After missing out on Canada’s January camp, teenage winger Theo Corbeanu wasted little time showing what he can do in World Cup soccer qualifying.
The 18-year-old from Hamilton scored off the bench in his debut in Canada’s 5-1 win over Bermuda last Thursday, prompting his phone to light up like a Christmas tree.
“It was crazy. I’ve never got that many messages before. It was amazing.” he said.
Coach John Herdman then gave Corbeanu the start in Monday’s record 11-0 romp over the Cayman Islands in Bradenton, Fla.
Corbeanu plays for the Wolves under-23 side in England. While manager Nuno Espirito Santo has had him dress eight or nine times for the Premier League squad’s first team in both league and cup action, he has yet to be called on. But it seems only a matter of time.
He is no stranger to turning heads — or making the most of debuts.
In December, the Birmingham Mail marked his inclusion in Wolves’ matchday squad for the first time with an article under the headline “Who is Theo Corbeanu? The ‘outstanding’ wonderkid in the Wolves squad for Burnley.”
Both his parents were born in Romania, coming to Canada in 1999 with his older brother who was seven at the time. Theo, who came on the scene three years later, says all his relatives are in Romania.
“I’m really the only one in the family tree who’s fully Canadian,” said Corbeanu, who speaks fluent Romanian.
Corbeanu has represented Romania at the youth level, scoring in his debut for its under-16 side against Ireland.
“It was a great experience but at the end of the day I’m Canadian. I’ve always wanted to play for Canada,” he said.
“I have both (nationalities) in me but I’m very proud to wear the Canadian shirt,” added Corbeanu, who has since switched his international allegiance to Canada.
He’s loving every minute of it.
“I’m excited right now and I’m even more excited about the future,” he said.
Herdman called him into his January camp in Florida but Corbeanu didn’t travel because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. He made it for the World Cup qualifiers, stopping first in Mexico for a few days training with the Canadian Olympic squad.
After replacing Junior Hoilett in the 77th minute with Canada leading Bermuda 4-1 in Orlando, Corbeanu stationed himself on the right flank and prepared to do some damage.
That took just four minutes with the debutant finishing off a six-pass move that started with goalkeeper Milan Borjan. Captain Atiba Hutchinson picked out Liam Millar on the left flank and the 21-year-old forward, on loan to Charlton Athletic from Liverpool, cut the ball back for Corbeanu, making a diagonal run between defenders off his wing, to square into the goal from the edge of the six-yard box.
After the game, Herdman shared what he told Corbeanu before sending him on.
“‘Just as he was taking the field, I said to him ‘Son … you’ve got 15 minutes. Sometimes these moments don’t come back. Go make an impact. Goal and an assist,’” said Herdman.
“And his bloody first touch was a goal,” the coach added. “Sometimes you say that stuff as a coach and think it’s going in one ear and out the other. I’m proud of him.”
Corbeanu, an imposing figure at six foot two, says football firsts like his Canadian debut don’t faze him.
“I’d say I’m very composed when it comes to stuff like this. For me, this is just another game. I just took it as another game, as if I was playing on the street with my friends. So no nerves.”
Canadian midfielder Samuel Piette was impressed by what he saw from the teen in training.
”First time I saw him on the pitch, I couldn’t tell you if he was left-footed or right-footed, which is an amazing skill. I’m not even sure he knows as well, to be fair,” said the CF Montreal veteran.
“He’s really mature for his age, outside the pitch but on the pitch as well,” he added.
Growing up, Corbeanu was a goalkeeper until he was seven or eight, switching to striker when his team was down a few bodies. A fan of players like Robinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, he enjoys taking players on.
“That’s my game. I’m a one-v-one player. I like to be brave on the ball and I really like to enjoy myself in games. Play free.”
That includes looking to befuddle defenders with stepovers.
Growing up, Corbeanu played for the Mount Hamilton Youth Soccer Club, Hamilton Sparta and Saltfleet Soccer Club. He often followed coach Ron Davidson, whom he says played a “vital role” in his development.
Corbeanu spent two years with the Toronto FC academy, joining in late 2016 when he was 14 after spending time earlier on in its pre-academy camps.
“I was very used to the drive to that training centre from Hamilton … I absolutely loved TFC,” said Corbeanu, who still has close friends from his Toronto academy days.
But he always wanted to test himself in England. And in the summer of 2018, his agent set up a trial at Leicester City, which went well and drew the attention of Wolves,
He visited the club and liked what he saw.
“No disrespect to Leicester. That was a brilliant club as well. But I just felt like Wolves was a better fit for me.”
In 2019, he toured China on a pre-season tour with Wolves.
Formed as St. Luke’s FC in 1877, Wolverhampton Wanderers FC has spent 66 seasons at England’s highest level.
The storied club has been home to the likes of Billy Wright, Derek Dougan, Bert Williams, Phil Parkes, Paul Ince, Robbie Keane, Denis Irwin, Steve Bull and former Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson.