Marcel de Jong

deyong-550x550pxMarcel de Jong in a Canadian midfielder/defender currently playing for the Ottawa Fury and Canadian men’s national team, with who he has appeared for 43 times scoring 3 times. A grad of the PSV youth ranks, he has played for such note worthy clubs as Roda JC, FC Augsburg and Sporting Kansas City. We spoke to him via email about playing in North America vs playing in Europe and whether he’ll return to Europe.

SSPC: What lead you to the Ottawa Fury?

MDJ: What lead me to Ottawa Fury is that I obviously wasn’t very happy with my situation at Sporting Kansas city, and I needed a solution and it was very hard for me to find a club in Europe because the transfer window was closed at the time. So I decided that i needed to find a team where I can enjoy soccer again and have fun doing that. I heard a little bit about Ottawa and I immediately said that it would be perfect for me so I can play and feeling good while going to practice every morning. And I always said that I wanted to play soccer in Canada. So it was a win win for me.

SSPC: In comparison to Germany and the Netherlands how do North American crowds stack up?

MDJ: We haven’t played a home game yet but what I’ve heard from the guys is that we get a good descent size crowd every game. And that’s important for us,De Jong Sporting

At this moment you can’t compare it with the German or Dutch leagues. Just because soccer is their number 1 sport and it’s almost an religion over there. But I do have to say when I played with National team in BC this year that was truly something special for me and I think for the Canadian soccer as well. I think shows that it’s growing every year.

SSPC: Ottawa are a team suffered an almost explosion in the off season, losing their coach and several key players, after coming so close to being a championship side. What’s it been like arriving in that environment?

MDJ: Yeah it’s been a tough off season for Fury every year players come and go, specially when you have a good season and almost winning it. But unfortunately that is history now, and we good a really good bunch of new players and coach this year and I’m convinced that all the pieces coming together. And when it does it can be a special year for all of us!

SSPC: What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between the NASL and MLS?

MDJ: The biggest difference between MLS and NASL is mainly the stadiums what i can tell from the first couple of games. But Fury stadium can be easily an MLS stadium.

Other than that I’m not really sure what else is a big difference. The level is much better than I thought in the NASL, so I’m pretty sure some teams can compete with some teams in the MLS.

SSPC: What was it like to play in front of 54,000 fans in Vancouver when you were playing in front of only about 10,000 in Toronto less than a year ago?

MDJ: Playing for that many fans was amazing. It also shows that soccer in Canada is growing and getting the support that we as players want and really need.

It is obviously different than in Toronto but also their the support is great but with less fans. Marcel de Jong 2But I’m pretty sure that’s changed now if we would have a WCQ their.

SSPC: Are you nervous about returning to Honduras?

MDJ: No I’m not nervous to go back I know what will be waiting for us over there. Of course it’s gonna be a tough night but definitely not nervous.

SSPC: Do you see yourself returning to Europe in the future?

MDJ: Yes i could see myself going back to Europe. My family lives in Europe. But my wife and daughter really love it here in Canada so it’s also a possibility that we are going to stay here. But as you know in soccer you never no what will happen and we it takes us.

Special thank to Jon Eden for his assistance in this article

Manager Talk: Stephen Hart

1_61For more than 30 years, Trinidadian/long-time Halifax resident Stephen Hart was apart of Canadian soccer, from playing with the Saint Mary’s Huskies to coaching the Men’s national team. Among his other positions he held included technical director for Soccer Nova Scotia, head coach of Saint Mary’s women’s team and revered Nova Scotia amateur side Halifax King of Donair. He also spent Texaco and San Fernando Strikers of the TT Pro League, earning 7 caps for the Trinidad and Tobago national team. He served as the Canadian men’s head coach twice, as interim in 2007 and as full head from 2009-12, leading the team to the 2007 Gold Cup semi finals and 2009 quarter finals. He exited the team (with a combined record of 20-10-15) following the failed 2014 World Cup campaign, which notoriously ended with a 8-1 loss to Honduras. He currently serves as the head coach of Trinidad and Tobago, which he’s lead to back to back Gold Cup quarter finals and a Caribbean Cup final. We spoke to him about his time with the Canadian program, how the games has changed over 30 years, soccer in the Caribbean and the east coast, his career as a coach and player with Trinidad and Tobago, the 8-1 loss and his legacy.

SSPC: Since departing Canada, you’ve taken over the Trinidad and Tobago national team with great success. What do you feel has been the factor to your success with Trinidad and Tobago?

SH: I would not say that it was great success, but we had a good run in two successive Gold Cups, which were quite similar to when I was in charge of Canada. With T&T the response from the players has been tremendous, considering the hardships they face and the well documented financial constraints faced by the Association. Another plus is that we have quite a few very attacking players with good balance.

SSPC: When one looks at the current roster of the Canada men’s team players’ birth places, one of the first things you notice is the lack of east coast talent. Do you, as a long time Halifax resident, former technical director of Soccer Nova Scotia and head coach of Canada, feel there’s a lack of support for young soccer players in Atlantic Canada?

SH: Ante Jazic was a special player from the region and made the sacrifice to make football his profession. The region also produced several female players that made their mark on the National Team even at a WC level, those players were also on scholarships in the NCAA. Atlantic Canada needs to look within itself to raise the quality. In my time Provincial players were trained on a weekly basis, now its once a month. The Senior League hartwas very competitive and we had a Select U21 that played in that League. Several players, both male and female were as I mentioned on scholarship in the US. Overall I do believe other factors exist that hinder development, the cost factor is one, it is a burden on parents, the better you are the more expensive it is for you to access training & games. Facility cost is pure madness and now most of the facilities built by the province, are user pay, children do not have free access. Another cost that now falls on parents. Last summer in Halifax I noticed facilities locked up and empty on a weekend!!! Makes no sense to me!

SSPC: Prior to coming to Canada for education, you were a Trinidad and Tobago international player. Why did leave that? Was it just for education?

SH: I had a tough decision to make, I was selected by coach Alvin Corneal for preparation for the 1982 WCQ, at 20 yrs old its was a dream. However, I had a good job, but I also wanted to experience life outside of T&T. University offered me that opportunity and I jumped at it. Though I was having a good run in the top league at the time and scoring regularly, I have to be honest, I am not sure if I would have made the squad at that time.

SSPC: Over the 30 years you were involved with the game in Canada, what were the greatest developments you saw and what were the biggest set backs?

SH: The popularity of the game accelerated at an amazing pace, it was no longer a game played by “foreigners” Canadian children male & female were all participating, the base became enormous. The game grew bigger than the infrastructure to support it and the expertise needed to guide it properly. The NASL & then CSL were fantastic for the game. It allowed young players to dream, many cut their teeth and learned the fundamentals of professionalism and moved on to bigger more established leagues. It remains a key factor in the rapid decline of the elite game and the missing element in player development. Quite frankly the programs being sold as elite player development were far from it (as I mentioned earlier very expensive on parents) and Canada continued to lose many talented players after the age of 18. As a result the elite pool of quality players was way too small. Having said that the lucky ones who went away to European clubs etc. did very well and gave a good account of themselves. Canada should of also embraced at the younger ages, more games in the winter periods as a player development model, example futsal and six/seven a-side with lines (no boards).

SSPC: Do you feel the current system of 3 MLS teams and 2 NASL teams is the best fit for Canada’s soccer future?

SH: Well it’s better than nothing and at least players have an opportunity, also I do believe the development model in these clubs are a bonus to Canada’s National Youth teams’. I always felt Canada could of attempted to establish more regional leagues in the more populated parts of the country. It would have been great to see a league established from Quebec City to Windsor, Ontario similar to junior hockey. (Just an example)

SSPC: What do you think of Canada’s current coach Benito Floro and the squad he’s put together.

SH: His resume speaks for itself. I met him in Philadelphia, I think the job was a major learning curve for him in the first year and a half;, even with his experience. Like many of us before, organizing the team was never a problem, getting the most out of the attack remained problematic. Regardless of the coach you need quality in key positions. In my time once Canada lost Radzinski, Ali Gerba, Josh Simpson just before WCQ and then Dwayne DeRosario after the Panama game, attack could not help but suffer. However, the squad looks to have balance now, with the quality of Atiba, Larin and Hoilett, so I wish him and the team all the best.

SSPC: How does the game in the Caribbean compare to games in North and Central America?

SH: North America & CA should really hope that the Caribbean does not get organized in all aspects of its football. The talent base in Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname and T&T is amazing, with the other Islands catching up quickly, but a lack of funding stagnates the TRUE growth of the game, that is, the development models. The game StephenHart.jpgis played, loved & enjoyed everywhere, there are established leagues to accommodate everyone. The quality of its footballers are very good, plus the athleticism is amazing. The top leagues are very physical, with decent technique, sadly they have lost the fan support and for me this takes away from the competitive demands necessary for players to develop. Lack of exposure to higher levels of play at a young age limits experience. Team and individual discipline, are at times, questionable and it leads to naive tactical decisions (or lack of it). However, the region continues to crank out players, T&T with 1.3 million people continues to be competitive in CONCACAF.

*SSPC: This year Trinidad and Tobago will not only play World Cup qualifiers but also Caribbean and Gold Cup qualifiers. There’s been some talk lately as to whether Canada should play such qualifiers. What do you think?

*SH: Tricky question. It’s very expensive to play these games & preparation is always limited. However, the tournament is a very useful and competitive one and as the Gold Cup evolves all teams should go through a qualification process. On the flip side if things go wrong and that is always a possibility, due to the host country and the quality of the playing fields etc. you can easily be out of the GC. The last CFU tournament was a very good standard and the games served us well.

SSPC: Looking back on the 8-1 loss to Honduras, what do you feel lead to such a result and is there anything that you feel you as the coach could of done differently?

SH: We lost De Rosario in Panama and Ocean got himself ejected in the Cuba game and on top of it all Jazic fell ill. Then the game was moved to 2pm, a perfect storm was developing. Having said all that, we had 10 points and still needed a result. In the opening 10 minutes we had two glorious chances and failed to convert. Honduras

Will Johnson and Michael Klukowski following a Honduran goal during Canada’s 8-1 loss.

scored what looked like such simple goals and then we were 2-0 down. It all came crashing down. To be honest I could never put a finger on what exactly went wrong. In the dressing room 4-0 down I had two choices, concede defeat and go for damage control, or, go for it and see if we could at least get a goal or two. It was not to be. Looking back, I really don’t know what I would have done differently. I thought I got the player selection right. In both rounds of games total, we only gave up 3 goals. Then we gave up 8 in one game, its unexplainable and unforgivable. Losing a game is always a possibility, sometimes the opposition is simply better on the day, or have better overall quality, but you should always give everything you have and be willing to suffer for the result.

*SSPC: You’ve got an extensive resume when it comes to CONCACAF experience but a lot of when it comes to club soccer. When your tenure with Trinidad and Tobago comes to an end would you like to move into a club position or would continue with international management?

*SH: I would love to get involved in club football. Working day to day with players appeals to me and I will also be in a position to test my vision on football completely. Presently, at an international level this is very difficult and limited. In International football achieving consistency is complex and hindered by many factors not in your control.

SSPC: Earlier you mentioned a hope to see more regional leagues start up similar to the junior hockey model, lately there’s actually been some talk of a national league similar to the CFL starting up. What do you think of that approach?

SH: You have to start somewhere and be brave. The idea is appealing and I do believe with the right planning & support structure it will greatly enhance football development in Canada. Players, coaches, referees, administrators, trainers etc. all will benefit greatly.

SSPC: What do you think could be done to improve the game on the east coast?

SH: Complex question with many avenues, First off you need funding and move towards a model that allows for a competitive league. Also players may need to be imported to mix with locals, so the product on view is a decent one.

Atlantic Canada benefited in the past from many immigrants, imported players & foreign students involved in its football. However, once the rules were passed that limited their participation on a National & Provincial level, it discouraged growth and diminished the quality.

I must admit I don’t have all the answers & have not given the program in its entity a lot of thought. If you are going to tackle player development seriously, you must have a vision for what are the gains for all the sacrifice. What do you want your end product to look like? What will be the benefits for individuals? Etc

All the leagues should be extended over many more months. Atlantic Canada needs more proper facilities and

The BMO Soccer Centre in Halifax

they should be subsidized & be made available,. Training is very limited in winter, there is no reason the 11 v 11 game could not be played in the Winter ( similar to Norway & Iceland). Right now the facilities are money making ventures, 7v7 games take over and the indoor league is longer than the Summer league. Can’t say I agree with this, unless your vision is football for all and recreation.

SSPC: Recently your Trinidad and Tobago assistant coach Dwight Yorke has been throwing his name into the race for various Premier League team’s (Aston Villa and Sunderland for example) coaching positions. What kind of head coach do you think he’ll make?

SH: Dwight I have known since he was 12 and even back than you could see he was single minded. He came from a very small island & difficult childhood to achieve great things. So he knows what it takes to achieve. He has played under great coaches and has had unique and varied football experiences. These factors I what I believe will serve him well, how he manages today’s players will prove a bigger challenge than the football itself. Having said that, I think he will do very well once given the opportunity.

SSPC: A lot of Canadian fans have mixed emotions about your time as manager, some feel you were to not right for the role while others feel you were simply the victim of a generational shift with the players. How do you feeling back at your tenure?

SH: One thing I have learned in football & life is that you cannot please everyone. Personally I had some good runs with Canada, three GC’s, two of which we played some good football and on both occasions we were out under very controversial footballing circumstances. Mr. Fonseca and myself looked at the squad and we knew that my WCQ a generational shift was on the horizon and in order to compete we had to remain healthy (physically & mentally). Look back at the squad objectively you would see its peak around 2006-10. However. by the time my third GC & the WCQ rolled around, we simply did not have enough depth and the young players coming through were not ready. No excuses, but we lost Radzinski, Gerba, Simpson. Stalteri retired, Friend had injury issues and was not playing at his club, unfortunately, & Atiba had knee surgery (slowly returning) and then we lost DeRo after Panama. We lost not only a lot of potential attacking players, but also leadership and experience. Yet we were in with a chance for the Hex, for me the telling game was Honduras at home, we should have won that game comfortably. It all came apart in one game & regardless of what I say, my time in charge of Canada will always be judged on one game, nothing will erase that & I accepted the responsibility for that.

*Some Soccer Playing Canadians exclusive. A condensed/mobile-friendly version can be found on RedNationOnline.

Stefan Cebara

IMGL6212-390x390Stefan Cebara is a 24 year-old winger currently playing with FC ViOn Zlaté Moravce of the Slovak Super Liga. Born in Yugoslavia, Cebara and his family moved to Windsor when he was six where he began playing soccer before joining FK Rad’s youth system. After stints with Zalaegerszegi in Hungary and Slovenian side Celje, Cebara found himself clubless for 18 months but unlike most Canadians who find themselves without a contract Cebara persevered signing with Zlaté Moravce in January 2015 where he has been a game day staple ever since. Cebara also has some international experience as well having earned 5 caps for Canada. We chatted with him about his 18 months away from professional soccer and his return to the game, coming up in Windsor and his future with the national team.

SSPC: What lead you to join ViOn Zlaté Moravce?

SC: My agent came to me with the option and it looked like the right fit for me at the time. A strong physical league where I saw myself playing.

SSPC: Since relocating to to Slovakia you’ve really found your grove and seen more action than you did in Slovenia, how have you enjoyed the increase in playing time?

SC: Playing time is crucial to every players development, the more experience I get week in week out the better player I will 0008become.

SSPC: What lead you to play in Europe rather than Canada?

SC: Growing up in Canada I was always felt I wanted to play in Europe when I was of age. I grew up with a lot of European influence, spent my summers there, fell in love with the culture. I got my first opportunity in Serbia at 18 and I went further from there. The MLS is much more respected now than it was 6 years ago, a lot of players from Europe are now interested in coming to the MLS and playing in Canada and the U.S.

SSPC: Usually (unfortunately) there’s a narrative when it comes to Canadian players departing a club: they part with the club, go unsigned for several months and disappear. You went through the first two but managed to break the mold and sign with a top flight team. What was it like for you during that time between Celje and Zlaté Moravce? Where did you train and what got you through it?

SC: That period of my life was probably toughest career obstacle I went through which shaped me as a player and person after it was all done. I ended my contract in Slovenia knowing I had a few other teams ready to sign me. I took my Time with the decision waiting for the best team to come along. I played 4 games with the national at this time which I though would only attract more attention to me. Briefly afterDSC_7146 that I injured my hamstring and was out for awhile. When I was ready to train I flew to Belgrade, Serbia to train and get fit. The longer I was out of club the harder it was to get a serious team to sign me. I was training twice a day everyday for 3 months waiting on the call. I didn’t want to play just anywhere, I felt that I had a lot to give and as soon as I would get the opportunity I would prove that. It was definitely an eye opener for me in terms of football and life. One moment you can be on top and one moment you’re on the ground. I am much more appreciative of everything in my life now. That year I missed a lot. It was hard for me to watch football on TV, all my team mates and friends were playing week in week out and I was working day in day out trying to get back to that routine. When I signed for FC Vion it took a lot of weight off my shoulders but I was ready to take on the task and make my mark. I still have a lot to work on and improve, I have all the potential I just have to utilize it. I want to play every game and start every game. That’s my goal. When I do that I can think of the next step forward.

SSPC: When you joined ViOn Zlaté Moravce, they were in a battle to avoid relegation. What was it like entering that situation after such a long difficult stretch without a club and how did it feel to have played a role in the team succeeding?

SC: It was playing my part. I knew it would take a little time to work my way in the team. I missed out majority of the pre-season with an injury so it took a toll in the beginning. After I started training and staying injury free I began to get minutes. There’s been 4 coaches since I’ve been there so it was constant work and proving to the new coach you should be playing .

SSPC: Speaking of proving yourself to your coach, you’ve been out of the national team picture for a little over two years. Are you interested in returning to the program soon or do you want to focus on your club career for the time being?

Stefan Cebara

SC: Of course, I think representing your country is a great honor and If given the call I would be proud to wear the red and white.

SSPC: Growing up in Windsor, did you find you received the training you needed at the time to grow as a player? What improvements do you feel could be made to help grow the game in cities outside of Canada’s metropolitan areas?

SC: I think more regular training. Training everyday has to be there. No matter the weather, there has to be facilities available to the youth to practice and work on their craft. Perfecting the “simple” things such as passing, shooting, crossing, finishing can only be done with practice on a regular basis. 2-3 days a week are not enough to carry your game to the next level. I trained a lot individually and with my dad when I wouldn’t have practice. We would play both in the Canadian and American leagues through out the year. Windsor was good for that. Playing in the Michigan premier league as a kid and traveling all around the US for tournaments. Being so close to the border made that possible.

SSPC: Prior to joining Celje in 2012, you had a bit of contract trouble with Zalaegerszeg during a financial struggle for the club. Would you walk me through what happened then? Stefan_Cebara

SC: I came back from the U20 qualifiers, the club was late on salaries. There were talks that the club may be demoted to the 2nd division. I needed to get out of that situation and focus on a club with stability.

SSPC: Earlier you mentioned how the profile of North American leagues has greatly improved since you went to Europe. Is returning to North America, in the MLS, NASL or the proposed Canadian league, something you would consider doing in the near future?

SC: I would be interested in the MLS one day of course. I don’t know when but one day. It is a rapidly growing league and I catch a lot of games on TV in Europe. I have friends who play in the league and hear nothing but good things.

You can follow Stefan on instagram @Stefanleoo