Rise of Waterman
Just a few years ago the Aldergrove native was playing university soccer in Langley. This week, he will make his debut with Canada at the World Cup.
Joel Waterman got his start playing soccer in his hometown of Aldergrove when he was five years old. Tomorrow he will make his World Cup debut with Canada.
“I kind of blacked out when I found the news out from [coach John Herdman],” Waterman said Monday. “I was just speechless, very emotional.”
Just a few years ago Waterman was playing university soccer in Langley. He only started playing the sport professionally a couple years ago. And before this month, he had never played a game with the national team.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” he said. “I think it [has] happened quite fast. I’ve had to do a lot of adapting, moving, moving from city to city, and moving up level to level.”
The 26-year-old had just left the soccer pitch in Qatar Monday night when he spoke to The Current on the telephone. It was about 48 hours before Waterman would don a Canada jersey in the World Cup.
“[There’s] a little bit of nerves, obviously, but just mostly excitement for what’s to come and what we can do in this World Cup,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Waterman played his first game with Canada in an exhibition match against Bahrain. The next day, his phone rang. He was going to Qatar.
Waterman took a non-traditional route to the World Cup. In an interview after the final roster was announced, Canada coach John Herdman told TSN that his conversation with Waterman was particularly special.
Waterman, he said, “has been grinding now for four years. He’s been contributing in different ways in his own career to get him to this point.”
Waterman’s journey to the World Cup started at the Aldergrove Youth Soccer Club, where his mom was his first coach. Waterman played with the Langley United Soccer Association and Surrey United, before moving on to Langley’s Trinity Western University. He played five seasons at TWU. In his final season, in 2019, the Spartans finished fourth at the U SPORTS national championships. Waterman, the team’s captain and a centre-back at the core of the Spartan’s defense, was named a Canada West First Team All Star.
But he was still a long, long way from the World Cup. Most top professional players come through the youth ranks of major European leagues. Canadian university soccer is not seen as a route to soccer stardom.
In the spring of 2019, Waterman debuted with Calgary Cavalry FC, a team in the new Canada Premier League. Less than a year later, he was transferred to the Montréal Impact in the Major Soccer League, becoming the first CPL player to make the move. He was called up to train with Canada’s national team in early 2021. But until this month, he still hadn’t actually been called up to play a game for the squad.
“It is a real Canadian story,” Herdman told TSN. “To see the path that he took through the (Canadian Premier League), probably being told he wasn’t going to make it at certain levels and then rocking it this year with Montréal and being a massive part of what they did. To see him make his first cup and then get the call up, this is the stuff I love. It’s part of the job you dream of being able to tell a lad like that he’s going to the World Cup.”
Waterman got to deliver the news to his parents.
“When I called them, it was just so many emotions,” he told The Current. “I think they were crying. I was crying. They almost couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. It was still so surreal.”
Waterman has been training overseas with the men’s national team for a few weeks now. Canada faces off tomorrow against Belgium in its first World Cup match.
“From our side of things, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’re just going to stick to who we are and the new Canada that we are,” Waterman said. “We’re excited for the challenge ahead.”
The last and only time Canada played in the World Cup was in 1986. That was a decade before Waterman was born.
He said his time at TWU was particularly impactful.
“Going to school at Trinity Western was massive for my development,” he said. “Having that five years there really grounded me and made sure I was ready for these types of moments.”
Waterman’s family will also be taking in the historical moment. His parents, sister and girlfriend are travelling to Qatar to watch Waterman take to the pitch.
To represent Canada, Waterman said, is “the biggest honour an athlete can [have] for his country.”
But preparing for the pinnacle of his career has been no different for the defender than any other moment.
“I’m very excited for this team and what we can do. It really is a true brotherhood and something that John speaks about a lot. But for me, and where I come from, to be able to represent my amazing country that I love so very much, it’s a huge honour.
“It’s beyond anything I could have ever imagined.”
Canada is scheduled to play three games in the tournament’s group stage. They face Belgium Wednesday at 11am (Pacific Time); Croatia on Nov. 27 at 8am; and Morocco at 7am on Dec. 1. All games will be shown on CTV or TSN. For those without cable, games can be screened for a fee on TSN’s website.
After all four teams in Canada’s group play each other, the top two advance to the knockout stages of the tournament.
Join more than 30,000 other Fraser Valley residents by subscribing to our newsletter. Every weekday morning you’ll get a new feature story and other stories, news, and events from Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Mission and the rest of the valley. See a recent newsletter here.