You’ve seen them on the pitch playing for Ottawa. We’ve cheered them on together in the stands. We want you to know what they’re about. Where they’re from, where they’ve been. What shapes them as a player. As a person. Everyone has a story and we want to tell theirs. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the players and ask them about how they got here and I’m excited to share their stories with you. This series will continue through the Fall Season. –Kendra Lee
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Saskatchewan and originally moved to Denver when I was very young, I was three so from the time I was, I guess three to I guess eight, I lived in Denver, Colorado. I grew up there.
How did you get started playing soccer?
I started playing soccer when I was four. My dad got moved down there, he worked for a consulting firm for Chevron Oil and Gas. And Denver was a pretty small city at the time. I lived in a suburb called Highlands Ranch, Colorado, which is just south of Denver. I started playing soccer there obviously. My dad coached me up till I was about eight and then my team wasn’t too great so my dad said it was about time [for him] to retire! And I moved on to a new team. When I turned eight we moved to El Paso Texas, he got transferred again, and that’s really where I started, you know, playing the game a lot and finding a passion for it because of the Hispanic influence down there was a big thing and I was the only white kid on the team and didn’t speak any Spanish! It was pretty fun though and got to go over to Mexico a couple of times to Juarez. It wasn’t bad and I learned the culture and played against a couple of teams down there. So I really get a lot of that influence in my game…it helps a lot, learning in Texas. And then I moved back to Denver Colorado and pretty soon to Saskatchewan to live with my grandparents while my dad underwent cancer therapy, so I lived with my grandparents for a bit. And then I finally came back to Denver for high school and decided to go to the University of Denver. I had some other choices. I turned down a pro contract when I was 15 years old so I could go to university and yeah, I’m happy that I was at the University of Denver for four years and then I was drafted in the MLS Super Draft to Columbus.
What did you study when you were in University?
I studied Criminology and Business. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so might as well do both!
Did you also have the goal of playing soccer at university when you went?
Oh, yeah. I mean, that’s the real reason I went to university. I mean I went to the University of Denver where it’s almost $50, 000 a year to go to and I probably wouldn’t have even gone to university if I didn’t play soccer. It would have been tough you know, I would’ve you know had to work and probably even done a two-year college or trade school. So I was blessed enough to be offered a scholarship there to play soccer and I was very happy with it. So, I took advantage of that and got a good education. I left early so I haven’t received my degree yet, I still need to finish but when I had the chance to play pro soccer I couldn’t say no and I had to leave. But I was very happy to go to university and don’t feel like I missed out too much on development or anything.
At what point did you think that you wanted to play professionally and start working toward that as a goal?
I don’t know if I could pinpoint a certain age but I was 13 or 14 and I said to myself “hey you better give your time for this and if you surround yourself with the right people you could find yourself playing professionally.” So that’s what I tried to commit myself to do and what with being in Denver, the youth club that I was with and getting to practice in the summers with the Colorado Rapids it was a good stepping stone to become a professional. And when I had some interest in the pro level and playing for Canada that helped a lot. I was blessed enough to be invited to the MLS combine and I did well and was picked up by Columbus. It all goes pretty fast but you know a lot of people ask that question, I don’t know if there’s a specific point though. It’s just along the road you just try and be the best you can every day.
You’ve spent some time on the National Team. How did that all come about for you?
Originally when I was 15 years old I went into a camp in Guadalajara. One of my coaches in Denver knew some people with the Canadian National Team and I got called in to the under 17 camp in Guadalajara Mexico for a tournament. It’s called Copa Chivas and it’s a big youth tournament and Canada went down there with a couple of the national teams and we played a bunch of games against some Brazilian clubs, a Spanish club, and some other Mexican clubs. And I did well enough to be called back for another camp and the rest is history. I stayed with the under 17s and I went to qualification for Under 17 World Cup in 2007 and then got called into the under 20s after that. And then eventually the Olympic team to go to the London Olympics. I know we didn’t end up qualifying for the Olympics but it was still a great opportunity. So hopefully I’ll get a chance with the [senior] team soon.
Did you watch the last game?
Yup, I watched the Colombia game. They did pretty well. It could always be better but playing against Colombia, it’s a pretty good result.
How do you feel about the current system that they’re playing?
I think it’s obviously something that the United States has done awhile and you know, Canada’s kinda using that model itself. Canada’s always been behind a little bit and that’s not because of anything that the National Team did but as a country we gotta embrace soccer a little bit more. Not just at the youth level but work on player development. We have great players it’s just being able to bring them together and having the national team players playing at clubs and playing regularly. A lot of our players go to good teams but find themselves on the bench or struggling to get playing time and that’s tough. So I hope that the coach, somewhat like Jurgen Klinsmann, looks at every league and brings in players that are playing regularly cause if you’re playing regularly it brings a lot of confidence to your game. But looking at the whole picture I think Canada’s going in the right direction with the hiring of Benito Floro and that stuff so yeah. We just continue along in that way and I think Canada will continue to get better.
Your sister Janine is also playing on the National Team. We watched her in the U-20 World Cup this summer. What’s it been like sharing the experience of playing professionally with her?
It’s been great! I mean you always say that the youngest child always becomes the best player! When we were younger she was always around all our games, all my other sister’s games and it’s just been cool to see her, you know grow up and continue her progress of development. And I remember every winter when I was at home back from school, we would always be playing out on the field just doing little things. I was trying to give her pointers and it was nice to have somebody to play with! So I guess the coolest part in the experience is seeing her grow up, now being 20 years old, it’s just crazy how time flies. And she had a great successful World Cup for Canada and I know she’ll be in with the [senior] team later in November so that’s an exciting time for her and I hope that she takes advantage of what she has at school. You know she needs to get an education and she’s done well at Texas Tech University and I think she’ll have an opportunity to play professionally. She’s gonna need to stay humble and just keep working hard like she does!
So back to your career in the MLS. How did it feel to be drafted by Columbus?
It was great! Obviously it’s a surreal feeling to have somebody, you know, want to sign you to a contract and want to pick you, and feel like you’re good enough to be on that team. I had gone to the draft expecting to go to Portland! I was told by Portland that “Hey we’re gonna pick you” and so I went to the draft and was waiting to be picked. So that was about, Portland was probably 4, maybe 5 picks later, so I was just waiting and then I think, like with 30 seconds on the clock my agent gets a call and he says “Hey, you’re going to Columbus!” So that was a bit of a surprise! But it was a good surprise, you know, and it was a good first year. At the pre-season I did well and signed my contract and I was in the team for the first three or four weeks of the season and ended up getting injured. It took me out for most of the season and with some coaching changes and the whole selling of the club to a new owner there was a lot of chaos so my contract wasn’t renewed. But I was very happy being there and I’m lucky to be here in Ottawa.
What was the biggest thing that you learned being on the team at that time?
I think I learned the mental aspect of the game. A lot of people focus on, especially here in North America, the physical attributes, you know, your speed your physical ability and such. But the top players and the best players in the world have a very very strong mental game and I learned, you know a lot of mental toughness there. When you’re not injured and you’re trying to get into the team, you’re trying to get into that A team every single week, and it doesn’t look like you’re doing well, you’re not in the team and such, it’s hard to stay motivated. And being injured and coming back and trying to keep your place is a tough mental thing like anything. And I think that would be the best thing that came out of it. I got better as a player definitely, physically and technically, but my mental game got better and it was just an experience right? So you go through tough times and you learn from those things and I think that’s helped me here in Ottawa for sure.
What influenced your decision to come to Ottawa and play for the Fury and how did that all come about for you?
Well, I was released in late November of last year, and maybe 3 or 4 days later I got a call from Marc Dos Santos. I had known that Ottawa would be getting an NASL team, because I was here for the PDL team about two years ago, but I had forgotten about that. So when Marc called me, you know, I forgot, but I was very surprised and very happy to hear from him. And we had a good talk and I said, “Well, I’m gonna look at all my options and talk with my agent and see what we can do.” And he said “Okay, yeah, get back to me.” And I looked at some other MLS clubs that I could go in for pre-season and such, but Ottawa was probably the best fit because I was injured all last year and needed to get games. And when other teams have seen a player that is injured, they have a little bit of hesitancy towards that. Marc was really full in on me and very happy to have me come and I was very happy to come and it’s really been a good experience coming here. I was very happy to sign.
What things have you learned with this team so far?
Ottawa as a team, I mean obviously, bringing in a bunch of guys that haven’t played together before is tough. But Marc hand-picked everybody, right? So he knew what he was looking for character wise and player wise. I think he spent a lot of time on the character part because we do have a very solid team. We’re a very tight knit group and that makes a big difference when you’re trying to win games on the field and everybody’s bought into the system that he wants to do. And Marc is a very passionate coach, everybody would tell you that. So for Marc you’re going to see him be very successful in his career. He’s still very young as a coach and he’s really done a great job of bringing a first year team in and having a presence in the NASL, which is hard to do. We’ve shown a lot of teams that we can play very well and I think that will continue into the next year for sure.
How has the experience been in Ottawa for you?
I love Ottawa! It’s a beautiful city! I live with three of my teammates, Carl [Haworth], Phil [Davies] and O’Brian [Woodbine] and it’s great! It’s great to have the guys around all the time. And Ottawa’s been great to us. The fans are amazing and the facilities that we have are the best and being around a lot of places around the world, it’s much better that what a lot of players in top leagues get as far as food and the quality of the service that we get from the staff. Melanie our physio is always around for anything that we need and Kyle our fitness guy is the best there is. It’s always about taking care of the players and that’s not always true in some other places. Ottawa has done a great job of welcoming us as a club and I hope that continues also.
What are some goals that you have for the future?
I’m very hard on myself. I always want to get better each day and over the last three or four games I’ve been out with a toe injury so just making sure that I get healthy in the off-season. Take care of whatever needs to be done for this toe and be back for 100% for next year. And not just trying to patch injuries up like I’ve done over the last few years, which is a bit frustrating. That would be number one. Number two is play with consistency. That’s always easy to say and hard to do. But playing consistent is the number one thing for anybody who’s looking at you. And I also want to help Ottawa grow as a club. That’s why I came here and I want to help Ottawa win. So as the team wins and gets a lot of recognition, individual recognition comes. And I’m not looking for individual recognition but I want people to know that there are certain players on this team, there’s a lot of players on this team that are great players. And they need to be recognized. And not myself, but other players that need to be recognized for what they’ve done. Guys like Richie Ryan, and Mason’s played a lot of games and Romuald, and Devala did a great job in the beginning of the season. So you look at that and the goal would be to see the team succeed. And I’d love to get back in with Canada so stay healthy and be able to do that. I think those are the three main ones. Stay healthy, be consistent and play for your national team cause that’s the ultimate honour.