SMR Interview Series: Kyle Porter, Defender

porter-550x550pxInterview by: Kendra Lee

You were born in Toronto. Can you describe where you grew up and what it was like growing up there?
Well, I grew up, I spent a little bit of time in the Oakwood, St. Clair area with my grandma on my dad’s side. And then we moved out west towards Mississauga and that’s where my parents really started our family. I grew up with an older sister so we were always together, very close in a friendly neighbourhood where we grew up. We were always playing sports, riding bikes and stuff. And later on my parents had another child, there was a big gap, 13 years. So I had another sister. I didn’t really get to grow up with her but I was always that big brother protecting her so she always had someone to look up to. My little sister actually started to play locally with a club in North Mississauga. She’s just starting to get competitive; she’s about 13 years old.

Your dad is from Jamaica so did that community in Toronto play a big role for you growing up?
Yeah, I mean I’m very close to my dad’s mom. She came over to Canada before my dad and she established a business. And then was able to bring over my father. So we’ve been really close; to this day we talk every week. The Jamaican culture is very much in my life, as much as being Canadian is.

When did you start playing soccer?
I was about 5 years old actually. It actually started because we had a family trip to Trinidad and I remember, this is a small little memory, but I remember trying to play and the big kids wouldn’t let me play. Yeah, I remember my dad one day he just came home and said, “I signed you up” and from there I just fell in love with the game.

So you started to play for the Mississauga Falcons when you were about 13.
Yeah around that age group. I always bounced around because I was always trying to play and when I first started, I started at North Mississauga but they would never go indoor year round. They would play hockey, half of the kids, so I would leave and go play with another team so I could play the full year. So I bounced around a bit but I always stayed close to home in the Mississauga area, Digsy, Aron Mills,

And then you went to Vancouver to continue your youth career. Did you move out by yourself?
Yeah, so I moved out, I was 16 or 17. Basically it’s a residency program so you’re in school. You train in the morning, go to school, train in the afternoon and that was pretty much all week. It was the first residency program in Vancouver and it was just a new opportunity to open doors and that’s exactly what it did and it gave me a chance to finish school. I moved there with a host family and they took care of me. At first I was kind of nervous going into it, but I lucked out and had a great family. I actually keep in contact with them to this day and it was a great experience.

What did you learn the most about your game in the youth programs?
I think, I mean, my dad was my biggest critic so after every game, after every practice he was there to help me perfect my game at that age. But I think the biggest thing that I learned is that what you put into it, you get out of it. The amount of time I sacrificed growing up, my friends and stuff like that, to practice, that was the biggest thing I took away was just practice makes perfect.

Was there any specific moment or time when you decided you could persue soccer as a career?
I think when I was 16, 17 when I started getting selected for the National Team, for the youth National Team. That was when I really sat there and said, “you know what, I’m good enough to be at this level” And it was a thing because my grandpa was very focused on school. He was a principal and teacher and he was like, “this is great for you to go get a scholarship and go to school.” But in my head I’m like, “but I don’t like school”. I just wanted to play soccer. It was a tough decision but my parents stuck behind me and that’s why I chose that route.

After the Whitecaps Residency you went over to Germany for a little while. How was that transition, ‘cause that’s a pretty big jump.
Very big! It was tough. I lucked out once again because there was actually a couple other Canadians that made that jump with me so we made that transition together. But, yeah, the language barrier, and we were in East Germany on the boarder of Poland, so the racial thing, it was around. It wasn’t too bad…but I’m not one to let people, when they talk, to get the best of me. But most definitely, when we moved there was no sinks, no lights, nothing. I guess that’s how they do it in Germany, so we had to install that ourselves and build all these types of things. We had to build our own cabinets.
So what did you get, just a room?
It was an apartment. But we walked in and there was NOTHING, not even a sink so we washed our dishes in the bathtub for a couple of weeks. We made do though.

What did you differences did you notice between the North American system and Germany?
Well obviously in North America you start at the house league level, but in Europe, they’re actually being brought up through the whole system from the first team down to the grassroots. So I think the knowledge of the game, you’re introduced to that at an earlier age in Europe. And here if you luck out and make it further along with a provincial team or the National Team, that’s when you start to develop a good knowledge for the game. Unless you’re lucky to have a great coach. But yeah, I think just from the grassroots up it’s just way more advanced.

And after your time in Europe you came back to North America and ended up at FC Edmonton.
Yeah, so after Germany I actually went back to Vancouver in the summer transfer window. And then at the end of the season I negotiated with Vancouver to go with them to MLS and I was there all preseason. But I wasn’t happy with the contract and from there basically I made the decision not to sign with them. But with the MLS rules, they retained my rights. So that’s why I went to Edmonton, just to get games and to establish myself as a professional player. And then when I was making the transition to DC, that’s when they had to trade.

And when you were playing for Edmonton, they were new in the NASL. What was your experience playing for a team that’s trying to figure out a new league?
Yeah, they started in 2010 and then they went to NASL in 2011. It was a lot of trial and error. I mean, we were kind of like the test dummies at first to see what worked and what didn’t work; the stadium, we played on that horrible, horrible, horrible turf field…the second season was a lot better, but the first season wasn’t the greatest. We did well as a club, we made the playoffs our first season. So on the field it was actually a good season because I got to put myself out there and see where I stand as a player in that league and I faired well, scored some goals. But off the field it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of things that players in the MLS and in Europe never would experience. I think the support that we had was great. There was a lack of support but I guess that’s because it was a new team. But when we go and play Edmonton it’s grown massively compared to when I was there. I have a lot of love for that club.

So after a couple of seasons in Edmonton you went back to MLS with DC United. How did that opportunity come about for you?
So it was, what, 2013, and I was actually going to sign back with Edmonton, but something told me not to sign, just to explore the opportunity in the MLS. Because there was interest, my agent did tell me that there was interest. And then I was actually in National Team camp and I got talking with Dwayne DeRosario and he just said, “Hey, my club talked to me about you.” And I said, “Hey, get me over there!” And so yeah, once the camp finished, I went to sleep and woke up to a bunch of calls from my agent and he said, “Pack your bags, you’re going to Florida.” Then I had a pre-season game the following day against Malmo, a Swedish team, did well and Ben Olsen was like “Alright, we want you in DC for Monday.” So it just happened real quick. It was like three or four days and I was signing a contract.

What were your best moments with DC United?
Winning the US Open Cup, most definitely. And scoring my first MLS goal against Sporting Kansas City. And playing with a legend of Canada, Dwayne De Rosario. Those were my best moments for sure!

You played for the Atlanta Silverbacks last season. What was it like playing under the circumstances of a struggling team?
I think it was kind of funny because you sit there and you look at it and you’re like, “You know what, I was just here and now it’s kind of like I took 10 steps back” you know what I mean? But the opportunity to go to a place like Atlanta and prove to the city and everyone that’s in that environment that this team can play, under this coach, and just try to prove people wrong. Everyone was just like “Oh, it’s Atlanta, they’re a pushover.” But we actually did well for ourselves and it was a grind every day but every single player put in the work. And everything was against us even when we traveled; we had to take buses and stuff like that. So I think it was just a moment when everyone humbled themselves and said “You know what, this year is our year to prove everyone wrong” and so that was that. They have a great support system there and it’s just a hard market because it’s all football (NFL). And then with MLS…MLS was even sold out even before the season started. There were 30,000 season ticket holders and it was more than 2 years away. It was a tough market [for the NASL].

So then what influenced your decision to come to Ottawa and play for the Fury?
Well last game of the season we played Ottawa and after the game, I spoke to Marc and spoke to Martin and they told me that they were interested in me coming back. So I told my agent just to keep calling them. Paul wasn’t in the picture yet. Martin was a heavy favourite to take the job and so we were talking to Martin and then when Paul got the job my agent knew Paul so they just talked, Martin and Paul, and once they said they wanted me, I said, “Let’s get this signed.” Ottawa’s close to home and the opportunity to play in Canada, I would never pass that up!

You started playing in the National Team program at the U-17 level. How did that happen for you?
So there’s an identification process at like 13 years old and it starts at regionals or something like that, and then the provincial team selects players. And from there, provincially, there’s a training center, a national training center (NTC) and what they do is they take the best players from each age group and train. You train all week and basically, Stephen Hart at the time was the coach, and he came to a camp and was like, “Hey, I’m going to bring you to this camp.” And then from there it was just like…things started moving pretty quick!

In what ways have you seen the program change since you started?
Dramatically! I mean at one point I remember I was a young kid and I didn’t even have a chance to make the team because there was such a veteran presence on the squad. Very little youth players even got to take that step, but ever since Benito took over, he’s encouraging the young players to come through. Me, I’m not so young now but there’s a lot of young players, our younger U-23s, U-20, U-17s have some big players on those squads. There’s players coming back and saying they want to play for our country now. I think we’re moving in the right direction. It hurts to go out of a qualification how many years ago, losing like that to Honduras, and now we have a chance to redeem ourselves.

The National Team has played a lot of their home games in Toronto where, in the past, there has been a presence of the opposing team’s fans in the stadium. What is it like as a player in these different atmospheres?

I think when you’re on the road you feel a presence but it’s not so hostile that you can’t concentrate. More so in the MLS, you have Seattle, Portland, even Vancouver to a certain extent. Actually the whole Cascadia, those fans, when you’re an opposing team you feel their energy. But I mean when you’re in the game and you’re playing, that’s the last thing you really think about. But there’s some atmospheres where you’ll feel it and it’s tough to get going. Toronto’s very diverse, but I think now that Canada is making that step, there’s so much more publicity, media attention that the Canadians are coming out to cheer for Canada now. But before when you had teams like Jamaica or South American teams coming in to play Canada, that community would show up and you would feel that it was a mutual ground. But now it’s most definitely more Canadian than ever.

Your first Senior team call up was 2013, what was that feeling like?
It was amazing! It sucks to come into a game where you’re already losing by a few goals but the opportunity to play for your country is…there’s no real feeling to describe it. It’s a dream come true type of thing. So I still hold that moment in my career as one of my top moments. But I’m hoping it’s not the last. I want to make more memories with my country as well as playing at the club level.

What do you think is the best way for the program to grow?
I think for Canadian players, everyone has to have a club but not a club somewhere playing low levels in a different country. I think they need to be playing all over at the highest level, whether it be MLS., in the Bundesliga, Premier League. I think we have the players to play at these levels, it’s just the restrictions for us makes everything difficult. Being an international even in the MLS when we have three Canadian clubs or even in NASL, being an international when we have two Canadian clubs. These rules, they affect us. The only league in North America is the USL that helps us. That league also has some growing to do but right now MLS, if we can have more Canadians playing in the MLS or in these top levels, I think that’s the best way for us to grow. That’s how you make the [National] team better by playing at a higher level.

If there was a Canadian professional league would you want to be a part of it?
Yeah. Like I said before, you know, playing in Canada as a professional is amazing. You can’t pass that opportunity up. But when? It really depends on where I am in my career. You know being at a prime, playing at big clubs and then coming to a club that’s not really established, you know, it depends where I am but most definitely I want to play in Canada.

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