Dario Zanatta of Victoria used to tootle around the Royal Athletic Park pitch as a kid before and after games and practices when his dad, Dante Zanatta, coached Victoria United of the Pacific Coast Soccer League.
The game is in the DNA for the younger Zanatta, who has signed a two-year contract with Hearts of the Scottish Premiership. The midfielder/forward — who was called up in April by the Canadian U-18 team for a tournament in Slovakia — will start out with the Hearts U-20 side.
“I’m very excited to have signed here in Scotland with Hearts. I feel as if the opportunity I have here is just what I need and I’m really happy with the decision I have made to come to Europe and follow my dreams,” said the 18-year-old.
A moment like this becomes not only a time to look ahead, but also for reflection.
“If it wasn’t for all the great coaches I had, starting at a young age playing for Gorge F.C. and Lower Island Metro, I know none of this could have happened,” Zanatta said.
“Moving to Vancouver and joining the Whitecaps Residency was a new challenge, which made me grow as a player and as a person.”
Sport was all around Dario. Dad Dante is now a head coach in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, guiding UBC-Okanagan to a Canada West Conference playoff berth last season.
Dario’s brother Keegan, now a swimmer in the CIS with the UBC Thunderbirds, came up swimming in the late Randy Bennett’s group at Saanich Commonwealth Place with two-time Olympic-medallist Ryan Cochrane and other Olympians such as Alec Page and Hilary Caldwell.
It’s a big year for Keegan, who won the 400-metre freestyle last week at the Canadian championships, as he eyes next spring’s Canadian Olympic trials in Toronto for Rio 2016.
“We’ve always been a very athletic family, but it’s full credit to the boys .... they are the ones who have achieved their own results,” Dante Zanatta said.
But sometimes things don’t go according to plan.
“After committing to Whitecaps Residency [at 14], we always thought Dario would sign with the [MLS] ’Caps,” Dante said.
“But much like Adam Straith [the Canadian national team and Norwegian Premier Division defender from Victoria who also came through Whitecaps Residency], it turned out differently. Dario decided to go to Europe.”
And he’s looking forward to the overseas adventure with Hearts, after earlier trials with Ipswich Town and Queens Park Rangers in England, Dundee United in Scotland and IFK Gothenburg in Sweden.
“I decided to take a risk and come to Europe for trials and I haven’t looked back since,” said Dario, who grew up rooting for A.C. Milan.
“Heart of Midlothian is an organization rich in history and I couldn’t be happier with where I am now.”
Right back at you kid, as Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson and U-20 mentor Jack Ross are obviously happy to have him, as is evident by the two-year contract offered.
“Dario is a great finisher and has a high soccer IQ,” said Dante, who has certainly assessed a lot of soccer talent in his time.
In a unique connection, Dante coached the Pacific Coast League all-star team that lost 4-1 to Hearts in a 2004 friendly at Royal Athletic Park.
Dario was seven at the time and watched from the stands. It was Hearts’ second trip to the capital following a 3-0 victory over the Victoria All-Stars in 1960.