Former Highlanders midfielder Jamar Dixon returns with Pacific FC

Like a soccer version of Welcome Back Kotter, attacking midfielder Jamar Dixon’s life has come full circle.

Dixon spring-boarded from three seasons with the Victoria Highlanders of the amateur Premier Development League from 2009 to 2011 to a pro career in Sweden and Finland and three caps for Canada.

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Dixon will return to the Island this season after signing Tuesday with Pacific FC of the pro Canadian Premier League.

“Victoria is like a second home to me,” said Dixon.

“My time on the Island was very special. I remember the support of the fans. I was the youngest player on the Highlanders and it really opened my eyes to what was out there in the world of soccer. And how hard I would have to work. I had to bide my time with the Highlanders. But when I got my chance I ran with it.”

He now becomes a mentor at age 30.

“I remember all the Highlanders who helped me the last time in Victoria — Tyler and Jordie Hughes and James Merriman [now PFC assistant coach],” added the native of Ottawa.

“I look forward to guiding and helping the younger players on PFC because I was one of those players myself my last time in Victoria. I believe I can be a good guide for the young players and a good role model on and off the pitch.”

Dixon is thankful to those who helped him along. He remembers vividly coming back from the 2011 PDL playoffs in Fresno, California, and being pointedly asked on the bus by Highlanders defender and former Swedish pro Tyler Hughes about where he wanted to take his soccer career. Hughes encouraged Dixon to take a chance and use some of Hughes’ old connections to explore pro in Europe, which Dixon did with BW 90 IF of the Swedish Second Division and FF Jaro of the Finnish Premier League.

That led to a call-up to the Canadian national team.

“That has been the greatest accomplishment of my career,” said the five-foot-10 Dixon, who is compact in build yet expansive in style.

Dixon said he is especially proud of the achievement since he had never been in the national team program before on any of the Under-17 to U-23 levels. And here he was with a direct call-up to the senior national team.

“Getting [starting] minutes against the U.S. was an amazing experience,” he said.

Dixon was also called up for Canada’s CONCACAF fourth-round qualifying games against Honduras and El Salvador for the 2018 World Cup.

“Jamar is a Canadian international who understands the Island and the culture here,” said newly-minted PFC head coach Pa-Modou Kah, himself a former pro and Norwegian international.

The 2016 to 2019 club seasons for Dixon were spent with his hometown Ottawa Fury in the pro United Soccer League. When the Fury folded over the off-season, Dixon considered several pro offers in the U.S.-based USL and Europe. But the chance to play in the second season of the CPL, Canada’s new pro league, and back in his old Island stomping ground, proved too much to resist. The CPL is the kind of Canadian pro option that didn’t exist before last season and Dixon wishes it had when he was younger.

“The first year of the CPL looked good,” he said.

“And it is only going to get better from now on.”

But a lot has happened and he is no longer that fresh-faced CIS (now U Sports) kid from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia who came west and played three summers for the Highlanders. It’s not just like 2009 all over again. He returns to the Island in a decidedly different phase of his life. Dixon and wife Kezia are expecting their first child in February.

On the pitch, Dixon doesn’t see being 30 as a barrier.

“You get smarter as an athlete,” he said.

“You learn how to maintain your body. I can still challenge the younger guys out there.”

CORNER KICKS: Pacific FC also announced Tuesday the signing of six-foot-one former Ottawa Fury central defender and ex-MLS Montreal Impact-signed Thomas Meilleur-Giguère from Repentigny, Quebec. The 22-year-old captained Canada in U-20 CONCACAF qualifying play in 2016 and 2017. The signings of Dixon and Meilleur-Giguère brings to 12 the number of players PFC has under contract for the 2020 CPL season.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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