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

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Kristian Camero and Jessica Wood, seen here, co-own The Black Cauldron with Stephen Barton. The new Nelson restaurant opened earlier this month while indoor dining is restricted by the province. Photo: Tyler Harper
A restaurant opens in Nelson, and no one is allowed inside

The Black Cauldron opened while indoor dining is restricted in B.C.

These two city-owned houses on Railway Avenue in the Railtown district will be sold. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
City of Nelson will sell two derelict houses in Railtown

Purchasers will be responsible for demolition and slope stability issues

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read