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Canadian Junior Hoilett comfortable in leadership role for both club and country

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The CanMNT and Cardiff City forward joined WTR to discuss the rapid growth of Canadian soccer, Cardiff City’s Championship season, and a couple special nights at BMO

Soccer: CONCACAF Nations League Soccer-USA at Canada
Canada forward Junior Hoilett (10) warms up before a CONCACAF Nations League soccer match against the USA at BMO Field.
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

ST. JOHN’S, Canada—September 2015 marked a new beginning in the footballing career of Junior Hoilett.

Coming off of a difficult 2014-15 Premier League campaign with Queens Park Rangers where he failed to score a single goal, he chose to declare himself eligible to play for Canada at age 25.

Some five years later, Hoilett is now 29 and has moved onto a new club with Cardiff City while also amassing nine goals in 27 appearances for his country on international duty.

With the experience of several promotion and relegation battles within English football’s top two tiers as well as numerous grueling battles with the Canadian side on his CV, the Brampton native has begun to recognize the impact his actions can have on his teammates.

“I’m the type of person who tries to be lead by example,” Hoilett told Waking The Red. “I just want to try and make sure everybody is prepared and up to speed and do anything to try and make sure we’re in the right mindset to win games.”

Like most leagues worldwide, the English Championship, the country’s second division where Cardiff currently resides, has been on pause for the past two months.

Before the league halted play, the Welsh side sat ninth in the table with 54 points, just two back of Preston North End in sixth who held the last spot in the promotion playoff picture.

Although the 29-year-old admits football is far from the top priority as things stand, if and when it does get back underway, his side has some unfinished business to tend to.

“First and foremost, everything should be safe to get the green light,” said Hoilett. “But we had good momentum going before the lock-down, so if we could get back into that same momentum we ended off with and get some important wins under our belts, clinch a playoff position and try and get ourselves back into the Premier League.”

Much like Cardiff, Canada currently finds itself on the outside looking in, in this case sitting seventh in the Concacaf region and just outside the “Hex” or top six countries.

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup-Canada at Cuba

While there’s some uncertainty surrounding what qualifying will look like with changes to the previous format expected, Hoilett is confident this group of Canadian players will be ready for the challenge under any circumstances.

“We’ve got a nice, young talented group there, one of the most talented teams I’ve been on,” said Hoilett of the current pool of players in this country. “We’ve got a lot of good players competing at a high level internationally now, so we’ve got a group that’s capable of achieving great things, Canadian soccer has been developing well and I think we’ll be in a great place very soon.”

Set to turn 30 next month, Hoilett is one of the veteran players in the current national squad. With so many fresh faces within the group each international break, the Cardiff man recognizes how fast his role with Canada has changed in recent years.

“It’s changed quickly, I’ve taken on more of a leadership role in a pretty young, talented team now,” said Hoilett. “I’m one of the players who has the most experience in the side so I can be a role model for the younger players to look up to, someone who has been there, done that.”

During the past half decade donning the red and white, the Brampton SC product has many fond memories but none stand out more than a pair of BMO Field nights last fall.

In September 2019, Hoilett captained the Canadian team for the first time in his career, with his hat trick leading the charge in a commanding 6-0 victory over Cuba.

“That’s one of, if not the, best moment for me personally in the Canadian shirt,” said Hoilett of his three goal performance against the Cubans. “Wearing the captain’s armband at home, in front of my family, friends, and to top it off with a hat trick, it was just a very special moment. For now, that was probably the highlight of my Canadian playing career so far, but hopefully, there’s many more to come, both wearing the armband and scoring more hat tricks.”

The following month, Canada secured one of its most famous results to date, dominating the Americans in a convincing 2-0 victory in Toronto.

While Hoilett can’t help but get nostalgic when recalling that win over the US, he believes there’s plenty more to come for the national team.

“It’s one for the history books for sure. A special moment not only for the guys playing but for the fans and the nation, and if we can keep on developing and progressing as a country and as a team it’s just the beginning.”