TJ Tahid to fulfill a dream that started with Luis Suarez

One of the legendary games that most football fans can remember from any World Cup is the quarterfinal match between Uruguay and Ghana in South Africa 2010. In the last minute of extra time, Ghana was awarded a penalty kick after Uruguayan striker, Luis Suarez, stopped the ball with his hand on the goal line. If Ghana scored, they would have been the first African team in history, up until then, to qualify for the semifinals and it would have happened at the first Men’s World Cup ever played in Africa. While that amount of pressure seemed to be too much for Ghanaian midfielder Asamoah Gyan, who missed from the 12-yard spot, a three-year-old African-Canadian named TJ Tahid dreamed of having that ‘make-or-break’ responsibility.

“I wish I was the one taking that pen,” Tahid recalls thinking when he was watching the match with his father, a former Ghanaian track athlete. Now, the 16-year-old Vancouver FC midfielder is so close to fulfilling his dream of playing on the biggest stage, the U-17 FIFA Men’s World Cup, in Indonesia this December. Tahid will join the Canadian squad for their final preparation camp this November in Indonesia before the final 21-man World Cup roster is selected.

TJ Tahid in action at one of the preparation games in Brazil (Beau Chevalier / Vancouver FC)

At the end of September and beginning of October this year, Canada competed in an international two-match series against Brazil in Sao Paulo as preparation for the biennial tournament. The series was Tahid’s first call up for Canada where he made appearances in both the friendlies against the South American squad. “The anthem is very big. Once it starts playing, once we start singing, it’s just a different feeling,” recalls Tahid about playing for “Les Rouges” for the first time. “You feel very united with the rest of the team and it almost feels like you’re going to war to win the battle.”

So far, 2023 has been a year that continues to surprise everyone, including Tahid himself. One year ago, the goal for the young athlete was to land a developmental contract with Vancouver FC through open trials. Little by little, Tahid got stronger and more confident as he was accomplishing nearly everything he was setting his sights on.

(Beau Chevalier / Vancouver FC)

Not only was Tahid ticking off most of the boxes on his list, he was doing it in historic fashion. The native of Maple Ridge set Canadian Premier League (CPL) records for being the youngest player to ever sign a contract, youngest to receive CPL minutes, and youngest goalscorer. The cherry on top came towards the end of the season when Tahid found out that he had the possibility of representing Canada in the U-17 FIFA World Cup.

“[Knowing about the World Cup] gave me another motivation, both with [Vancouver FC] and then to represent my country,” says Tahid. “It’s an extraordinary feeling. It’s hard to put into words.”

Right after the announcement of his first international call-up, Tahid scored a game-winning volley shot that gave Vancouver all three points in their last visit to Valour FC. Tahid closed his inaugural professional season as a VFC Eagle with three goals, in 554 minutes played across 20 appearances. While these numbers are pretty impressive for a 16-year-old from Maple Ridge, Tahid has one more historic accomplishment he’s set his sights on.

TJ Tahid celebrating his goal with Min-jae Kwak (Beau Chevalier / Vancouver FC)

“Going into the U-17 World Cup knowing Canada hasn’t won any matches in the tournament is a big motivation for us to make even more history,” states Tahid. “Knowing there are other milestones ahead of me, I’ll work even harder towards those.”

Still a teenager, Tahid barely has time to think about anything outside of school and football. He doesn’t picture himself as a player who could impact the lives of other kids but at the same time, he is aware of the importance the World Cup has. So who knows, maybe if Tahid helps Canada get their first-ever victory in the tournament, other kids will remember that moment as the spark that set their own dream in motion. “I would say [World Cups are] the biggest and best event ever because of how much it brings people together.

“Everyone’s so passionate, happy when they win, cry when they lose. But it’s just a lot of togetherness [that makes it special].”

The World Cup kicks off on Friday, November 10th for Canada when they take on their first Group B opponent, Spain. Canada will also face Uzbekistan on Monday, November 13th followed by Mali on Thursday, November 16th. Canada must finish first or second in Group B or be one of the four best teams among those ranked third to qualify for the round of 16.

Fans can follow Tahid and Canada’s World Cup journey on all the digital platforms using the hashtag #canm17.

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