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.
"I felt like it was finally time to make the decision and I'm just extremely excited to be part of the national team squad," he said. "I'm ready to go. I'm ready to take part."
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.
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.
"It was about a two-year interruption … It's perfectly fine (now). I'm 100 per cent," added Ferreira, who still has family in the Toronto area.
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."
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."
Herdman's recent camp in Florida featured defender Frank Sturing, a former Dutch youth international. Theo Corbeanu, who represented Romania at the youth level but has switched allegiance to Canada, was also slated to be there but ended up staying with England's Wolves.
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.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press