Everybody expected regular back-line starter Adam Straith of Victoria to be named to the roster for the Canadian men’s soccer friendly against the United States on Feb. 5 at StubHub Center in Carson, California (7:30 p.m. PT on TSN).
The real shocker was former Victoria Highlanders midfielder Jamar Dixon getting the call for the 23-player Canadian camp, which opens in California on Monday.
The friendly is to prepare Canada for its crucial CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifier against Mexico at B.C. Place on March 25, for which more than 30,000 tickets have already been sold. The upper bowl will be opened.
The inclusion of Dixon, who played for the Highlanders at Westhills Stadium during the 2010 and 2011 PDL seasons, has raised eyebrows, but it shouldn’t.
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” said Highlanders veteran defender Tyler Hughes, who played with Dixon during the latter’s two seasons in Victoria.
“When Jamar played for us, he was a young and upcoming player, but very raw. Yet you could see the potential. He was very focused and serious about making something of his talent at the next level.”
Alex Campbell Jr., the Highlanders’ founder and former owner, keeps in touch with Dixon and calls him a “class act.”
Campbell remembers getting Dixon a job at the Broadmead Thrifty’s, only to have Dixon quit because of his true calling: “He said: ‘All I want to do is practise soccer.’ ”
The 26-year-old native of Ottawa, who played in the CIS for St. Francis Xavier, plays pro in the Finnish Premiership with FF Jaro.
“[Dixon] only needed the opportunity and pro experience. He’s gotten that experience the last few years. He’ll do well,” said Hughes, a former pro in the Swedish league.
Ian Bridge of Victoria, who coached Dixon during his two seasons with the Highlanders, has also kept in touch with him.
“Jamar had loads of natural ability, pace and power . . . and a big appetite for work,” said Bridge, who played for Canada in the 1986 World Cup.
“I’ve told him to keep working hard. There’s no substitute for that, and good things will happen. He took it to heart, and has earned this call-up and will take every advantage of it.”
Canada got off to a good start last year in World Cup qualifying for Russia 2018, with Norwegian-league pro Straith playing a pivotal role. The Bays United and Lower Island Metro-product has been on the pitch for more minutes than any other player in Canada’s bid to finally eclipse the stain of not having been to the World Cup since the improbable qualifying scoring heroics of Island folk-hero George Pakos in 1986. Canada is 5-0-1 in its campaign.
“USA is a strong opponent, so the match will provide good experience for our team,” Canadian coach Benito Floro said in a statement.
Missing from the camp is goalkeeper Simon Thomas of Victoria, the Norwegian Premiership pro with Bodo/Glimt. The Bays United product was dressed in reserve with Kenny Stamatopoulos, behind Canadian starting ’keeper Milan Borjan for the last two World Cup qualifying games against Honduras and El Salvador.
Floro has decided to try out goalkeepers Maxime Crepeau of the Montreal Impact, Tyson Farago of F.C. Edmonton and Callum Irving of the University of Kentucky for the friendly against Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. squad.
Since the friendly falls outside the FIFA Test window, availability affected some roster choices. So debutantes Dixon, Farago and Irving will mix with familiar names such as Straith, Julian de Guzman, Iain Hume, Will Johnson and Cyle Larin.