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Brampton continues to shape this generation of Canadian soccer

Cyle Larin Canada Cyle Larin - The Canadian Press

Home and hometown are important to athletes. Those cherished places give them security, purpose, and perspective. The members of Canada’s men's national soccer team are deeply attached to their places.

Stephen Eustáquio’s journey from Canada to Portugal and back again started in Leamington, Ont. Jonathan David was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Haitian parents, but tied his heart to Canada when he moved to Ottawa at the age of six. Edmonton is home in the now-renowned immigrant story of Alphonso Davies and his family.

But there is one city that appears again and again in the biographies of several Canadian players. Brampton, Ont., a city of just over 650,000 in the Greater Toronto Area, continues to shape the present generation of Canadian soccer. And Brampton is not just a hometown for its athletes; Brampton is everything.

“We breed talent,” said Cyle Larin, who attended St. Edmund Campion Secondary School in the city.

“We don’t come from a lot. We have to show the world and work twice as hard to, you know, earn our respect,” said Tajon Buchanan, who played on the fields at Brampton’s Creditview Park.

“It was always great to just be a part of that community and experience the things I did and become the player I am,” said Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson, who attended Notre Dame Secondary School in the  city. “And it’s obviously great to see more and more players coming through.”

Buchanan, Larin, and Hutchinson are among the Brampton contingent on Canada's men's team. That group also includes Jonathan Osorio, Doneil Henry, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Liam Miller, Jayden Nelson and Junior Hoilett.

When Henry speaks about Brampton, he talks about it less like a city and more like a bond that continues to connect this crop of Canadian talent.

Hutchinson began playing Brampton youth soccer at four and his eventual European success made him a “big bro” to Hoilett when he began to establish himself in English club soccer. When Henry moved to West Ham United in 2015, the first person to reach out to him in England was Hoilett.

“I never knew Junior [Hoilett] face to face or had a conversation, but when I made my move to England, he was the first person that reached out and made me feel comfortable,” said Henry, who attended Brampton’s Fletcher's Meadow Secondary School. “And I was like, ‘That's my big brother.’ That's the guy who really took me under his wing.”

Play, success, mentorship – every cycle, every interaction, becomes a link in a chain that continues to grow and strengthen the men’s team attachment to the city west of Toronto. Now, Henry is regarded a leader and confidant not just to fellow players from Brampton, but the whole team.

“We're just so happy to be where we're from and embracing that culture and our background,” Henry said. “Brampton will always be home.”

Hoilett believes Brampton’s large West Indian community offered many a sense of family. In a tale familiar to newcomers in other Canadian cities, those who settled in Brampton built attachments through shared cultural heritage. But deeper ties were created through soccer.

“I think Brampton is a city where everybody's just joyful and wants to go out and be free and show what they got,” said Hoilett. "I don't know what's in the air of Brampton, but it's working.”

While Brampton has become vital to the success of the men’s team, the city has long produced talented Canadian athletes.

Canadian women’s defender Kadeisha Buchanan is a five-time winner of the Women’s UEFA Champions League and an Olympic gold medallist. Women’s hockey great Cassie Campbell-Pascall won two Olympic gold medals. Six-time NHL All-Star and Olympic gold medallist Rick Nash played more than 1,000 NHL games. Former Paralympian Jeff Adams is one of Canada’s greatest wheelchair racers. Anthony Bennett was the first Canadian taken No. 1 overall in the NBA draft.

There’s also a long list of Brampton-born and Brampton-raised professional footballer players, including Jerome Messam, John and Royce Metchie, Jabar and Jamaal Westerman, and Mike Edem.

And what continues to bind athletes and the city together is a sense of responsibility.

In the final act of his storied career, Hutchinson is working on a project to provide grassroots facilities in his hometown, because, as fellow Canadian veteran Henry explains, while Brampton’s cultural communities offer each other a sense of family, sports is a language spoken by all.

“What's amazing about Brampton or in Canada, we're in a country that’s a melting pot,” Henry said. “[Soccer] is probably one of the only world sports where everybody is connected. I think that it was every day at recess. It was whenever we had a chance. You didn't need a pitch. We used to kick a ball off of the wall on the side of the school. …You didn't need money. You didn't need that; you didn't need much to play [soccer]. All you need is a ball.”