal player and then they obviously they mentor me when needed it,” he said. 

Calgary FC takes on the Pacific FC Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Spruce Meadows.

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CBC | Soccer News