TORONTO — “An-tee?” I started.
“It’s Aan-teh,” Ante Jazic corrected me.
I blamed the mispronunciation on my Kansas accent — an excuse that likely fell flat, given the former Canadian international now resides in Arkansas.
Nevertheless, Jazic — the gifted left fullback who appeared 35 times for his country — is keeping tabs on HFX Wanderers FC after spending the first two decades of his life in Nova Scotia.
“Halifax always had a vibrant community, a close-knit community, so with the CPL coming to town I think it will be a hit just in terms of the soccer fan base there that’s so passionate about the game,” Jazic told CanPL.ca.
The 42-year-old’s story isn’t dissimilar from most of his former teammates who, like Jazic, were forced to go abroad in search of playing opportunities outside of Canada.
Then a student at Dalhousie University, Jazic’s opportunity arrived at the age of 19 when a summer vacation to Croatia included a successful trial with Hrvatski Dragovoljac.
“I never went back to school,” he added. “I turned a vacation into a career. I was fortunate.”
Jazic added: “I never thought I’d have an opportunity to play professional soccer — especially in Canada. I didn’t think it was feasible.”
On this day, though, Jazic is encouraged by what the formation of the Canadian Premier League could mean for soccer back home.
“It creates a distinct pathway for kids growing up in Canada,” Jazic interjected. “I had to go to Europe to figure things out. Now there’s a clear-cut pathway where kids can progress at a young age and get into a system earlier and have a clear future to dream to be a professional soccer player in Canada. I think it’s something that’s sorely needed. It took a lot of time to come to fruition. But, finally, it’s here.”
He’s been keeping a close eye on the developments via one of his closest mentors.
“(Coach) Stephen Hart had a major impact on my career,” Jazic offered, adding he’s been exchanging text messages with the HFX Wanderers’ boss.
“He was my youth soccer coach and coached me with various provincial teams at the Canada Games.”
Most crucial for Canadian soccer could be the CPL’s impact on the men’s national team. Like so many before him, Jazic recalls a time when a handful of his national teammates struggled to find playing time.
“It was common practice for us to have several players who were unattached and trying to play international matches which, at that level, is almost unacceptable,” Jazic said.
“This is going to be a huge, huge stepping stone for the Canadian national team. Being able to develop talent domestically and keep an eye on talent through scouting and everything is just going to create a more efficient process for the national team.”
Reminded that the league’s Open Trials will kick-off in his hometown next week, Jazic offered some advice for the close to 1,000 hopefuls who have signed up for the CPL’s coast-to-coast talent search.
“Never say, ‘What if?’” Jazic responded. “I walked away from college — which I was enjoying — to pursue my dreams and sign in Croatia, where I was making a fraction of a salary at that time.
“I knew college would always be there for me so I had the mindset of never say, ‘What if?’ in your career.
“If you go on trial give it your best shot. You only have maybe one day to impress. Take advantage of it and don’t let the moment be too big and just go express yourself. That’s kinda how I’ve lived my life. It’s worked for me.”