Becoming a professional soccer player is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and drive, as well as the skill to succeed. Unfortunately, in Canada the task can be even more daunting simply because if a player is not ready to play at a high level at the age of 19-20, the opportunity to be signed to a professional contract may disappear. I was able to talk to Tyler Pasher about how he was able to succeed in a difficult environment and eventually be signed by Sporting Kansas City.
Pasher was born in Elmira, Ontario; not far away from where I myself was born. As a matter of fact, I first heard of his career through some friends that grew up with him in Elmira and attended the same high school. Elmira is a farming community where seeing Mennonites ride past in a horse-and-buggy is an everyday occurrence. “We’re a lot of country boys and Mennonites” Pasher explains, thinking fondly of his home town. I note how I can still hear his farmboy accent; “it doesn’t go away, lets just say that” he tells me. Although a quaint little community, Pasher remembers that the town “had quite a few good fields; at Lion’s Park and the high school, so we had lots of good areas to play”. As to the leagues, Pasher remembers “playing in the house league teams when I was really young […] they seemed to take it quite seriously, how they ran it and everything”. Pasher played in the Woolwich Soccer Club until he was 8, when he started to play for the Waterloo Soccer Club. “Everyone was out there to have fun and enjoy it”, he explains; “the experience was just going out and having fun and making new friends. Everything you do at that young age-just trying the sport out”. Yet, the young Canadian found himself seeking a greater challenge as his skills continued to grow. He tells me how he “really enjoyed it and felt quite dominant at it in Elmira so I tried something a little more challenging”.
The connections that Pasher made at the Waterloo Soccer Club proved to be instrumental for his progress in the soccer world. In particular, he was introduced to Eddie Edgar who played as a goalkeeper in England in the Football League First Division, and Football League Fourth Division. He tells me how Eddie’s son “went and played with Newcastle. I’m sure you’ve heard of him, David Edgar” (David Edgar signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2016). Pasher explains how “David was already over playing in England, and when I came to Waterloo I was introduced to Eddie who ran his own soccer academy out of the old dune. He trained me for a year before he sent me over there at 8 or 9 years old, so obviously I got really close to him from being trained 4 times a week”. From then on, Pasher was jumping back and forth from Waterloo and Newcastle. “Each year was different, I’d come back home, play with my club team here, and then back to Newcastle for a bit, then back here for the provincial team. So I was flying back and forth off and on from when I was 9 to 15”. Already, Pasher was having to travel abroad to increase his soccer skills. This would prove to be a continual trend in Pasher’s career.
It was at the age of 15 that Pasher really started to think seriously about where he was headed in soccer. He tells me how he considered if he wanted “to stay over here [in England] permanently right now and only go home one or two months of the year, or do I want to go home and try soccer back in Canada. And that’s when I made the decision to come back home”. Pasher had made connections in Canada through his “family and coaches in Canada including the Provincial program”, and he was optimistic that his career could continue to progress in his homeland.
Pasher ended up becoming one of the early recruits of the TFC Academy, and though he speaks positively of the experience-I suspect the contrast between Newcastle and what he had to struggle through in Canada doesn’t provide a positive reflection for the domestic soccer program. “When I first got there, I really wasn’t sure what it was all about. That was when the academy had first started. It ran two years before I got there. It was a huge change of scenery coming from a well established premier league academy to the TFC academy, so I really had to adapt quickly to it. I remember hopping on the Greyhound bus at the Sports World cut-off
when we moved to the new facility out at the Kia Training Ground and getting off at Union Station, taking the subway to Downsview, hoping on the bus and getting dropped off [further down] at Downsview, walking a mile and a half to the facility to train and then doing that home almost every day. That’s what I mainly remember about the TFC Academy”. Despite these frustrations, when I asked Pasher if he particularly enjoyed scoring against Toronto FC II for the Riverhounds; he tells me he is still only thankful for his experience there. “I have a lot of respect for Toronto FC for everything they did for me the year I was there. It would have been really nice to end up signing and playing with them, but it didn’t work out”.
Although Pasher maintained a positive view of the Toronto Academy, the distance traveled made it difficult for him to keep up in school; “towards grade 10 or 11, I was doing that trip to Toronto every day so I had to leave school earlier”. Pasher tells me how he “really struggled to complete all my courses and get all my credits when I was there”. The hectic schedule was so intense that Pasher told me things have actually “slowed down dramatically” since he signed with Sporting Kansas City. This is one of the first difficulties that Pasher would face trying to make it as a Canadian soccer player. The small amount of professional academies that exist in Canada make it hard for many aspiring players to maintain the commitment that it takes. The next difficulty proved to be timing.
The Canadian soccer development system is built around the assumption that, when a player is 18 or 19, he should be ready for high level soccer. If that is not the case, that player may struggle to gain the attention he needs to have success. The next window is graduating from the NCAA program if a player chooses to go that route-but the success rate for NCAA players moving into professional soccer is low. Draft picks from the so-called SuperDraft are notoriously unsuccessful.
I asked Pasher why he left Toronto to try his luck oversees, and he explained how he “wanted to try something new”. He also admitted that “it just wasn’t time for me to make the jump”. Pasher was one of those Canadian players who wasn’t quite ready at 18. Yet, he wanted to continue to pursue his career and develop as a player. Unfortunately, it is not easy in this country to find opportunities. Pasher wanted a “new challenge”, so he “took a few months off trying to find something new”. That new thing ended up being across the ocean: Pasher used his connections in the soccer community to land a tryout with the PS Kemi Kings, a Finnish football club in the third tier. Pasher explained how he wanted “to continue to move up, to find a new challenge, to try to get into a higher better league”. The opportunity also meant “a better financial situation”, and “a new experience”. It was important for Pasher to keep pushing himself so that he could develop. As much as Pasher enjoyed his time overseas; it is unfortunate that he had to travel so far to gain the opportunities he needed.
Happily, Pasher’s time in Europe went very well. He made 24 appearances for his team, scoring 11 times. Pasher found that “when you’re in Europe, you earn the respect of the players over there, anywhere really, the U.S. as well, if you can play the game”. He tells me how once he “earned their respect, everything started to open up for me; that is the same thing here in Canada and the US as well”. Despite his overseas success, Pasher wanted to return home; so he returned to North America and immediately started to use his connections to find opportunities. Unfortunately, finding a team proved to be more difficult than Pasher had anticipated:
“When I first came back, I didn’t have an agent so I struggled with finding a pro job over here. Even with the little resume that I had, it was extremely difficult to get in the door someplace”. Pasher’s father had friends in Lansing, Michigan that ran a NPSL team. He tells me how “they offered for me to play for the season. I thought: why not, I didn’t have anywhere else to play”. Playing for Lansing United allowed Pasher to continue playing soccer while he looked for an opportunity to play professionally in North America. After finishing the 2014 season with Lansing , he was invited to attend the NPSL’s first combine, showcasing his talents to MLS, USL, and NASL sides.
Pasher was able to trial for Minnesota and Toronto FC after the NPSL combine, but the timing still wasn’t right. “The tryout was good, it went well”, Pasher tells me; “but personally I didn’t feel that I was ready and neither did they. It didn’t work out the greatest and that’s ok”. He was still a “young player trying to make his way. It wasn’t the right timing”. Fortunately, Pasher tells me how he was able to use his Lansing connections to get an agent who was able to connect Pasher with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds for a trial. Pasher signed a 1 year contract with the Riverhounds, appearing in 21 of the 28 games played and scoring his first league goal against TFC II.
Pasher did not have the greatest luck in his national team appearances-having to withdraw twice due to injury. Yet it was through the connections that he made in the national program that he was able to make the next step in his career. “One of my coaches for the Canadian team’s brother was the head coach of the Swope Park Rangers”, Pasher explains. “Through that connection, I got myself a trial invite with the Rangers”. The Rangers are the USL affiliate club for Sporting Kansas City, so Pasher was able to showcase his talents to an MLS side through consistent play on the pitch. “I was really starting to find my game”, he tells me, “I got the opportunity to play and be on the bench for some CONCACAF games; the second CONCACAF game I was a part of I actually got to come in as a sub”.
The CONCACAF appearance was the breakthrough that Pasher needed. He was able to make a strong showing for the SKC staff. Pasher tells me how “it was probably the first time in a while that I was really just having fun”. He was thrilled that he had “the opportunity to be up with [SKC] and show them what I have. I couldn’t be happier to have debuted with one of the most well-respected clubs in the country”. Pasher must have impressed with his play, as he was offered a contract from Sporting Kansas during this previous offseason. Finally in a place where he can be content, Pasher tells me that “if I could spend the rest of my career here, I would”.
Pasher has certainly earned his stripes-pushing on and continually looking for an opportunity
to go on to the next level. He describes himself as a “very direct player. I like to go forward, I like to do everything very quickly, very sharp”. He explains that what he hates most is “being beaten defensively”, and that he tries to play with grit and ambition. That ambition has served him well on and off the pitch, allowing him to get to where he is now. But Pasher has not forgotten where he came from, and he continues to think about the difficulties many Canadian soccer players experience.
I ask Pasher about what type of impact the domestic rules have on succeeding as a Canadian soccer player. He is honest and straightforward in his answer: “I think it is extremely difficult for any of the Canadian guys. There’s so much talent that we have in Canada and there’s only so many places we can go to”. He is thankful that there are three academies in Canada as a result of the three Canadian MLS teams, “but at the same time, it’s difficult for those players who aren’t yet excelling to get into those big three academies. They only have three options”. Pasher takes pride in the fact that he was able to “take away that domestic rule by signing with SKC as an international player”, but “some kids aren’t so fortunate, and it’s extremely difficult to get the opportunity” to demonstrate the talent that Canada has, as shown by how “we tied Scotland 1-1”. Pasher is still optimistic, however. He declares that “we have the potential to really grow and become a big soccer country; I really do feel that. But it comes down to how our youth are being developed and raised”.
When we began to discuss the idea of a Canadian league starting in the next few years, Pasher does not hold back his enthusiasm. “I was extremely shocked, but extremely happy at the same time that the idea was put in place”, Pasher says. The Canadian Premier League gives Canadian players “the years of development that they might need, because not everybody is going to excel and be the best player when they’re 19 years old. Some kids may need 2 or 3 more years to excel and become really good pros. Now that a league is being implemented in Canada, it can really help to grow our country in soccer”.
Tyler Pasher’s story is a great illustration of one of the holes that a Canadian Soccer League can fill. He shows us how grit and determination can go a long way in helping an aspiring soccer player to achieve success, but unfortunately; depending on the pace of development, there are young players who are being lost simply because their timing is not right. Pasher had the connections and the ambition to continue to persevere; but what about the young soccer players who do not have the time or connections to continue? Why was it necessary for Pasher to leave this country in order to continue his soccer career? Pasher is the exception that proves the rule: we as a nation are missing out on our chance to capitalize on talent. For those who are still apathetic toward the idea of a Canadian soccer league: look at the difficulties that Pasher experienced. Change is needed. In Pasher’s words; “it’s going to take commitment from everyone. From club soccer to the people highest up that are running the organizations. That’s what is needed to really implement the change and help Canadian soccer grow”.