“It’s unimaginable,” says Rocco Placentino, trying to express his feelings just hours before the semi-final clash between Canada and Argentina in the Copa América.

The CS Saint-Laurent sports and technical director quickly becomes emotional when discussing the match, and for good reason. Two of his former protégés, Ismaël Koné and Moïse Bombito, will face Lionel Messi and his team on Tuesday evening.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. I never imagined this. I knew that players from our club or from Quebec would play at this level, but this is something else,” says the former Montreal Impact player.

“For me, it’s a dream,” he added.

Seeing them score last Friday in the quarter-final penalty shootout against Venezuela added to Placentino’s pride.

Obviously, the CS Saint-Laurent sports director holds a special affection for the two Quebecers. He was not surprised that they were chosen for the penalty shootout.

“When you live in Saint-Laurent, you’re not afraid of anyone. In English, we say ‘street ballers,’ they’re street players,” explains Placentino, with a broad smile, referring to Moïse Bombito, the third Canadian shooter in the session.

“I saw Moïse among the five shooters and I had no doubts. He shot like he had been playing professionally for 10 years,” he said of the 24-year-old defender who has been playing for the Colorado Rapids since 2023.

“Ismaël scores the winning goal to reach the semi-final, and he shows no emotions. He knew he was going to score. It’s crazy to describe, completely crazy,” says Placentino.

For Placentino, Koné and Bombito are more than just former CS Saint-Laurent players. Over the years, he has developed deep ties with the two members of the Canadian team. He even considers Koné a little brother.

This bond stems from the attachment developed during their training with the club.

“There is a personal attachment to the player, but also to his entire family,” mentions Placentino. “CS Saint-Laurent is a big family. We take care of what happens in the club on the field and off the field.

“Moïse, I’ve known him for 12 years. In U-13, he scored the goal that allowed us to qualify for AAA. And my mandate that year was to have a first AAA team in Saint-Laurent. And Moïse’s first job was in my soccer camps, even if I wanted to kill him sometimes as an employee,” adds Placentino with a laugh.

Completely different paths Koné and Bombito both played for CS Saint-Laurent and are now regulars in the national team. But it seems that this is the only connection that unites them.

“They are two completely different stories,” Placentino says of his former protégés. “Moïse is from the 2000 generation, a really strong generation. He was among the 18 players, but not among the best. He didn’t play every game.

“Ismaël, it’s the opposite,” he continues. “We wanted him in our club, with the 2002 generation, to go to the U17 nationals, and we saw extraordinary things. He’s another type of player, at another level.”

“On Monday, I went to a Montreal store to buy jerseys, and they already have Koné’s jerseys with Olympique de Marseille. I said to my friend the owner: ‘I can’t believe we have a kid from NDG [Notre-Dame-de-Grâce] who’s going to wear this jersey, it’s crazy,'” Placentino recounts with emotion.

Placentino believes that Bombito will also have the opportunity to make the jump to Europe. “He deserves it. MLS is a good league, but the ambitions are the highest level in Europe.”

In Placentino’s eyes, the journeys of Koné and Bombito should serve as an inspiration for young people in the province and even the entire country.

Placentino and his family will be among the 80,000 fans Tuesday night at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for the Copa América semi-final between Canada and Argentina.

“It’s going to be hot with the Argentinian fans. As I told my family, we’re going to have a life experience, with more than 80,000 people in the stadium,” he says.

“I always say: the ball is round, it is round for both teams. Yes, that’s for sure, and we have to be honest, it’s Argentina, the world champions, it’s Messi, it’s Emiliano Martinez. We have Moïse, we have Ismaël, we have Maxime. So, you never know,” he concludes with a big smile and pride.