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Toronto FC’s Tosaint Ricketts throws support behind Canadian Premier League

Toronto FC striker Tosaint Ricketts (left) is excited by the opportunities the upcoming Canadian Premier League could provide to young players in Canada. (Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports)

For Tosaint Ricketts, the dream was in Finland. And Romania. And Norway, Turkey and Israel.

The Canadian striker toured European football’s less-heralded leagues for seven years before returning to his home country to join Toronto FC, rarely spending more than a single year at one club.

As you might expect, Ricketts fought his way through his fair share of ups and downs both on and off the field. When he first arrived in Toronto he was in shock, he told the Canadian Press last year, because he “didn’t know what a completely stable environment felt like”.

Now, Ricketts is an enthusiastic backer of the latest attempt to give Canadian players a league of their own. The Canadian Premier League released its official logo along with a manifesto and a new-look website last week, signalling the acceleration of a process that has been in the works for years.

The CPL is expected to begin revealing its lineup of inaugural clubs this month, ahead of a spring 2019 kickoff.

“It’s fantastic,” Ricketts told Pro Soccer USA. “Every respectable national team in the world has a solid league behind them, and I think Canada deserves the same. Especially the youth — they deserve the opportunity to get into good professional environments from a young age, and see what it takes to become a professional and really get that structure from a young age.

“I think it’s fantastic, and I’m hearing that everything is structured very well and is very organized and the people behind it are very good and backing it quite well, so it’s exciting for the youth and exciting for Canada Soccer.”

According to TSN 690 reporter Joey Alfieri, the CPL’s ‘original eight’ will include a team from Edmonton, Ricketts’ hometown. The most recent incarnation of a pro team in the city, FC Edmonton, ceased operations after seven years late in 2017 due to financial difficulties and the problems facing the NASL.

During Ricketts’ childhood there was no local pathway to professionalism, nor any heroes to emulate.

“That was the biggest thing for me, growing up in Edmonton — I really didn’t have any professionals to look up to,” he said. “The guys I looked up to were my brothers. They got scholarships, so when I was a kid my dream was to get a scholarship.

“It’s good that now kids can see… like these guys at TFC in the academy, they walk in and they see [Sebastian] Giovinco. And they aspire to be Giovinco. That little bit of inspiration is enough to bring a Canadian youth player to the next level. If we get more of that across the country, I think it’ll only build the league, build the foundation and build the national team for the future.”

Ricketts earned the scholarship he had craved at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay before becoming a pro with MYPA in Finland. There, an impressive performance in the Europa League persuaded Politehnica Timișoara of Romania to sign him.

Within two years, though, the club collapsed in financial ruin. It was not the first time Ricketts encountered problems that were no fault of his own. Players less committed to the dream may have called it quits and come home long before he did.

“I had the determination from the start,” he said. “Obviously, I ran into a few unfortunate situations but I think that just fueled my drive to continue to keep going and continue to push to the next level. That’s kind of what I want to show to the youth now — that no matter your path, no matter what route you have to take, as long as you work hard and keep having that drive, you can get to any level you wish.”

Soon, though, the route to the top for Canadian players may become smoother.

“You can choose your path, but to have a league right at your doorstep… it’s fantastic,” Ricketts concluded. “I think it’s great and a big step for Canada.”

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