The old adage used to be that if a Canadian wanted to succeed as a professional soccer player, he had to leave the country as soon as possible. There wasn't nearly the same opportunity, interest or money as Europe.
That hasn't changed by any means, but the gap is closing, and playing in their home and native land has suddenly become and option for Canada players. This year alone has been evidence of that, as Canadian players continue to return home and sign for Canadian clubs.
Toronto FC brought home Tosaint Ricketts and Will Johnson, the Whitecaps added Canadians Marcel De Jong, David Edgar and Fraser Aird. The trend has continued in NASL, with FC Edmonton bringing in Nik Ledgerwood, and potentially Ben Fisk while Ottawa Fury recently brought in Jamar Dixon and Mozzi Gyorio.
Returning home may not have been coordinated by these players, but with a crucial pair of World Cup Qualifiers coming up in September, there are a number of benefits to this homecoming.
"It's good because not only that we have a nice secure environment, you get to see us more, it's easier for [the national team] to get together," said Ricketts after this past Saturday's match against DC United. "Benito [Floro] has a better chance to see us day in and day out and give us advice on how to make the national team better."
While the reasons for coming home varied for all the aforementioned players, Ricketts has the most compelling: he was not being paid by his club in Turkey. This is the second time this has happened to the 28-year-old, and finally, he decided to move to a place where he knew he wouldn't have to worry.
Prior to kickoff this weekend during his first ever game in a Toronto FC shirt, taking on DC United, he knew coming home had been the right decision.
"During the national anthem, I felt something I never felt before, and I knew I was in the right place and that was a great feeling," said Ricketts.
But the importance of having strong domestic clubs extends beyond the comfort and convenience that they provide. In a World Cup qualifying year, these signings have meant a number of important national team players staying under contract.
"I think as a [national] team it has happened a couple of times that we had a couple of players unattached," De Jong told Waking the Red. "So I think the most important thing is that we have all the players with a club and playing regularly."
De Jong has been in Canada for the longest of any of recent crop of Canadian signings, as he played for the NASL's Ottawa Fury before recently joining the Vancouver Whitecaps. Before that, the Newmarket native had spent his entire career in Europe, playing in the Netherlands and Germany.
The biggest difference he continues to see is that in those countries soccer is like a religion, whereas in Canada it still falls behind sports like hockey. But seeing a sold out BC Place for Canada's recent World Cup qualifier against Mexico made him feel as though things were changing for the better. Seeing the atmosphere that night in Vancouver was part of the reason he signed for the team.
"When I played here with the national team I always said that this was an amazing city and if MLS wants me back I would only go to a Canadian team," he said of Vancouver. "That luckily worked out."
De Jong previously spent time in Major League Soccer, but did so in the United States with Sporting Kansas City. He never really caught on, playing in just 13 matches in his first MLS season. After just one year with the club, he had his contract terminated.
It's an all too common story, unfortunately, for Canadians who ply their trade with American MLS clubs. Only two Canadians currently play on American MLS squads, three if one counts recent Canadian citizen Kofi Opare. A big part of this is because Canadians are still considered "international" players on American teams, and therefore few jobs are available.
"It's a big difference, [American players] have an advantage, but I mean unfortunately it is what it is," said De Jong. "If it was up to me I would change the rules, but it's not up to me. It's not really fair, but it's an American league so I guess they have the right."
De Jong is hoping that Canada soon follows suit, and creates a league of their own separate from MLS. He is aware of the rumours about a possible Canadian Premier League, and what that could potentially mean for Canadian soccer, especially what it would mean for the young soccer players coast to coast.
"It's harder for [young players] to leave their parents to go to youth academies in the States or wherever," said De Jong. "If we have our own league it will make a difference and make it a lot easier for young players to reach a higher level."
That is the hope for the future, but for now, having a number of Canadian internationals back in Canada is a good start.