When Thibault Candia would get ready for bed as a kid, he never forgot to bring one object — a soccer ball.
“My parents told me that when I was 3, 2 years old, when I started walking, I already had a ball always with me,” the sophomore forward said. “During the recess at school, after school, before school in the morning. Always.”
Candia’s parents signed him up for soccer at age 5. Now he’s Temple’s leading scorer.
Candia has five goals and has started all 12 games for the Owls (5-6-1, 1-2 American Athletic Conference). He has been on a scoring binge of late, netting all of his goals in a five-game span from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3. Candia didn’t score until the seventh game of the season when a position change helped him increase his output.
Through the first five games, Candia played left winger on offense. He switched to the 10 position, which is typically located between the central midfielders and strikers.
“I feel better here,” Candia said. “Apparently, for the team, it is better when I play 10 because we get results, and I am happy to bring something to the team.”
“He’s very good to link up with,” said freshman forward Alan Camacho Soto, who has four goals and an assist in the last five games. “He’s a good passer of the ball and he can beat defenders and find open space for other guys to run on to.”
The team has benefitted from Candia playing the 10, who typically has more freedom on the field and is closer to the goal than the left winger. During Candia’s five-game goal streak, Temple had a 4-1 record and outscored its opponents 13-4.
“If he’s in the center, if he beats one or two guys, then he’s got a shot on goal,” coach David MacWilliams said. “If he’s on the outside and he beats someone, he’s still got to cross it or he’s still got to come 30 yards inside. So we wanted to put him more in a dangerous situation.”
Senior midfielder and forward Joonas Jokinen switched positions with Candia so he could play at the 10 spot. MacWilliams said Jokinen and Candia are interchangeable on the field. If Candia is aggressively marked by the opponent’s defense, he and Jokinen can trade positions as needed throughout the game, MacWilliams added.
Candia is a good fit at the 10 position because he played it for most of his life. Being closer to the goal is also a bonus for Candia, who has the ball control and footwork to finesse his way past defenders in one-on-one situations, MacWilliams said.
Candia’s ball-control skills help him maneuver around defenders and get a shot that he might not have been able to get due to his 5-foot-9-inch stature. He leads the team in shots with 34 and shots on goal with 13.
“He’s tight with the ball,” MacWilliams said. “So when the ball’s played into him, he can control it and turn and beat people all in one. Some players have to control it first, and he’s pretty clever with the ball.”
“Because I am skinnier than other guys, I have to be maybe quicker and good with the ball,” Candia said. “It has become a strength for me. So I have to keep improving because sometimes, I could help the team when we play against a team that has very low pressure, so you have to try to find space.”
Candia and MacWilliams attribute Candia’s initial lack of scoring to the learning curve he had adjusting to American college soccer. Candia is from Nantes, France, and he had never been to the United States before Fall 2017. Using English as his primary means of communication is new.
“Sometimes he is wondering what the coach is talking about or something, and I can explain it to him a little bit,” Camacho Soto said. “But it’s nothing too big.”
College games in the U.S. tend to be slightly faster paced and involve more up-and-down action than those in Europe, MacWilliams said. It can also take time to get used to having more than one game a week while also having classes and other responsibilities.
“I think he’s getting acclimated to the college game, and I think he’s starting to pick up,” MacWilliams said. “I think he’s doing well, and I think he’s going to get better as the year goes on.”