Ricardo Ferreira, a Canadian-born defender who won one cap for Portugal, has switched his international allegiance to Canada.
The 28-year-old, born in Mississauga, Ont., to Portuguese parents, was with SC Farense in the Portuguese top tier most recently but became a free agent last month.
After spending time at the Toronto FC academy, he left Canada at 15 to join FC Porto’s youth ranks. His club resume also includes time in the AC Milan system.
“It’s been quite a journey. A long one, lots of ups and downs,” Ferreira said in an interview.
The right-footed centre back said John Herdman has been in contact with him since taking over the Canada’s men’s team in January 2018.
FIFA has approved Ferreira’s switch, given his lone appearance for Portugal at the senior level was not in a competitive game. Ferreira played in a November 2017 friendly against the U.S.
He represented Portugal at the youth level from 2008 to 2012.
“It’s been a long journey with Ricardo,” said Herdman. “It looked like we’d lost him at one point when he made his debut for Portugal. Since that date, there’s been many a conversation, many a presentation, just to see if we could coax him back into a red jersey with that Maple Leaf on.
“Of the three years of conversations, the last one was a really good one. And it’s a proud moment to see a player of his stature and experience pledge his allegiance to Canada.”
Herdman describes Ferreira as a “modern centre back” who has played at a good level in Europe. He has been on the Canadian radar for some time — then-national coach Octavio Zambrano talked him up in 2017.
Canadian beginning, transition to Europe
He grew up playing for Dixie SC and Brampton YSC, won the Canada Soccer U-14 Cup with Brampton Blast in 2006 and also played for Ontario’s youth select teams.
After Porto, he played for AC Milan’s under-19 team, with loan spells at Italy’s Empoli and Portugal’s SC Olhanense and FC Pacos de Ferreira.
He found a home in Portugal at SC Braga in 2015, winning the Portugal Cup and reaching the quarterfinal stage of the Europa League in 2015-16.
His time at Braga was interrupted by two knee injuries, however. He had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, only to re-injure the knee in his first game back.
When his Braga contract expired, he moved to Belenenses SAD in 2019 before joining newly promoted Farense last September. He did not see first-team action with Farense, which currently stands 17th in the 18-team league at 3-9-4.
“I can’t say it was a great experience but that’s football,” he said. “Sometimes things don’t go the way we want it to or the way we plan it. It’s a closed chapter and I’m just looking to move on and to find another club where I can showcase my talent and help the team.”
Improved retainment of talent
After losing the likes of Canadian-eligible players Owen Hargreaves (England), Teal Bunbury (U.S.), Jonathan de Guzman (the Netherlands) and Asmir Begovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) to other countries in the past, Canada has a good record of retaining and securing talent in recent years.
Current national team stars Alphonso Davies, born in Ghana to Liberian parents, and Jonathan David, born in the U.S., both chose to wear Canadian colours.
Others to choose Canada over other options include Tesho Akindele (U.S), Scott Arfield (Scotland), Zorhan Bassong (Belgium and Cameroon), Zachary Brault-Guillard (France and Haiti), Stephen Eustaquio (Portugal), Cristian Gutierrez (Chile), Junior Hoilett (Jamaica), Jayson Leutwiler (Switzerland), Ballou Tabla (Ivory Coast), Steven Vitorio (Portugal) and David Wotherspoon (Scotland).
Eustaquio, Gutierrez and Wotherspoon all switched national associations to represent Canada, currently ranked 72nd in the world.
“There’s definitely an optimism around the group,” Herdman said of his team. “It’s a very talented group. We’ve, I think, created a culture that is professional, it has a high-performance foundation and these players can see that.
“And they can see that the team is primed to go somewhere and they want to be part of it.”
Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola, who was born in Detroit but moved to Canada when he was one, missed out through injury.
He made his debut for the U.S. senior side in December, scoring in a 6-0 win over El Salvador, but is not cap-tied because the match was a friendly. Canadian officials had hoped to show off their program at the Florida camp.
Marcelo Flores, a 17-year-old Mexican youth international forward in the Arsenal youth ranks, was also supposed to attend the camp but stayed in England.
The Canadian men are scheduled to face Aruba, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Suriname in the first round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in March and June. The Canadian men also have the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July.
Herdman expects Ferreira to find a new club soon.
“Fingers crossed he be back playing and active before that March camp and available for selection.
Canadian men’s soccer Olympic qualifying tournament
The Canadian men will open CONCACAF Olympic soccer qualifying against El Salvador on March 19 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Canada will then face Haiti on March 22 and Honduras on March 25 to complete Group B play.
While the groups were announced in January, CONCACAF unveiled the schedule Friday for the 15th edition of the Olympic qualifying tournament set for March 18 to 30 at Guadalajara’s Jalisco and Akron stadiums.
The eight-team tournament, originally scheduled to be played last spring, will determine two teams to represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at the Tokyo Games. The Olympic soccer competition is slated to run July 21 through Aug. 7.
Group A of the qualifying tournament features the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
The top two in each pool advance to the semifinals with the March 28 semifinal winners booking their ticket to the Olympics.
FIFA has kept the same eligibility rules that were first established, saying players must be born after Jan. 1, 1997.
Women’s Olympic qualifying took place in January-February 2020 before the pandemic. Canada, which won bronze at the last two Olympics, and the defending champion U.S. have both qualified.
Canada’s Schedule at CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying
(all times ET)
- Canada vs El Salvador, Jalisco Stadium, 6 p.m.
- Haiti vs Canada, Akron Stadium, 6 p.m.
Honduras vs Canada, Jalisco Stadium, 9:30 p.m.
- 1B vs 2A, Jalisco Stadium, 6 p.m.
- 1A vs 2B, Jalisco Stadium, 9 p.m.
- At Akron Stadium, 9 p.m.