“It's a team people can relate to”: Canada has a multicultural World Cup squad

Nov 21 2022, 7:59 pm

“Canada’s Team.”

That moniker has been used a lot over the years. Probably a little too much.

But there’s perhaps no better way to describe the World Cup-bound Canadian men’s soccer team. That’s because they boast a diverse group of 26 players whose families have emigrated from all over the world, making them truly representative of the country’s multicultural makeup.

It’s more than a feel-good story.

It’s something the team takes pride in, and something they’ve used as a rallying point in the lead-up to Canada’s first men’s FIFA World Cup since 1986.

“It’s a team people can relate to,” said Sam Adekugbe, a Canadian defender, born in England, with Nigerian lineage. “Young Black kids can see themselves. Young South Americans can see people like [Lucas] Cavallini and [Jonathan] Osorio. A Serbian kid can see Milan [Borjan] playing … We’re a group of different people from different societies and different backgrounds. When we’re able to gather and unite together, we can bring the nation together because the nation is built of different ethnicities.”

Nearly one of four people living in Canada, about 23% of the population, were born in another country, as per the latest census data released last month. That represents the highest proportion of Canada’s population in more than 150 years, according to Statistics Canada. And in the case of the Canadian men’s national team, the percentage is even higher (27%).

There are seven foreign-born players on Canada’s World Cup roster, listed below with their birthplaces:

  • Sam Adekugbe: London, England
  • Milan Borjan: Knin, Yugoslavia
  • Jonathan David: Brooklyn, New York, USA
  • Alphonso Davies: Buduburam, Ghana
  • Ismaël Koné: Abidjan, Ivory Coast
  • Iké Ugbo: London, England
  • David Wotherspoon: Perth, Scotland

This, of course, is not a new phenomenon in a global sport like soccer, which generally allows dual-nationals to represent the country of their choice – provided they fulfill certain conditions. In fact, eight teams at this year’s World Cup have more foreign-born players than Canada. Morocco, one of their Group F opponents, leads the way with 14.

But when you account for all the second-generation Canadians on the roster, defined by Statistics Canada as “individuals who were born in Canada and had at least one parent born outside in Canada,” it’s easy to see why the team’s diversity has become such a big part of their identity.

Junior Hoilett, Cyle Larin, Kamal Miller, Mark Anthony-Kaye, and Derek Cornelius, for example, each had at least one parent born in Jamaica (in addition to his Jamaican mother, Cornelius’ father was born in Barbados). Meanwhile, both of Atiba Hutchinson’s parents, as well as the father of Dayne St. Clair, are from Trinidad and Tobago – making up a strong Caribbean contingent.

Jonathan Osorio, whose parents were born in Colombia, and Lucas Cavallini, whose father is from Argentina, both have South American roots and spent time in Uruguay during their youth.

Moving over to Europe, the parents of both Stephen Eustáquio and Steven Vitória were born in Portugal, while Alistair Johnston’s mother is from Northern Ireland.

And Richie Laryea is the son of Ghanaian immigrants.

“I tell people all the time, this country saved my family’s life,” Laryea recently said in an MLS video.

According to Canada’s head coach John Herdman, an immigrant himself, the “safety” that Canada has provided these players and their families is an important part of this story.

“I’m an Englishman in Canada who was able to win an Olympic medal in a country that’s accepted you,” he said. “You’ve been able to achieve things, somewhere where you feel safe. I’ve said this all along. In any culture, sporting culture, when people feel safe, they’re able to perform their best. I think that’s what this country does. It creates a safety for people that come to this country from outside, whether it’s been as a refugee or an immigrant worker, you’re able to reach limits that you wouldn’t potentially arriving in other countries.”

The face of all this for Canada?

Alphonso Davies.

Born on the Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents who had fled the civil war, which is estimated to have claimed the lives of 250,000 civilians, Davies “wasn’t supposed to make it,” as he tweeted after being named to Canada’s World Cup roster. But his family came to Canada for a better life, and he’s talked about how this World Cup is an opportunity for him to “give back.”

He’s not alone.

“Canada gave us peace, better schools, better life, better everything,” goalkeeper Milan Borjan famously said earlier this year. “This is just the way [for] us to return it to Canada.”

Farhan DevjiFarhan Devji

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