Marcel de Jong has had the heady experience of stepping onto pitches in the Bundesliga: “In front of 60,000 fans, against teams such as Bayern Munich and Dortmund, where it’s so loud you have to scream to hear your teammates.”
He has also put on the Maple Leaf jersey 56 times to play for Canada internationally and described that as the “highest honour.”
His last three seasons were spent in Major League Soccer with the Vancouver Whitecaps before a mutual parting of the ways.
“Now this is another chapter,” said de Jong, 32, in signing Tuesday with Pacific FC of the new Canadian Premier League.
“I feel like I’m far from done,” said de Jong, who played six seasons for FC Augsburg of the Bundesliga and also four seasons for top-level Eredivisie club Roda JC in the Netherlands.
Far from done, indeed.
“I was just on the phone with [national team head coach] John Herdman, who told me Marcel de Jong will be in his starting lineup on the road to World Cup 2022 qualifying,” said Pacific FC CEO Rob Friend.
Responded de Jong: “I can’t wait to be the first Pacific FC player to play for Canada.”
“Marcel has played in the Bundesliga, which is among the best few leagues in the world. He is going to be the best player in our league,” predicted Pacific FC president Josh Simpson, like Friend, a capped Canadian player who played pro in Europe. Juan de Fuca product Simpson quipped he remembers it was a rising de Jong who took his starting defender spot on the national team.
Now they are reunited, only with Simpson now in the boardroom. It’s the CPL storyline that attracted him, said de Jong. How many players in their career ever get to step into a start-up league? Especially one attempting to fill a gaping void by finally bringing a domestic pro soccer league to Canada, the only advanced nation in the world without one and something de Jong and his generation, and the earlier one with Friend and Simpson, grew up without.
“This is huge for Canadian soccer development, especially Canadian players who are 18, 19, 20 years old, who get a chance to prove themselves as pros in their home country and maybe a chance to play in the World Cup in seven years [when Canada co-hosts in 2026],” said de Jong.
“It’s a whole different story now for young Canadian players.”
De Jong is happy to be part of that tale.
“I’m still hungry and fit, and I have the drive to be a leader and role model for the younger players,” said the native of Newmarket, Ont., who was born to Dutch parents.
“This is a nice opportunity. I see it as a win-win.”
De Jong will join 27-time Canada-capped striker Marcus Haber, signed from Scottish Premier side Dundee FC, as Pacific FC’s veteran on-field leadership duo.
“Marcel will use his wand to get Haber the ball,” said Simpson.
The dynamic defender, who can also play midfield, is also a major signing storyline for the CPL as a whole, which begins play with its inaugural game April 27 when York 9 from the Toronto area visit Hamilton to take on Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field.
The rest of the CPL schedule is yet to be announced but Pacific FC, one of seven charter franchises, is expected to open April 28 against Halifax at a revamped 6,000-seat Westhills Stadium in Langford.
“It’s important to get off the ground in the right way, and the start is key, and hopefully this [league] will become something big for Canadian soccer,” said de Jong, who is bringing his family to the Island and spent the past week condo hunting in Greater Victoria.
“I’m all in. Not just for this season but for several seasons.”