Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Joel Waterman’s path to his Canada debut wasn’t as straight or narrow as some of his international peers. At 26 years still young, he was already older than a dozen other players in the Canada squad when they suited up to face Bahrain on Friday 11 November less than two weeks before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
Hard work, commitment and big dreams were part of his journey as he moved from Canada Soccer’s National Training Centre in British Columbia to provincial teams, university soccer, the Canadian Premier League and finally Major League Soccer, notably winning a Canadian Championship in 2021 with CF Montréal. He can now add international debutant to the list of his milestones across a burgeoning career.
“There were a lot of emotions, but it is a day I will definitely remember for the rest of my life,” said the Canadian centre back Joel Waterman, who in Qatar was now miles away from his small hometown community of Aldergrove, British Columbia.
He got his first-ever call up to Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team just two days before Christmas 2020, appearing in that January 2021 camp in Florida which was the first Canadian camp since the global pandemic had shut down much of international football for nearly a year. He got further call ups in March and June of that year, then again more than a year later when Canada faced Qatar and Uruguay in Slovakia and Austria in September 2022. Now in his fourth professional season, he featured in more MLS minutes than any other Canadian outfield player in 2022.
Called into a November camp just ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, Waterman was told his chance to make his international debut was finally going to come in the match against Bahrain, likely early in the second half as Head Coach John Herdman rotated his squad for an international friendly just a few days before the final selection for Qatar 2022.
As it so happened, though, not even his debut would be as straight as he expected. After an unfortunate injury to starting captain Doneil Henry during the warmup, Waterman got the tap to take his place in the starting lineup.
“It was probably about 10 or more minutes before we started, so I needed to get ready quick because I was not fully warmed up,” said Waterman. “I knew I might have been coming into the match in the second half, so I did have some time to prepare and I wasn’t totally surprised, but I was surprised that my chance came that early. There were just so many things running through my head, but I just wanted to play well because at the end of the day, you have to perform.”
Waterman played the full 90 minutes and helped Canada come from behind to earn a 2:2 away draw again Bahrain. It was only after the match on the pitch and in the locker room that Waterman had the chance to reflect on his debut.
“After the match it kind of sunk in, especially seeing how many messages I had on my phone and you just knew what it meant to the community back home,” said Waterman.
After the match, he called home and connected with the people that mattered most.
“I called my parents, both my mom and my dad,” said Waterman. “The family was all together sitting at home watching and when they saw I was starting, you know, they were crying and cheering. There are so many emotions, just knowing what they have sacrificed, making sure I was there on Saturday mornings, all the driving they had to do, and just knowing how many things I had to give up to be here. My parents are a part of this as much as I am, so this was everyone’s success.”
Another two days on, Waterman’s name was called once again, this time to the official squad for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. For that young, brave kid from British Columbia, Waterman has chased his dreams all the way from the small fields at Aldergrove Youth Soccer Association to the biggest stage on the world.
Canada Soccer outlines return to soccer guidelines. The return to soccer guidelines provide member organizations with a five-step process, including a checklist of weighted questions known as the Return to Soccer Assessment Tool.