Haedan Turner is a 17-year-old defensive midfielder who was born in Edmonton and grew up in Fort St. John, B.C. Ė birthplace of former Dutch international John van ít Schip. Currently in residency at the Grande Sports Academy in Arizona Ė part of Real Salt Lakeís academy system Ė Haedan has also spent time developing at AS Cannes and Bolton Wanderers.
In a wide-ranging interview with Canadian Soccer News, he talks about his time in Europe (and why he came back to North America), his experience with futsal, David Beckhamís impact on MLS, his thoughts on the potential of representing his country internationally, and the inspiration he derived from a message sent to him years ago by a current member of the Canadian menís national team.
So, how did you get your start in Fort St. John?
We played futsal there because itís obviously cold in the winter months. So, summer time Iíd play outdoors, and in the winter, Iíd play futsal. That helped me work on my skills. Itís quite prevalent in Brazil. The winter is so long (in northern B.C.), so most of the time I was in school gyms, the basketball courts. I was just always keeping the ball on the ground, working on my skills alone, just a little bit more than the other kids. Futsal definitely helped me gain the close control and the (style of) play that I admire today.
I was playing for my hometown club, Fort. St. John Strikers, and then when I was in sixth and seventh grade, I went to camps all over Canada, and then I eventually went to England for two-week camps (paid Manchester United soccer school camps).
I always played for Fort St. John until I was in ninth grade, and then I went on a six-month stint in France, AS Cannes. I enjoyed my time there. It was different, for sure. When I first went to France, it was the first time I was away from home. I spoke a little French because I was bilingual, but it was a bit difficult at first. That was a new experience, and until today, Iíve learned a lot from it.
How did your time in France help you build your game?
When I went over there Iíd always been focused on football, on soccer. But for the first time I realized how important it was, how much dedication you needed to become a professional, or become good at anything. I was disciplined but I was young as well, so when I first went over there, I hadnít understood how much effort Iíd have to put into soccer to be good at it.
When I went over there, everyone was good. I was just a small fish in a big pond. Iím a firm believer in the 10,000-hour theory. So when I went there I was like, ďWow.Ē When I got back I was like, ďWow, everybodyís good. If I actually want to do well in this sport I have to put in a little bit extra, a little bit more.Ē The biggest lesson I think I took from over there was how to be disciplined. The coaches there told me, ďYou need to work on your awareness, work on this and this.Ē
The football was great, it was fast. AS Cannes, theyíve developed lots of great players: Zidane, Vieira, Gael Clichy, they have quite a history for developing young players.
One of the biggest things that helped me when I was in France Ė and if I ever get the chance to thank him, I will Ė I sent an email to Julian de Guzman. I was lonely, and I thought, because he went to France when he was quite young as well, maybe he knows what you have to do. I sent him an email, didnít really expect a response.
About a week later, he emailed me back. I still have that email now, Iíve got it printed out. It was a page long. He actually put effort into it. I was really touched. He just explained to me how football, itís a lonely sport, and obviously theyíre not going to accept you for being foreign.
He really helped me understand that youíve got your own dreams and everybody else has dreams too, but you have to follow your own dreams. If I ever get the chance to meet Mr. de Guzman, I will thank him wholeheartedly.
You have another fellow Canadian within the same club as you now, Will Johnson. Are you ever in touch with Will at all?
I havenít had the chance to meet him. The first team comes and trains here for preseason normally, so if I ever get the chance to meet him Iíll take full advantage because heís a very big role model of mine. A good role model, stays disciplined and does a good job for Team Canada as well.
How would you describe yourself as a player?
When I first moved to Bolton (at age 15), I played right back. I was doing it because I have a certain playing style, I play quite aggressive, Iím not afraid to tackle. They liked that. But later on, the next year, I moved into the midfield. Iíve always played in a 4-4-2, just a regular centre mid, but now Iím playing defensive mid, which is my preferred position. I like to control the tempo and have got a good passing ability.
(When I emailed Julian de Guzman), Julian was a defensive mid. He was at Deportivo la Coruna at the time. The Spanish games are on the TV all the time. I emailed him, I said, ďLike you, Iím a Canadian who likes to work hard off the ball and do my best on the playing field for the team.Ē
Are there any other players that you look up to as role models?
Originally, when I was youngerÖ my whole life, Iíve looked up to Carlos Tevez. But as of recent eventsÖ Also, I tried to get his signature one time and he walked straight on the team bus. He was always a role model because of his intense work rate and his aspirations to make something of himself when he had nothing. That was something that touched me, for sure. He was always one of my favourite players, but itís disappointing the path heís taken.
For me, players that I admire are those who follow their dream and are disciplined, like Paul Scholes or Dwayne DeRosario, (who) has always been a great player.
What does Dwayne winning the Major League Soccer MVP award mean to you as a young Canadian player?
Itís a step. Football in the society in North America is a progression, and eventually itíll be Ė in my opinion Ė a force. Itíll be as Europe is now. Obviously itíll take time. But when you see Canadian players succeeding and being recognized for their talents, like DeRo, it gives me hope, it makes me proud. I want him to do well, and now that he has, Iím happy for him. Iím happy for not only him, but our country. (The game) will continue to strive and grow, hopefully.
Earlier you mentioned spending time at Bolton Wanderers, after you came back from France. How did that opportunity come about?
I had an agent who had connections at Bolton Wanderers and when I was 15, I went there on a month-long trial. In Europe you canít sign if youíre not part of the EU. But you can play for the academy; it depends on certain situations. So I went to Bolton when I was 15, for a month. They said ďweíd like you to stay for the year.Ē Obviously, in those times, if they can get a player and develop him, anything is possible.
So I stayed for the rest of that year with a host family and worked hard to make my dream come true. Very good team, very good setup. I ended up staying there for two years and learned a lot from England, for sure: how to be disciplined, even more; how to take care of myselfÖ I went to school, I have a diploma and a national award in sport science.
I took everything I could from that experience, and then I had (to make) a decision: whether I wanted to go back this year or try something new. I spoke to my coach about it, I said, ďI appreciate everything youíve done for me, but I feel like I need to beÖĒ Ė it wasnít about being close to home, but I needed something new. I felt like if I stayed another year, there wasnít a chance of me getting signed.
So my coach contacted all of the MLS clubs with my C.V., and it was sort of like, who wanted me? Five clubs responded. Personally, I felt like one of the things that was lacking, but then I guess I knew I needed, was to improve my technical ability. I admire the passing game, I admire possession-style football, I feel like thatís where my qualities show the most. So when RSL contacted me I said, yíknow what, Iím really looking forward to this. I feel like I can do it with this club.
I went for a five-day trial, and here I am. That was at the beginning of July, and then the season started August 1.
Which were the five clubs that got back to you? Were Toronto or Vancouver among the teams that expressed interest?
Iíd wanted to go to Toronto or Vancouver more than any of the other ones because they are Canadian. If they had responded Ė which they didnít, unfortunately Ė they would have been first on the list, especially Vancouver, since itís in British Columbia. Iíve got family in the lower mainland. But they hadnít responded, which was too bad, since that probably would have given me a lot more exposure.
The five clubs that did answer were L.A., New York, Chicago, San Jose and RSL.
Was it the nature of the academy at Casa Grande that sealed the deal for RSL?
Honestly, I didnít know much about any of them. When I first found out the news, in the last month of my time at Bolton, that they had responded, I didnít realize they had the residential academy. I only found that out after a couple emails.
The biggest thing I knew about RSL that cemented my decision was that they play possession football and that theyíve been successful in the past. This is only their second year as an academy, so itís new.
What has the experience been like with the RSL Academy, as compared to your experiences overseas?
This place is unique, because itís the only residential academy in the U.S. In Europe these are quite prevalent; I was with a family. In Europe you have residential academies. I was already away from home, andÖ this place is great, because itís really in the middle of nowhere. Itís an hour outside of Phoenix, almost.
It allows you to just go to school, come home, train, focus, and have nothing else but football on your mind Ė and thatís exactly what I wanted. Some people find it to be boring or no life, but for me it is a dream, because all I want to do is play football, all day, every day.
Did you perceive that joining a team in MLS would give you the best chance to make a first team as soon as possible?
It wasnít necessarily aboutÖ Itís quite hard to get into England, especially if youíre not part of the EU. So visas and all that was quite difficult. Just me getting into the country and playing there was something that I knew might have to wait until later. The program here kind of allows for players at the under-18 level to go to reserves. If I did get an opportunity to play with the first team I definitely look forward to it.
But I think it was a step where, perhaps, I wanted to finish my education and start here. Maybe I might return to Europe, who knows. But for now Iím going to just try my best and focus on getting my 10,000 hours. Iím at 5,000, 6,000 now Ė keep working at it and weíll see what I do later on.
So what are your long-term goals as a soccer player?
I want to play professionally, anywhere that has possession-style football. Being close to home is really irrelevant since Iíll make home wherever I go. I just want to play professionally for whatever club requires my services, and Iím going to work as hard as I can to make my dream come true.
Have you been in contact with the Canadian Soccer Association at all?
Because Iíve been gone so long, Iíve never played for a provincial team or a national team. I watch all the games, I watched the whole U17 World Cup. I admire the new staff, and I hope they can qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Itís very exciting.
When I was at Bolton, my coach said that a national-team member had contacted him about me and wanted the C.V. or wanted information about me. But that never amounted to anything. So Iíve never played for (Canada at) any standard. I gave them my C.V. and never heard back.
Is representing Canada on the international stage something that you would consider doing, if the opportunity presented itself?
For sure. Anyone who knows me as a person, Iím a very proud Canadian. As we speak, I have a huge Canadian flag on the wall. If I ever got the chance to represent Canada and make my country proud, I would be honoured. If I get my shot, I intend to make my country proud, and Iím very excited about that, some day.
In the U.S., and this academy league, I was hoping that my playing time would get recognition. But as of this year thereís been a rule made that international players canít play in the academy league until theyíre 18. I didnít know that before I came here; thatís pretty bad news. When I got here, theyíre like, ďweíve got lots of games, development games and friendlies set up for you, and then when you turn 18 you can play academy games, and once you get six games you can become a full-time player.Ē
Iím still eligible to play next year for this team, the younger category. But eventually, when I do get playing time, I hope that my performances will garner some attention from someone, and thatís all I can hope for.
How do you feel when you see academy kids Ė such as the academy graduates at TFC, or Luis Gil at RSL Ė making an impact with the first team?
I think itís great. Theyíve obviously had a shot, theyíve worked hard and theyíre making the best of it. When I see clubs like that giving youth an opportunityÖ obviously when you see Luis on the field, you think, ďThat could be me, if I work hard enough.Ē You realize that anythingís possible.
Did you ever cross paths with Luis within the RSL system?
Iíve never played with Luis. Apparently, the team last year, he came to a couple of tournaments with them. Iím friends with him on Facebook. Iíve heard that heís an exceptional player.
Youíre about the same age that MLS is. Did you follow MLS, or were you aware of the league, when you were a kid?
When I was young, I always knew what MLS was. I always knew about the Whitecaps, because they would do camps. They were always a club that I knew about. But the MLS as a whole, the league? When I was in Europe, they werenít really on TV, because of the times and stuff like that. But in the last four or five years, when I started really noticing it more and watching more gamesÖ I mean, this year, itís a huge part of my life. Itís only getting bigger.
(Interview conducted prior to MLS Cup) Do you have a favourite in the MLS Cup?
Itís such a tough one, to be honest. I think L.A. will take it, just because it may be Beckhamís last year, and it just seems like it would be terrific for them to take it. Itís going to definitely be a feisty contest.
From your perspective, what has his impact on the league been?
Heís such a player. Heís had a couple of biographies, Iíve read them all. Heís an icon. Bringing him to MLS was a huge step, one that I think was ingenious, personally. He sells jerseys; he plays exceptionally well. Lots of players you see will be talented and, especially at my level, you see talented players that donít take advantage of it.
He wasnít the most talented, he strove to make something better of himself, create that spectacular right foot that we all know. Personally, heís been a good role model for me. Bringing him to MLS definitely brought a lot more exposure not just in North America but, I think, in Europe as well.
Youíre obviously a young player yourself, with the bulk of your career ahead of you. But if you were to offer advice to young Canadian kids playing the game, what would it be?
My personal advice would be never, ever give up. So many people Ė so many people Ė will tell you, ďYíknow what, youíre probably not going to do it, youíre from a small town, youíre not very good.Ē Everyoneís going to tell you that. You should never believe them. Always believe in yourself, and realize that football is a lonely sport.
But as long as you stay true to yourself Ö youíve got to always believe in your dream. Never stop. Never give up.
Portions of this interview have been edited for brevity, clarity and flow.