The path was clear for Steven Vitória. He knew that being a professional footballer was his destiny. The Canadian kid was determined to achieve his dreams and understood the hard work that it would take.
“I always had that mentality that it would need to work, one way or another,” said Vitória. “It was a dream that was very clear.”
The 35-year-old’s determination produced a lengthy professional career playing European soccer, primarily in the top tiers of the Portuguese soccer pyramid. He played with GD Tourizense, SC Olhanense and SC Covilhã during the early days of his career when he was on loan from Portuguese giants FC Porto, notably winning the Segunda Liga title with SC Olhanense in 2008-09.
Vitória then transferred to GD Estoril Praia before the 2010-11 season and won his second league title in 2011-12, this time joining the club in their promotion to the highest division in Portugal. From a fifth-place finish in 2012-13, helping GD Estoril Praia qualify for Europa League Qualifiers, he transferred to SL Benfica.
Vitória believes his achievements are possible for anyone who believes and is willing to put the work in.
“If you accept the responsibility that it comes with—the hard work and the dedication and really put your mind to it, that’s when dreams do come true,” Vitória said. “Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible because it’s way more than possible and that’s my honest truth.”
At the international level, Vitória represented Portugal as a youth before he switched national associations to represent Canada in 2016. After helping Canada reach the Quarterfinals at the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup, he got his first call up under new manager John Herdman in September 2019 for Concacaf Nations League and subsequently played his first-ever home match with Canada at BMO Field in Toronto.
Vitória praised Herdman for his leadership and said he’s on another level.
“It’s been fantastic to work with John Herdman,” said Vitória. “Since the day I met him he’s been very clear with players changing their limits. There’s no comfort zone here, it’s about breaking new ground day after day … it’s very fulfilling to see the results that have been happening.”
As one of the team veterans who has worn the armband for Canada, Vitória knows a lot about leadership. He said that he takes pride in being a leader and does not feel pressure but a responsibility to help the team.
“It’s always a pleasure to wear the armband whenever I get the chance,” said Vitória. “It’s a responsibility for which I’m grateful and that I accept. If I can help others grow in certain areas, they can count on me the same way I can count on them.”
Vitória added that even though he is one of the oldest in the group, he is never too experienced to learn and that the team walks side-by-side.
Vitória’s mentality is a partial reason for his success, but the centre back didn’t land his success without facing his fair share of trials and tribulations.
When Vitória was 16 years old he had an unimaginable opportunity—a trial in Portugal for his family-favourite club Benfica at the end of his grade 10 year. Upon a few tryout sessions with the youth team, Vitória was selected to join the team the following season.
However, a coaching staff change during the summer saw a change of heart regarding Vitória’s role with the team. He was released after just two months. The hardest part, according to Vitória, was having to return home disappointed to his family, who had celebrated his hard-earned achievement months earlier.
“I was very close to quitting soccer, it was very devastating,” said Vitória. “But thanks to my family support … we continued.”
Vitória graduated from Philip Pocock Catholic Secondary School before heading over to Portugal to test his luck again. It was on his second attempt when things started to favour him.
Vitória’s journey resembles Canada Soccer’s 36-year return to the men’s FIFA World Cup, a striking comparison that cannot be ignored.
As Vitória arose from the ashes of his despair and defeat, Canada aims to do the same. To surprise the naysayers and prove the doubters wrong is what Canada will do, according to Vitória.
“So much has changed since Herdman has come in,” said Vitória. “The mentality and the winning mindset is here.”
Words by Jayden Dill. Photo by Beau Chevalier.
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