Forge FC sign Canadian international defender Manjrekar James

In a statement of intent from the defending CPL champions, Forge FC have announced the signing of Canadian international centre-back Manjrekar James.

The 29-year-old has represented Canada 17 times at the senior level, scoring twice, including against Honduras in 2018 World Cup qualifying in San Pedro Sula. His last cap came in January 2020, when he started during a 4-1 friendly win against Barbados.

Born in Roseau, Dominica, James moved to North York at the age of nine. He is looking forward to returning close to the area where he grew up.

“I’m pretty excited,” James told Charlie O’Connor-Clarke of about signing for Forge. “While I was in Europe I didn’t have a lot of family and friends around to watch me play. For me, I’m quite excited to be close to home, and have my family and friends around.”

James most recently played for the Ukrainian club Chornomorets Odesa, making 13 appearances and scoring once. He left the club in February.

His career has also seen him play in the Danish top flight, including for FC Midtjylland, with whom he made an appearance in the UEFA Champions League, as well as in Hungary and Greece. He also spent several years during his youth career under now-Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis at Sigma FC.

Returning to play for Smyrniotis was what ultimately drew James to join Forge.

“I’ve always watched Forge games because of Coach Bobby, and I know a lot of players on the team, so I’ve always tried to watch the games or at least the highlights or something like that,” said James, adding, “I know Coach Bobby’s philosophy and how he plays. I’ve played for him for a long time so I think I’ll fit in very well. I grew up playing under him as a youth, so it’s just getting back into the routine.”

After the departure of Daniel Krutzen to USL Championship side Phoenix Rising in January, James adds some quality, experience and depth to the Forge backline. The move might also allow CPL defender of the year Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson to play his preferred position of midfield.

Ashtone Morgan and Manjrekar James at Canada camp (Courtesy: Canada Soccer)

James joins a solid centre-back contingent that already includes Achinioti-Jönsson, fellow CPL centurion Dominic Samuel, Garven Metusala and Malik Owolabi-Belewu. Forge allowed just 25 goals in 28 matches last year, the fewest in the league.

“I have a lot of experience, so I think that’s the one thing I can bring to the team,” said James. “I come from Europe, and played for the national team, so that experience can help the younger guys.”

The Hamilton side now has 20 players under contract for the 2023 season, with James being the first player to sign who was not with the club in 2022.

James is also one of five players on the Forge roster to play for Canada at the senior international level. Ashtone Morgan (18 caps), Kyle Bekker (18 caps), Jordan Hamilton (two caps) and Tristan Borges (one cap). However, he is the only player in that group to have scored a goal for his country at the senior level.

Forge open their 2023 season against rivals Cavalry at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday, April 15 at 4 p.m. ET.