Canada’s Lucas Dias (20) heads the ball challenged by Honduras’ Cristopher Melendez during a Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying championship soccer match in Guadalajara, Mexico, Thursday, March 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Fernando Llano

Canada’s Lucas Dias (20) heads the ball challenged by Honduras’ Cristopher Melendez during a Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying championship soccer match in Guadalajara, Mexico, Thursday, March 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Fernando Llano

Youngest member of Olympic team enjoying first taste of Canada program

Lucas Dias started his soccer at the Sporting FC Academy

Lucas Dias has long been ahead of the game.

At eight or nine, he was playing with kids two years older at the Sporting FC Academy in Toronto. Moving to Portugal at 11, he was the youngest at Sporting CPs academy in Lisbon.

Now 18, Dias plays for Sporting CP’s under-23 team and is the youngest member of the Canadian squad at the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The tournament is for players born after Jan. 1, 1997. Dias was born in January 2003.

Coach Mauro Biello used Dias off the bench in each of Canada’s three group games, with Dias making his Canadian debut in the 72nd minute against El Salvador.

“I enjoyed it a lot, It was nice to get my feet wet at such a high level, and in a very important competition,” Dias said afterwards.

He came on in the 70th minute against Haiti and 73rd minute against Honduras. Biello says he has restricted the teenager’s minutes because he missed some pre-tournament training sessions because of COVID-19 protocols.

Dias sees himself as an attacking midfielder, a provider playing behind the striker. But he can also see a role on the left wing, taking on defenders one-on-one.

The coach has liked what’s he’s seen, citing his “ability to get out of situations.”

“Everything that I’ve seen from him at Sporting … he’s been able to show that. He’s a young player, a player that’s hungry,” Biello said.

And a player with options, given he has one cap for Portugal at the under-16 level.

“It’s an honour to represent Portugal and Canada,” Dias said. “Right now I can still go back and forth. It’s very difficult to pick one country — one where I was born in, which I would love to represent. And the other one where I’m developing as a player, where I’m growing up, my childhood is basically all there, which I would love and it would be a honour also to represent.

“I’m just going to take it step by step, let the future tell what’s going to happen. While I’m able to represent both, I will be truly happy and I’ll give it my all wherever I am.”

Dias says he has been well looked after at his first Canadian camp.

“I’m younger than them but they’re treating me very well. They’re helping me. They’re helping me with certain tactics that I’m not familiar with. And I think they’re a great group of guys.”

Both his sets of grandparents were born in Portugal and emigrated to Canada.

Born in Toronto, Dias started his soccer at the Sporting FC Academy, which is affiliated with Sporting CP — one of Portugal’s big three clubs along with Porto and Benfica.

Dias was one of the first to join the Toronto academy when it opened in 2011.

“A really really good player,” recalled Sam Gyeke, Sporting FC’s technical director and head coach. “Very good understanding of the game. A natural leader. He was playing two years up at that time with the 2001s, he’s a 2003.”

“He always put in the work. He was always there, always ready to play. You can;’ say he didn’t deserve (his success),” he added.

Dias caught the eye of the big club and started visiting Sporting in Lisbon when he was nine for brief training stints.

“They saw me, they kept an eye on me. And they gave me an option to come to Portugal.”

He was 11 when he and his father made the move to Europe.

“It happened so fast … But it was something I’d always dreamed of,” Dias said. “So when they gave me that offer, I didn’t really think twice.”

His father spent the first year in Portugal, then returned home. Dias stayed on, living at the academy.

Traditionally kids start at 13 or 14, but they made an exception for Dias. He was the player farthest away from their family, although there were also players from Angola, Guinea and France.

“It was extremely difficult,” Dias said. “It’s a thing I don’t think any kid would want to go through because the pain, the sacrifice, the tears, the dedication that I had to do to pass all the things that happened at such a young age, it was bad.

“The first three weeks I got there, especially when I was 12 and I lived by myself there, I wanted t come back to Canada. I wanted to give up.

“My parents supported me. The club supported me. Friends were supporting me. It was very difficult. I don’t think I slept pretty much the first three weeks, month that I was there because there was so much going on for me at such a young age. But I think nowadays the people that sacrifice, that do things that are difficult, are the ones that are going to succeed in life.”

Today Dias, who learned Portuguese after arriving in the country, plays for Sporting’s under-23 team in the Liga Revelacao.

“It’s a very competitive league,” he said.

Sporting also has a B reserve team with players moving in and out of the different squad. Dias has trained with both the reserve and senior sides.

“That’s where you want to be, of course. My goal in the next few months, next year is trying to get to that A team.”

He considers Portugal his second home.

“I speak the language, I’ve got a bunch of friends. Everything’s going well. The club is amazing. They’re trusting their youth a lot, which is good. I have lots of friends that I play with in the current year that are already on the first team which I’m very proud of. It makes me happy seeing that if they’re able to d it, I’m able to do it. And I’m very happy for them.

“Sporting is an amazing club. They trust their youth, they help the players. They also don’t just form players but they form men too.”

Having just turned 18, he still lives at the academy but plans to move out in July. He signed a pro deal at 16.

He was last in Toronto at the beginning in July, having visited there in June.

The pandemic has made for a difficult year. Dias, who usually sees his family — he’s the oldest of three brothers — every three months, has not seen them in nine months.

He has not forgotten his family’s help in pursuing his soccer dream.

“The sacrifices that not just I made myself but that they made as a family to make my dreams come true, I’m extremely thankful,” he said. “To let your kid leave at 11 years old, some parents would probably say ‘You’re crazy.’

“Lots of people told me parents ‘How could you let our son leave at 11 years old?’ My parents still let me fulfil my dreams and go after my dreams and try and reach them. I’ve just got to thank them.”

—-

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Olympics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Google Earth image of a well site in Ponoka County from WellWiki.org.
Website ‘WellWiki.org’ makes accessing local well site information easy and accessible

U of A professor developed the database of well sites, including Ponoka County

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among other encouraged ventilation measures

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. Alberta is set to join three other provinces in exploring the feasibility of small modular reactors as a clean energy option. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Four provinces to sign memorandum of understanding to explore small nuclear reactors

Alberta government said in August that it would enter into the agreement to help diversify its energy sector

Most Read