Mekonnen Cridland made a big first step in what he hopes will be a career in soccer.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Moose Jaw’s Mekonnen Cridland leap-frogs SUSC Titans goalkeeper Marcus Baxter to avoid colliding with him in Under-14 Premier Soccer League action last season.
The 14-year-old Peacock student was one of 26 players selected from across Western Canada to take part in the Canadian Soccer Association's recent under-15 identification camp.
"I've been working really hard for the last three or four years. To make that camp was a great relief that my hard work paid off," said Cridland.
He was joined by Zach Edwards from Saskatoon as the only two Saskatchewan players at the camp.
"That was a really big honour for a guy from Moose Jaw to have that opportunity to be identified at the national level," said Jason Jones, the technical director for JJ Soccer in Moose Jaw who accompanied the players and on the trip as the Saskatchewan representative. "These (Saskatchewan) kids have put in some work to get to that level and they showed well in the provincial programs the year before and that earned them a spot for that national selection this year."
The players were coached by two former members of the Canadian national team — defenders Paul Stalteri and Ante Jazic — plus Canada Soccer’s technical director Tony Fonseca.
"They got to see what the best of the best were and they got to see what the standards are — not just from a playing perspective — but the demand and the expectations from the coaches," said Jones.
Stalteri has played more games for Canada than any other male player. He played in the English Premier League and won the German league and cup with Weder Bremen. Jazic had a 16-year career in Europe and Major League Soccer. Fonseca played internationally for his native Portugal and has coached the Canadian men's Olympic team and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Cridland played in the defence as a right back and also saw time as a forward during the camp.
"They're way different positions," said Cridland. "I think I did really good. I matched up with a lot of good players."
Jones felt Cridland did a good job of putting his best foot forward against some elite competition.
"I thought Meko did very well," said Jones. "He's a very talented athlete in a number of sports. I think he's at the age now where he has to look and see how committed he can be in one or two sports. Overall I thought he showed very well and was right there with a lot of the players from a quality standpoint.
"Overall I thought it was a great experience for him. He represented himself, his family and the city of Moose Jaw very well."
It’s the first in a series of ID camps that will also be held in Ontario and in Eastern Canada. The goal is to widen the pool of players for the national team programs, but it also gives the youth academies of the country's three Major League Soccer teams — the Whitecaps, Toronto FC and Montreal Impact — a chance to look at the young talent in their area.
"A lot of the Whitecaps staff were there looking to see if there were any opportunities for kids who aren't currently in their programs that they could invite to their programs or in their satellite system that they have running through Western Canada," said Jones. "All of those (MLS) academies are out there looking to see if there are any players that they can bring into their programs. This is going to bring a pool of players to the CSA of approximately 200 that they can add to their database and bring along. Some of the kids who don't make it at U15 may progress and develop at U17 or U19."
Cridland isn't sure if moving to the Whitecaps residency program in Vancouver is a step he's going to take if he gets the chance, but it is something he's thinking about.
"I've been talking to my parents and my coaches about it because they have a great program," said Cridland. "I'm really looking into it. It's a big decision. You have to all of your dedication to it and I hope I'm ready for that.
"I hope soccer will be part of my life for awhile."
Cridland is training with the provincial program and getting ready to play in the Saskatchewan Premier League's under-16 division this spring and summer.
Jones hopes he will be a trailblazer.
"Hopefully we'll have a few of more players coming through in the next few years," he said. "For Meko to have that experience gives him something to talk about with some of the other players that maybe aspire to be at that level too. It maybe gets us a foot inside the door to continue to develop and see what the standard that the national programs are looking at."