MONTREAL – Cameron Porter is full of surprises.
The 22-year-old beat the odds by making the Montreal Impact‘s roster and quickly playing himself into a starting role after being drafted 45th overall in 2015.
Then he produced one of the most dramatic goals of the year in the dying seconds to lift the Impact past Mexican club Pachuca and into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals in March, although soon after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and missed the rest of the season.
But then he stunned the Montreal media this week when he showed up to training camp suddenly able to speak quite good French.
“They don’t have Rosetta Stone in Quebecois, so it’s hard. And I also decided that, when I watch Netflix, I’d watch French movies. Those two have helped.”
Porter had already won fans with his spectacular Champions League goal.
Their numbers should only grow now in a mostly French-speaking city.
While Montreal’s biggest team, the Canadiens, is down to three or four players who speak French, the Impact have several, including arguably their three best players – defender Laurent Ciman, midfielder Ignacio Piatti and striker Didier Drogba – as well as captain Patrice Bernier of Brossard, Que.
Add Porter to the list.
The lanky forward has much to talk about after his 2015 campaign.
He was sent on as a late substitute in both legs of the aggregate-goals quarter-final against heavily favoured Pachuca.
Trailing 3-2 in the fourth minute of added time, Porter took a Hail Mary pass from Calum Mallace off his chest and beat veteran goalie Oscar Perez to give Montreal the victory on the away goals rule and send the Olympic Stadium crowd of 38,104 into a frenzy.
“The biggest thing is that goal brought on a lot of supporters on who have helped and motivated me,” said Porter.
“I don’t know if, without that support, I would have been able to push myself as hard as I did to come back as quickly as I did.”
Only two games into the regular season, in his first MLS start, Porter went up for a high ball, landed awkwardly and blew out his knee.
He was to miss nine-to-12 months.
He used the time to complete his computer science degree from Princeton and learn French.
He is wearing a brace early in camp but expects the knee to be up to full strength in a month.
Whether he picks up where he left off remains to be seen.
Drogba now owns the striker’s job, but the 37-year-old doesn’t like artificial turf, on which four of Montreal’s first five regular season games will be played.
So far Porter, Dominic Oduro and 2015 first-rounder Romario Williams are the top candidates for playing time.
But coach Mauro Biello won’t rush Porter back.
“We don’t want to put him in a situation where he’s got all the pressure to come back,” said Biello.
“It was a big injury.”
Porter is just happy the injury is behind him.
“It was the biggest challenge of my life, between waking up really early, doing rehab for five to six hours, going home, doing school until I got to bed,” he said.
“It was the most intense part of my life, but I learned a lot and grew from it. Now the challenges I face seem pretty minuscule.”