VANCOUVER, BC – At the age of five, Daniel Sagno and his family immigrated to Winnipeg from their native Guinea to escape a civil war. And by the age of 14, he had lost both his parents.
If you look at Sagno’s birth certificate, it will tell you that he just turned 17 last month.
He feels a little older – and you can understand why.
“My brother always told me … you’re going to have to grow up quickly,” Sagno told whitecapsfc.com. “There are things we’re going to demand from you and it’s going to be hard. You’re going to realize that these kids have parents and you don’t.”
Sagno does, however, have five older siblings. They were all born in Guinea – an underdeveloped country in West Africa. The Whitecaps FC U-16 Residency forward remembers kicking a ball around with his brothers on a little field in front of his house.
He also remembers “a lot of dirt roads” and a lot of people struggling to make ends meet in a poverty-stricken region.
“I was a little bit more fortunate than most kids,” Sagno said.
“I had a home,” he answered. “You just step outside your house and you could see how rough it was and how others had it tough. You just wanted to be the one that made it out.”
And he did.
In 2004, Sagno moved to Winnipeg with his mother and siblings for a better life. His father stayed behind to work with Medecins Sans Frontieres – a medical, humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to those in need.
But then, tragedy struck.
Sagno’s father passed away when Sagno was eight years old. To this day, he doesn’t know what happened. He didn’t know how to feel either, since he didn’t really have a connection with his father after moving to Canada.
It was a different story when his mom passed away from an unknown illness in 2012.
Sagno remembers the day it happened. He and his brother were called into the principal’s office at school, where a family friend was awaiting to share the news.
His brother broke down immediately. Sagno was in shock.
He didn’t start crying until he got to the hospital.
That’s when it became real.
“I was really close to my mom,” Sagno said. “When you’re a kid, you tell your mom and dad all these things, I want to do this, I want to buy you a house. I feel like that was my motivation. Losing her kind of took that away from me.”
But with the help of his siblings, some family friends, and an old soccer coach who turned into a father figure, Sagno managed to find that inner drive once more.
“One thing happens in your life, it doesn’t change who you want to be or what you want to become,” Sagno said. “I’m just trying to make sure I can be the best player I can and make my dream come true.”
Enter Whitecaps FC.
Sagno joined the club’s Residency program in 2012 after getting spotted at the Prairies Invitational. At the time, he was playing for Manitoba’s provincial team. He scored two goals in the tournament all-star game, which earned him an invitation to Vancouver.
He’s been with the club ever since.
And if you ask him today, there’s no place he’d rather be.
“Man, I can’t even put it into words what the club has done for me,” Sagno said. “They’ve really given me everything I need to be successful. The billet family I stay with … what they’ve done for me, they just keep pushing me. Even on my rough days, they’re there for me."
"And the club, as a person they’ve helped me know that I’m much stronger than I thought I was. They’ve pushed me, they’ve challenged me, and they continue to do so. It just makes me a better person and player to know that I have the support from the club.”
That support has translated into on-field success.
This season, Sagno scored a team-high 16 goals in 28 matches for the U-16s and he already has four goals in two playoff games thus far. And he would love nothing more than to cap off the year with a championship.
“We want to win it all,” said Sagno.
That’s his immediate goal. Beyond that, Sagno hopes to one day suit up for Whitecaps FC in MLS and play for the Canadian senior men’s national team. The Manitoban has already donned the Red and White at the U-17 level – and it “meant the world to him.”
“Being able to represent your country is one of the best feelings,” he said. “Especially knowing that you’re so proud of your country and what it stands for. For me, coming to Canada was like a second chance to do something great.”
And he’s determined to make the most of it.