In this series, iconic Canadian soccer players recount their experiences playing and developing their game in a city that now welcomes a new team in the Canadian Premier League.
You can barely distinguish the Calgarian in Kevin McKenna’s voice these days. He speaks, now, with a touch of German and Scottish, the result of a professional soccer career forged in Europe. Capped 63 times for Canada, McKenna’s journey saw him suit up for clubs like Energie Cottbus, Heart of Midlothian and 1. FC Koln, where he is now an assistant coach.
As such, McKenna admitted he hasn’t been keeping up to date with the development of soccer in his native Calgary as closely as he might have liked. It’s why he was pleasantly surprised to hear about Cavalry FC and the Canadian Premier League on the radio during a recent visit home. For him, opportunities like this didn’t exist in his own youth playing days.
Not that he’d change anything – McKenna spoke with no regrets about his own career in a chat with CanPL.ca about his experiences growing up and playing youth soccer in Calgary. “If you have the desire and the drive,” he explained, “nothing can stop you.”
Indeed, McKenna didn’t let public grass fields, often left long and sunburnt, stop him from growing and ultimately earning a contract in Germany. The only clearance McKenna needed was from his mother, who he explained needed a bit of convincing from Alberta-area coach Thomas Niendorf.
McKenna played his youth soccer with Properties Sports Soccer, as well as Fish Creek and Chinooks FC, before settling into the backline of the Calgary Foothills. He also attended the University of Calgary, where he played for the Dinos, and featured for the Alberta provincial team alongside future England international Owen Hargreaves, winning the national championship with the Under-15 team.
In those days, McKenna recalled, trips to Edmonton or tournaments in Las Vegas or Sacramento first meant the players needed to raise funds through bottle drives. But it was all for fun – pursuing a career in the sport didn’t exactly seem feasible back then.
“I mean, everybody would laugh if you ever said, ‘I want to be a professional soccer player,’” McKenna added. “If you said you wanted to be a professional athlete, it was mostly hockey.
“In high school, I don’t know what it’s like nowadays back home but I played volleyball, basketball, all the other sports, and it was soccer I chose in the end. They don’t focus on that in Germany. They focus on the one sport, train twice a day, and that’s that.”
Once McKenna made it to the Bundesliga, it became apparent that he’d need a bit of time to convince his largely German teammates of his abilities.
“They would joke about us and all that sort of stuff,” McKenna said, when asked about his reception in the locker room in Germany. “A lot of Germans, they think of Canadian players as those with strong mentalities, very athletic, but maybe not technically the best players. But the feedback I got in the locker room from my time here was that we have a strong mentality.”
McKenna needed it, too. The trials of the Bundesliga can be harrowing for a player, and while he rose to meet them at a young age, McKenna also pointed to the CPL as an important factor in Canada’s soccer growth.
“It’s good, it’s good for the country, and I hope it kicks off and does well,” he said of the CPL. “If Canadians worked on the sponsoring like the U.S. did after the 1994 World Cup – because they’ve gone from strength to strength with an unbelievable base, unbelievable program, they have a lot of investors behind them – I hope it happens in Canada. It’s a huge sport, and one that everybody can afford.”
Cavalry FC is a proud member of the Canadian Premier League, which will begin play in April of 2019. Membership deposits can be made at CavalryFootball.Club. Fans will be able to put down a $50 deposit to secure their place in line to become founding season ticket members.