Home NASL & USL FC Edmonton FCE’s Mallan Roberts: The top CB prospect in Canada is set to become Canadian

FCE’s Mallan Roberts: The top CB prospect in Canada is set to become Canadian


This week, FC Edmonton supporters — and followers of the Canadian national program, too — got some very good news.

Mallan Roberts now has his permanent-resident status. And, if all goes smoothly, he should have a Canadian passport sometime in the summer.

The 20-year-old defender came to Canada as a nine-year-old, as he and his father fled Sierra Leone, a country that had struggled with a long civil war. For more than a decade, Roberts was in Canada as a landed immigrant. So, even though he’s heralded as maybe the best centre-back prospect in the country, he couldn’t play for Canada.

There’s no doubt that, had he been in possession of a passport, Roberts would have been in the last U-20 cycle. Had he been a Canadian citizen, he’d be the talk of soccer fans from coast-to-coast. Yes, he has that much upside.

And, for FC Edmonton fans who had to endure watching a team that struggled on set pieces and suffered from a severe lack of size in the back line in 2012, the paperwork problems meant that Roberts — even though he was a man amongst boys in the Reserve side — couldn’t make the jump. As a landed immigrant, he wouldn’t have been able to cross the border for the NASL road games in the United States. So, he had to stick with the Reserves.

But, getting his residency is more than about crossing the border to play soccer for Roberts. It means that he might be able to see his mother for the first time since he was nine.

“My father and I came to Canada, my mom went to Australia,” he said. “I haven’t been able to see her. I Skype her a lot, and I have a brother and sister there who I’ve never been able to go visit. On Skype, my brother asks me why I don’t come to visit, he doesn’t understand the distance. He thinks I only live five minutes away. Now, hopefully, I’ll be able to take a couple of weeks and be able to see them.”

Roberts is known for a fearless, some might even say, reckless style of defending. Last year, in a match against Edmonton Scottish — the team that would eventually lose in the men’s amateur final — Roberts crashed through forward Vince Bustamente in order to win the ball in the air. Bustamente required stitches and was concussed.

But he doesn’t want to be remembered only as a bruiser. He said he wants to be known as a player who wants the ball on his feet, and can play out of the back. Yes, there have been some growing pains — and some scares for Reserves coach and Eddies assistant Jeff Paulus. But Paulus knows what Roberts brings — the defender was a linchpin on the 2011 NAIT side that Paulus coached to a national college title, going undefeated in the process.

When you first look at Roberts, what strikes you is his size. It’s not that he’s well past the six-foot mark, but that he’s filled out, more like he plays like the other football. Well, in fact, he did. At M.E. Lazerte High School, he played quarterback, wide receiver and safety. He went to Alberta’s Senior Bowl, for high-school football all-stars, as a receiver. After high school, he played for the Edmonton Huskies junior program, and even spent a few weeks training with the CFL Eskimos.

“I still have some friends, some old coaches, who ask me when I’m coming back to play football,” said Roberts.

The defender still has vivid memories of the first time he kicked a soccer ball in Sierra Leone.

“I have a pretty good memory of the place,” he said. “We played a lot, and we played barefoot. I remember coming here (to Canada) and thinking that everyone here is playing with boots on, wow that’s different. But as a kid, I got pushed around a lot.”

And, the way he was bullied on the pitch taught him that he should be the bully.

Roberts hasn’t officially made the jump up to FCE’s first team, but now that the paperwork is in place, you have to think the path is clear for him.

For Canadian soccer fans, it’s a case of being excited about Roberts’ future and, yet, wondering what could have been. Would Roberts’ presence been that little bit that the previous U-20 would have needed to emerge from the CONCACAF Championships and qualify for the U-20 World Cup?

“I’ll be happy if the opportunity comes to play for the national team, at any level. I’d like to go as far as I can in soccer.”

All that needs to happen is the citizenship. And it’s only months away.

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  1. john anderson

    February 26, 2013 at 5:11 am

    They helped produce Kyle Porter! We will see how ready he is for the MLS level. Matt Lam played D2 Japan for one year on loan and is in Europe on trials.

  2. BQ

    February 23, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    @Footy – Given FCE might be hanging a thread and are entering a make or break year, I hope Ottawa doesn’t look toward them. The problem with FCE is all this young talent doesn’t go anywhere and just rots playing crappy D2 footie. They haven’t sold a player! Saiko is now 23 and we still have no clue if he can play at a higher level. How many MLS players has FCE even produced?

    • footy

      April 8, 2013 at 9:09 am

      All this talent doesn’t go anywhere? This is a club that’s been playing competitive for 2 years. What did you expect? Right now FCE has produced one Canadian International and 2 under17 internationals. Especially those u17 players is amazing stuff, it means they already have a good scouting system there. Also, it’s telling about the situation of Canada, that this is possible, but still. Finding young Canadian talent, playing them alongside veteran pros, and you’ll see on or two will go on to better things. Not all of them of course, but some will eventually. Quantity in the end means quality.

      Now as for Ottawa, I’m not impressed so far. Remember FCE had a team a full year before they started in the NASL? The Fury doesn’t have anything. Only a brand name that draws a hundred people to their games. Even more so, the other 2 expansion clubs seem to be a lot further than Ottawa. It remains to be seen what their role will be, regarding the development of Canadian soccer talent.

  3. Madmonte

    February 22, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Been reading more and more about this kid. Really excited to see him on the pitch this year and see for myself. I like the hype, hype is fun, even if a little exaggerated, I will admit I got a little excited about watching him play based off of your article.

    And I know that given the need to fill seats to build a stadium in Edmonton, good hype is important, so personally I forgive it.

  4. Soccerpro

    February 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Appreciate the article as always Steve. A bold statement as the best u20 prospect in the country, hopefully he can sign a 1st team contract soon once he gets his passport so we can see what he can do.

  5. Footy

    February 8, 2013 at 10:29 am

    I read once that he liked football more than soccer, but he must have changed his mind.
    Anyhow he’s got the physique, he’s got the age, throw him on the pitch!

    Btw Sandor it’s always dangerous to hype a player that hasn’t played a single minute yet. How many times have I heard “The New Cruijf” or “another Pele” come along, making it hard for the players to live up to any sort of expactation. I wish Mallan all the luck though, I hope he succeeds.

    Compliments on FCE on sticking to their plan, one can only hope they’re watching over in Ottawa.

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