This year, Vancouver Whitecaps FC celebrate 10 years of the Residency program, which began in 2007. In conjunction with the announcements of new players entering the program this year, whitecapsfc.com are diving deeper into the state of development in Canada as part of Development Week.
As Canadians, we pride ourselves on being a country that is welcoming, and that embraces diversity.
Soccer is a sport that embodies these values.
So it makes for a natural pairing between our nation and the global game, and it’s clear to see when you look at the ‘Caps youth system.
Each year, Whitecaps FC Residency teams are filled with players whose families immigrated to Canada.
A number of young players have come from war-torn countries, and landed in the Prairies.
“I think it’s a hotbed for refugees and immigrants coming from different countries,” noted Residency technical director Craig Dalrymple, looking back at years of recruitment. “It creates a melting pot of different personalities and nationalities.”
And that diversity is very much a positive.
“I think one of our strengths as a nation is our multi-cultural landscape,” noted Jason de Vos, Canada Soccer director of development. “We open our arms to people around the world. That is one of the great things about being a Canadian, and that has really enriched our soccer landscape. When you have different cultures coming together, it creates a really unique blend, and we need to marry that with the grit and resiliency that we pride ourselves on as Canadians.”
Most are now familiar with the story of Edmonton's Alphonso Davies, who was born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents fled the civil war in Liberia.
“I love stories like Alphonso’s where he comes to Canada and he’s proud to represent our country because of what it means to him,” added de Vos. “How it’s given he and his family a vehicle to have a better life.”
It’s a story unique to Davies, but a tale relatable to a number of his peers.
THE JOURNEY TO CANADA
“My parents were born in Congo. When the war started, they fled to Tanzania in the refugee camp. And that’s where I was born.”
That’s the story of 18-year-old Whitecaps FC 2 striker Gloire Amanda, whose family left the Nyarugusu refugee camp when he was eight-years-old to immigrate to Edmonton. Amanda would later play with Davies at St. Nicholas Soccer Academy.
It’s one of many different paths that have led to the ‘Caps Residency program.
U-16 goalkeeper Darlington Murasiranwa of Edmonton was separated from his parents for 13 years. They moved to North America in order to fund their children, who remained back home until they could bring them over.
“In Zimbabwe we don’t have any medication, we don’t have any food to eat. It’s a hard time,” his mother tells Future Legends in a video feature on Darlington and his family.
Life wasn’t always easy for Residency graduate Daniel Sagno and his family either.
As he prepares for his second year of NCAA soccer at San Diego State University, he still looks back on when his family immigrated to Winnipeg when he was five-years-old to escape the civil war in Guinea.
“I was a little bit more fortunate than most kids,” Sagno told whitecapsfc.com in 2014. “I had a home.”
This isn’t to dismiss the early life of any of these young players. Amanda, for instance, has fond memories living at the refugee camp – he remembers the good times playing outside.
But he also understands the sacrifice that his parents made to come to Canada.
“I didn’t really think much of it because I was a kid. They said we were moving, and I was like ‘awesome, we’re moving to another place’. Then when I started asking questions, they told me their story and why we were in a refugee camp.”
Like Amanda, Sagno knows how hard life was back in Guinea.
“You could see how rough it was and how others had it tough. You just wanted to be the one that made it out.”
By welcoming diversity, our soccer landscape is not only infused with a wealth of talented prospects with natural abilities, but also youngsters with great character.
“It kind of puts that, not pressure, but it gives me that extra strength to really fight for this,” tells Amanda, who left Edmonton as a 15-year-old to join the Residency program in Vancouver.
Struggle and adversity have instilled hard work and drive. Amanda, Sagno, and Murasiranwa are just three more stories, but many other young immigrant families have come to Canada in search of a more stable future. And many have raised fine young men who have entered into the Residency program over the years, not only from Africa, but from countries all around the world.
“It raises the level for everyone,” noted Whitecaps FC 2 head coach Rich Fagan, who coached both Amanda and Sagno in the Residency program, as well as a number of other immigrated players. “These kids have come from tough backgrounds. This is what they have, and they want to make the most of the opportunity."
"Everyone else knows that they need to work just as hard.”
Like Alphonso, his former Residency teammates are proud to call Canada home.
“When I got my citizenship, I was just happy,” tells Amanda. “It was a big thing that happened in my life and I’m really thankful to my parents who took the test, and to the government who helped bring us here and treat us like family.”
Sagno has similar feelings.
“How do I put it into words,” he pondered emotionally. “I’m so grateful for everything that Canada has been able to offer my family and I. When we got the citizenship, I remember how happy my mom was. I had never seen her so happy.”
Today, graduated from the Residency program, they each continue down their respective paths.
But they will never forget where they came from.
“That never leaves my mind,” added Sagno on his parents sacrifice to get him to where he is today. “I think it’s a second chance at life.”
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