Home Canadian Soccer Men's National Team Straight outta Brampton

Straight outta Brampton

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It is home to the likes of Michael Cera, Rick Nash and Rohinton Mistry. It was where premier Bill Davis called home. It’s arguably the lacrosse capital of Canada. And, it’s Canada’s most important soccer city. Why is the suburb lovingly known as ‘Flowertown’ our home of footie?

When looking at Brampton, it can be difficult at times to describe to those living outside this Ontario city that there’s more to it beyond the cliché “suburban” tag. Brampton is only 44 kilometres from Toronto. Brampton boasts a population of 550,000 people — but possesses a thriving arts culture and entrepreneurial spirit that, in turn, shows off the city’s many ethnicities.

People of many backgrounds contribute to its overall multiculturalism, from the African and Latin cultures that put on performances and art shows at the Rose Theatre and the Peel Art Gallery Museum + Archives, to the numerous South Asian and Caribbean restaurants that dot the downtown sector.

However, what has become most prominent is a continuously growing sports culture.

The city became home to a National Basketball League of Canada franchise in 2012, thanks to owner James Tipping. Local products making it to the NBA has helped basketball in Brampton flourish on a few different levels.

The Brampton A’s are coming off a successful inaugural 2013-2014 season, finishing as the NBLC’s Expansion Franchise of the Year. In addition, locals Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Tyler Ennis have all been selected in the NBA Draft’s first round.

While basketball has spawned recent success stories, soccer has seen its own development take place, from the grassroots level upwards.

In Brampton, there are at least nine recognized soccer clubs of all ages, both male and female, playing under the Peel Halton Soccer Association. The PHSA is the fastest growing soccer association in Ontario, with 76,739 registered indoor and outdoor players. A few of these Brampton-based clubs have helped foster the growth of some of Canada’s best and brightest.

Most notably is Atiba Hutchinson with the Brampton Youth Soccer Club. He’s a player who has been a stalwart with the senior men’s side, Hutchinson has led a meaningful career that has taken him to the Netherlands and Turkey with storied clubs like PSV Eindhoven and Besiktas.

Within the women’s program, Alyscha Mottershead, Christabel Oduro, Kadeisha Buchanan and Sura Yekka are breaking through as rising stars and key players for the future of the Canadian senior side.

Mottershead grew up in the city and went to Cardinal Leger Secondary School, while Yekka, who hails from neighbouring Mississauga, currently plays for Brams United Girls Soccer Club. The former is on the fringe of the national team and the latter is poised to represent Canada at the U-17, U-20 and senior Women’s World Cup, all within a two-year period. Buchanan has emerged as Canada’s central defender of the future, while Oduro has featured for Canada’s team at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2012.

Peter Roe

Brampton has built a strong infrastructure for the game, with many soccer fields as well as a soccer-specific facility. The Brampton Soccer Centre was built in the summer of 2007 as a way of handling the high demand for the sport, housing four quality turf fields, welcoming everything from pub teams to youth tournaments.

Recognition of this soccer paradise goes back quite a while, as soccer scouts have been mining Brampton of talent for years.

The Canadian national program has seen Brampton as a breeding ground for players going back to the old North American Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League days of the mid ‘70s into the late ‘80s.

Two standouts from that era are James McLoughlin and Peter Roe, both members of the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame. McLoughlin and Roe came to Canada and, more specifically, to Brampton in the late ‘60s from England; McLoughlin from Liverpool and Roe from Manchester. Although both had good club careers in the NASL and MISL , their real success came with the Canadian national team.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN PLASTIC PITCH #3.

McLoughlin played three years (1976-1979), most notably as part of the 1976 Olympic team and 1979 PanAm Games team. Roe played a solid nine years in the red and white, from 1974-83.

The common thread connecting McLoughlin and Roe to today’s Canadian internationals is that they are immigrants to Brampton who arrived with a love for soccer. It’s an aspect that one of Canada’s most decorated players, and fellow Bramptonian, Paul Stalteri sees as an important factor.

“It’s tough to narrow down the reason why, but something is definitely there in Brampton,” says Stalteri. “It’s an ethnic city, so you have a lot of different cultures mixing [approaching the sport in different ways] and producing great athletes of all nationalities and races.”

Stalteri represented Canada 84 times, scoring seven goals as well as being part of the Gold Cup-winning side in 2000. At the club level, he spent most of his 15-year career in Germany with Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Ethnic diversity within Canada’s soccer program has always been a double-edged sword, allowing players of dual citizenship to choose their parents or grandparents’ homeland over the Canadian national team. Or, in the case of Brampton’s Junior Hoilett — who grew up a stone’s throw from the Bramalea City Centre — not committing their international future to Canada just yet.

Dual citizenship has also had its positives, opening up opportunities for the younger generation.

This includes Keven Aleman, Doneil Henry and Jonathan Osorio, three Brampton players who have committed to the national program even though they all had eligibility with other nations (Costa Rica, Jamaica and Colombia respectively).

James McLoughlin

They’re also developing well at club level, Aleman playing for Spanish side Real Valladolid B while Henry and Osorio are excelling with Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC.

People are starting to take notice of the bright futures they have ahead; that includes Canadian international and fellow Brampton product Iain Hume.

Hume has spent his playing career in England with Tranmere Rovers, Leicester City and Preston North End while also earning 39 caps and scoring six goals for Canada.

“Every player that’s getting regular minutes coming up through the system are really promising,” says Hume. “For example, Doneil Henry has all the tools as an athletic, composed and quick centre-half for Canada and if they keep progressing they will all be part of the national team picture for years.”

Growing Numbers

Diversity is one contributing factor to Brampton’s soccer success, but there’s also the element of a population boom. The number of people calling Brampton home is growing every year at a rapid rate.

Statistics Canada has tracked the population as it has doubled over 20 years, from 234,445 in 1991 to 523,911 in 2011. This number has only continued to surge upward, as is evident in the housing developments and condos sprouting up in order to accommodate the demand.

This expansion has also been acknowledged by people at local levels of government, regional councillor Paul Palleschi says it will climb from its current figure of 550,000 people to 600,000 by the end of 2014 and approximately 875,000 residents between now and 2031.

Iain Hume

Hume can speak to this from personal experience, as the city has expanded greatly from when he first arrived and since he has left to play club soccer in England.

“The places that develop the most players in Canada are Toronto, Brampton and Vancouver, that’s where the majority of players have come out of over the years,” said Hume. “With Brampton, when I moved there at around four or five years old there was only around 220,000  people and, in the space of about 25 years, we’re now well over half a million.”

Population and multiculturalism in Brampton have without doubt impacted soccer in Canada, but before players can rise to the international stage they need good leadership and coaching at the younger ages. That is where the likes of coach Bobby Smyrniotis and Sigma FC have come into play an important role in the area.

Although Sigma is an academy from neighbouring Mississauga, it has naturally seen kids from Brampton thrive such as Cyle Larin, Chris Nanco, Alex Halis and brothers Jordan and Justin Stoddart.

Of that group, Larin is the player that many within the Canadian soccer community could see being soccer’s version of Thornhill, Ontario native and 2014 first overall NBA draft pick Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins, like Larin, played for a big collegiate program at the University of Kansas and is part of a rising Canadian basketball talent pool at the international level. Larin is seen as a player that could do similar things for Canadian soccer, currently playing at one of the top NCAA collegiate soccer programs in the University of Connecticut and coming off a freshman year of 23 games and 14 goals.

According to Aaron Nielsen of ENB Sports Statistics Ltd., Larin has what it takes to make it, whether he opts to play in Major League Soccer or go overseas.

“Larin’s best tools are his size, strength, pace and how he can dominate games in these capacities,” says Nielsen. “His stats at the NCAA level are very impressive in his first season, in particular his shots per 90 minutes and shots on target.

“However, at this point in his career he does need to be more assertive and look to establish himself as the main goal scorer during games.”

“I think Cyle Larin is a click away,” says Smyrniotis. “He’s in a very good environment at the University of Connecticut that is helping him make that step from reserve level to the professional level. We know there’s a lot of interest in him for the next level and I think he’s got a bright future.”

As for his national team prospects, Larin is coming off his first taste of international soccer; he was called up to the senior Canadian national team for games in late May against Bulgaria and Moldova.

Although only the beginning for him, it’s an experience that he will never forget.

“It was really nice, and once I got on the field in the first game I felt like my dream came true,” says Larin. “[My dream] is not all the way there, but it was a goal of mine to make the national team and play for my country one day. Hopefully I get to keep playing for Canada and achieve something.”

While with the national team, Larin also took advantage of learning from the veteran players before him. This included Hutchinson, whom is seen as one of the best to suit up for Canada.

Atiba Hutchinson hails from Brampton’s Heart Lake neighbourhood and has played for the likes of PSV Eindhoven and Besiktas. PHOTO: CANADA SOCCER/PAUL GIAMOU

“Atiba Hutchinson and Julian De Guzman are really nice guys, very talented and helped me quite a bit,” says Larin. “They like the young players and help guide you though the camp, give you advice and make sure you carry yourself in the right way on and off the field so you’re prepared for the game.

Having such a large talent base to work from is a coach’s dream. When it comes to Brampton, Smyrniotis sees one aspect that separates the city from others in the area.

“It’s a hunger and desire for the game, there’s a good passion for the sport in Brampton with a lot of soccer influence from the European, South American and Caribbean backgrounds [amongst others]” says Smyrniotis. “[From the coaching perspective] I think that always helps, when you have a good mix of cultures and a lot of young families it produces a big pool of talent. Maybe there’s something different in the water?”

Obviously it’s not the water. However, while history, ethnic diversity, population and coaching are all major factors, it’s those intangible qualities of desire, confidence, passion and pride that flow through Brampton-based soccer players and help create a long-lasting bond between the city and Canadian soccer.

BRAMPTON’S HOMETOWN SOCCER HEROE

• Peter Roe, national team, 1974-1983

• James McLoughlin, national team 1976-1979

• Paul Stalteri, Werder Bremen, Tottenham, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Fulham, most capped player in Canadian national-team history (1997-2010)

•Jason Bent, current assistant coach at Toronto FC; had 32 caps for Canada

• Iain Hume, 39 national team caps, 2003-2013

• Atiba Hutchinson, national team captain, European career highlighted by time at PSV Eindhoven and Besiktas

• Junior Hoilett, Blackburn Rovers and Queens Park Rangers

• Jaineil Hoilett, former Canadian youth international, Blackburn youth, St. Pauli youth, Mainz Youth, Frankfurt II

Alyscha Mottershead

• Keven Aleman, current Real Valladolid and Canadian National Team

• Doneil Henry, current Toronto FC and Canadian national team

• Jonathan Osorio, current Toronto FC and Canadian national team

• Nana Attakora, former Brampton SC, current D.C. United, Canadian national team

• Massimo Mirabelli, FC Edmonton 2013-14

• Cyle Larin, 14 goals in freshman season for UConn

• Chris Nanco, Canadian U-20 team

• Kadeisha Buchanan, women’s national team, women’s U-20 team

• Alyscha Mottershead, two caps for women’s national team, Syracuse University grad

• Christabel Oduro, former Canadian women’s youth national teams

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