Most soccer players have a connection to the city in which they started their career, but few can claim a connection like Tsubasa Endoh. For five years, Endoh played in Fukushima, Japan for the Japanese Football Association academy, a city that adopted him and soon became like a second home.
Originally from Tokyo, Endoh would leave home for the coastal city of Fukushima at age 12 hoping it would lead him to professional soccer. Today that dream would become a reality, but the road to Major League Soccer was not without its difficulties for the midfielder.
On March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake would devastate Japan, and in the process thrust Fukushima into the international spotlight. The tremors, and a resulting tsunami, would cause damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant spreading radiation throughout the region.
Endoh's JFA Academy were in afternoon training when the earthquake struck, and huddled in the centre of the field while they waited for it to pass. They would eventually take refuge in a nearby dormitory while destruction and death took place around them.
As a result of radiation, Endoh and his JFA Academy teammates were force to leave the region and try to find a new home in Japan. He wouldn't stay in Japan much longer before making the jump to North America.
As a result of the earthquake, over 15,000 Japanese people have been confirmed dead and the destruction has cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars. Endoh lost friends in the earthquake that continues to have a massive effect on Japan today.
For more on Endoh's story and what it was like going through the earthquake, read this incredible feature written by Daniel Popper for The Diamondback, the independent student newspaper for the University of Maryland.
The Japanese midfielder still plays with Fukushima in mind, hoping that he can make the region proud with what he accomplishes in professional soccer. For that same reason he hopes to one day represent Japan internationally. He has already played for them as high as the U-17 level before moving to North America.
Endoh had been on the radar of American soccer coaches since 2010 when as part of the JFA Academy he played in camps for US universities. He would ultimately join the University of Maryland in 2012.
With Maryland he would play in 85 matches, scoring 12 goals and adding 16 assists. He is an attacking midfielder, who also has been touted by some as more of a winger considering his technical ability. That is where Toronto FC could probably best use him as they don't have much depth currently out wide.
He had been a player of interest for Toronto FC for some time but really affirmed his ability at the MLS Draft Combine, where he was named MVP. As a result he had several teams interested in him before Toronto selected him with the ninth overall pick.
From Tokyo to Toronto, Endoh's story has had plenty of ups and downs. But hopefully as he writes the Canadian chapter of his career the theme will be much more positive. Hopefully he makes the city of Fukushima proud as he continues to represent them over 10,000 kilometres away.