When Moïse Bombito entered the Apple store in June, he expected to walk out with a pair of new headphones, not a life-changing phone call.
The call from an unknown number gave the Rapids defender pause, almost causing him to not answer it due to reluctance to talk to a stranger in the middle of an errand. Luckily, he did, because Canadian men’s national team head coach John Herdman was on the other line, offering Bombito a call up to the final stage of the Concacaf Nations League tournament.
“I just didn't speak for a minute,” he recalled. “I was just sitting there, and people were looking at me weird, but I didn’t care, like you don't know what's happening.”
“Then I thanked him for choosing me and he spoke about playing different positions, like maybe a six, but for me I didn't care. I was really happy. I called my mom, my father, my brothers, my sisters. Everyone knew and they were all happy for me, cheering for me, rooting for me. It was just such a great feeling to be honest."
That call would be Bombito’s first foray into the world of international soccer during his playing career, a career that has progressed in leaps and bounds already at his young age of 22.
In 2021, the defender was playing for junior college Iowa Western Community College, earning numerous accolades. From there, he was influenced by his coach to join USL League 2 side Seacoast United, posting three goals with the Phantoms and being named to the USL League Two Team of the Year.
He then transferred to the University New Hampshire, where he finished the season with four goals as a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy and became the first player from UNH to be named to a Generation adidas class. The rest is history, as Bombito was drafted by the Rapids with the third-overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft and the Québec native began his journey into the largest stage of American soccer.
Photo: Bombito and University of New Hampshire men's soccer coach Marc Hubbard after Bombito was drafted to the Rapids.
For a player who wasn’t sure if he even wanted to pursue a career in professional soccer until he was 19, the progression from junior college to the SuperDraft to the Concacaf Gold Cup, all in the span of two years, is one to marvel at.
No one can sum up the experience as simply or candidly as Bombito: “I’m a rookie, I’ve played six MLS games, and then I get called up to the national team.”
Bombito wasn’t the only young player offered the chance to establish themselves on the Canadian international stage this year, as Ali Ahmed, Portland Timbers defender Zac McGraw, Columbus Crew striker Jacen Russell-Rowe and Korona Kielce defender Dominick Zator also received call ups for the Gold Cup. The five of them made their international debuts in Canada’s 2-2 draw with Guadeloupe, a game Bombito’s friends and family got to watch at BMO Field in Toronto.
“That was an awesome experience, because I had not only my family there, but my friends from way, way back. They saw me grow up and everything. So for me to have them there and see me play with a national jersey, for me it was a huge, huge, huge accomplishment. I was just really proud of myself, of the work I've put in and now it's just another step in the stairs. You know, I just gotta keep going.”
For the remainder of the tournament, Bombito would bond with the rest of the debutants, all in the same boat as him: shell-shocked at the opportunity and attempting to navigate the new territory filled with players they’d looked up to for years–Alphonso Davies, Jonathan Osario, and Richie Laryea to name a few. Until now, Davies was just in Bombito’s starting lineup when he played FIFA, not a real starting eleven teammate.
The Rapids haven't seen a Canada cap since midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye was rostered. Despite that, many of Bombito’s teammates were able to speak on the experience of appearing for their national teams, including Bryan Acosta, who was on Honduras’ roster for the Gold Cup, Cole Bassett, Jonathan Lewis and fellow Canadian Ralph Priso, who was called up to the Reds’ training camp in 2020.
"[They said] it's a really good, really good group of guys. And you just got to go there and do your thing. Just don't be scared because they took you for a reason. And if you don't show why you're there, that means there's no point. Just go there and play like you always play. That's what they told me, and I think I did that well.”
Wearing the badge and hearing “O Canada” play before each Gold Cup match left Bombito with goosebumps, he said. It was a moment that held immeasurable pride for the defender, one that he’s come close to in MLS when the Rapids nearly faced Vancouver at home, eventually resulting in a postponement due to weather. But not before each respective country’s anthem could be played.
“When the starting eleven walks out and then everything stops and you just hear your national anthem and then you have to sing, it just gives me goosebumps," he said. "Goosebumps every single game. It's a really good feeling."
Bombito found himself in unfamiliar territory during the Gold Cup, playing mostly as a defensive midfielder. Being in front of the back line, rather than a part of it, was challenging at first, but Bombito was determined to succeed in any position Herdman put him in–literally any position.
“If they put me as goalkeeper, I was going to be like, ‘Okay, alright, I'll do it.’ I wanted to wear that shirt,” he said.
“You're not playing college soccer where you can just adjust like 'that' and you'll be fine. [This] was international level and playing at a position you haven't played. But you just got to do your thing and that’s what I did, and I think I dealt with it pretty well. And now they like me in that position so I think every time I go there, it's probably going to be as a six.”
Photo: Bombito in his Canadian debut against Guadeloupe in the Concacaf Gold Cup.
Since Bombito’s Gold Cup journey has concluded, his takeaways from the experience are ones that build him up both as a player and a person.
Playing as a six allows the defender to understand what that position on the Rapids’ pitch needs, whether it’s Connor Ronan, Bryan Acosta or Ralph Priso occupying the space. The opportunity to play in an unfamiliar position makes Bombito a more well-rounded player and even more valuable asset to any team he’s playing on, whether it be for Colorado or Canada.
But perhaps no takeaway from the young defender’s international experience is more valuable than the newfound hunger to get right back in Herdman’s lineup.
“I have to work every single day, and just grind day by day, just to put myself in a better spot for getting future selections and participate in other camps and get more caps.”