“It’s a great story, that’s for sure,” affirmed the 24-year-old Quebec defender to La Presse. We met him at the Canadian team’s hotel in Atlanta, two days before their match against Argentina as the opening act of the Copa América on Thursday.

“Both he and I have dreams in our careers that we are currently realizing. These are things we want to do: play in big stadiums, with large crowds, against great teams.”

That’s what’s going to happen on Thursday. This encounter against Argentina’s stars will take place at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a magnificent venue capable of hosting 71,000 fans.

“We’re super excited,” added Bombito. “Our only focus is to achieve a good result against Argentina.”

A “Risk Taking” That Paid Off
Bombito’s ascent with Canada is very recent. He received his first call-up last summer, sure. But it’s under Jesse Marsch, this June, that he secured his place as a starting central defender. He even faced Kylian Mbappé in the match against France on June 9th. We’ll get back to that.

Because even though Koné and Bombito knew each other from Saint-Laurent, everyone we talked to agrees that the player currently with the Colorado Rapids in MLS was not expected to become one of the rising stars of Canadian soccer.

“He wasn’t even a star in the Quebec semi-pro league when he was with us,” said Rocco Placentino, technical director at CSSL, over the phone on Monday.

Placentino describes him as a “late bloomer,” a player who developed later. Bombito doesn’t hide this fact at all. On the contrary.

“You can even ask Ismaël,” he said with a smile. “When we were younger and playing in Saint-Laurent, I wasn’t the one people came to watch!”

He faced rejection from the Impact Academy, then from teams in the Canadian Premier League. After two successful seasons with CS Saint-Hubert in Quebec, he decided in 2022 to “not rest on [his] laurels” and try his luck in the American collegiate network. He ended up in Iowa, then New Hampshire. There, he gained visibility that led to being selected third overall in the MLS draft by the Rapids in 2023.

A winding journey, they said. Much more complicated than Ismaël Koné’s, who was signed professionally by CF Montréal from CSSL before leaving for Europe a year later.

“It’s beautiful to see,” said Mathieu Choinière, whom we met a few minutes after our discussion with Bombito. “Everyone has their own path. You can succeed at any age. He’s not old either, at 24. It’s inspiring, and he has great potential.”

Cornelius-Bombito, a Complementary Duo
Choinière praises the defender’s “athleticism.” It’s also the aspect of his game that makes him most proud. And probably what earned him these valuable minutes under Marsch, with his style of play focused on pressure and speed in transition.

For the curious, have fun watching some of his highlights with the Rapids: quick as a hare in defensive retreat, Bombito takes great pleasure in stealing the ball from an attacker who thinks they’re free on the counter.

“I really enjoy defending backwards,” he said. “When I have to make a defensive retreat, I like to take advantage of what I have athletically.”

These qualities complement those of his new partner in the Canadian defense, Derek Cornelius. “More aggressive” than Bombito, Cornelius compares the latter, enjoying moving forward “when he has the opportunity.”

“I have a very good relationship with Derek,” explained the Quebecois. “After every training session, Isma, Jo David, Derek, and I play a touch game. That’s where we feel comfortable, relaxed, and have a bit of fun. That’s where we build chemistry as central defenders.”

“Every detail matters”
They needed it against France, whom they held to a 0-0 draw less than two weeks ago – with Maxime Crépeau brilliant in goal.

For Bombito, we will especially remember his duel with Mbappé late in the game. Well, he lost that confrontation. But Crépeau saved the day – and the match – right after.

This performance in France even “positively surprised” Placentino. “He played as if he had been in the first division for five years! He wasn’t afraid, he had a great physical presence.”

After Bordeaux, the Quebecois returned to Montreal for three days before heading to Atlanta. His battle against Mbappé was all anyone talked about during his time at home.

“It was a big, big debate when I got back!” he exclaimed with a laugh. “Everyone asked me how it was, one-on-one against Mbappé. I said, ‘Guys, he’s very, very, very good!’ It’s not the same as defending against someone else in MLS.”

Bombito played 90 minutes against France and against the Netherlands (a 4-0 defeat). Two preparation matches that had the desired effect on the players’ learning process.

“Every detail matters [at this level],” noted the player. “[…] We’ll have to defend in a certain way, be patient, not be naive about certain defensive opportunities.”

He’s talking, of course, about his confrontation against Messi and Argentina on Thursday. And even though the greatest player of all time has already played and scored against the Rapids last April, his excitement before facing him remains the same.

“It’s still incredible,” assured Bombito, a fan of FC Barcelona. “He’s a player who has marked football. He even made me emotional at times. […] He made me dream. He’s a player I respect immensely, and I’m looking forward to facing him again.”

Rocco Placentino is happy for his former protege. And he reminds, in one sentence, the journey he has traveled.

“In the past, the only way he had to play against Messi was on PlayStation!”