While amateur soccer play in the qathet region has ground to a halt for the summer, Duncan McDonald continues to practice intensely to be part of Canada’s Para Soccer National Team.
Squeezing in time each week on the pitch with Drew Ferguson, the national para soccer team coach and Powell River Sports Hall of Fame member who lives here, McDonald is working to stay fit to represent the county in para sports.
According to the national para soccer Facebook page, a player must have one of the three criteria that qualifies them to play seven-a-side para soccer for Canada. The three criteria are: mild cerebral palsy, recovering from stroke, or having an acquired head injury. The player must be of a high standard of soccer and dedicated to the program and his country, the post states.
McDonald has been playing for the para soccer team since he was 16. His first tournament was in Denmark in 2016. He is now 21.
“We just had a tournament in Spain, in Barcelona, and I’m always playing, always trying to get better,” said McDonald. “I’m working hard on skills and fitness by practising hard through the summer.”
McDonald said in seven-a-side para soccer, he plays the centre-mid field position or the wing, and sometimes, at one of the fullback positions, but he’s predominantly a midfielder.
“That’s definitely where I’m most comfortable,” added McDonald. “When I play 11-a-side, I’m usually centre-mid so that’s what feels most natural.”
McDonald, who is studying business management at British Columbia Institute of Technology, plays club soccer with Real Burnaby FC. He joined that team midway through last season, which will start up again in September. The club is currently positioned in the third division of the Burnaby Mens Soccer League.
“It’s a competitive division, for sure,” said McDonald. “We missed out on promotion last season, so this season, hopefully, we’ll get back to division two, but it’s super competitive and it’s super fun playing with the guys.”
McDonald started playing soccer locally when he was three years old, so basically, “for my whole life.”
In terms of playing with a national team, McDonald said he enjoys the travel, which is “unbelievable,” and he meeting the people associated with soccer. He said his team is comprised of a bunch of “super-great personalities” and he’s having a “super-fun time.”
He also enjoys playing against competitors from other countries who are just like himself, knowing that he’s not alone with a disability.
Representing Canada is also high on McDonald’s list of benefits of playing on a national team.
“It’s a huge honour and a huge privilege,” said McDonald.
In terms of getting together with his teammates on the national team to practice, McDonald said Canada is a difficult country compared to many European countries because of its size.
“We don’t get to meet with everyone that often but when we do, we try to get the most out of it,” added McDonald. “The group we have now is really tight and we are really close. It doesn’t take a lot of time to get us working functionally.
“But, the more camps we can have, the better. Last tournament, we did well, even though we were meeting sporadically. Hopefully, we can carry on more regularly.”
In terms of the team’s performance in Barcelona, Canada came ninth out of 15 teams. Playing world-class players from other regions is remarkable, added McDonald.
He has summer employment here and will be spending as much time as possible on the pitch between now and when he returns to the Lower Mainland at the end of August.
“I plan on being in good shape when league soccer resumes in September,” said McDonald. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than getting out and playing regularly.”
Ferguson said McDonald is a “good kid with a good attitude.”
“There’s something about the para program that brings the team close,” said Ferguson. “They hardly go anywhere without each other and the older ones look after the younger ones.
“Duncan is a regular starter in our program. He’s not along for a ride. He’s got a great, long future ahead of him. He’s only 21 so he could play until he’s 35 or 40 years old if he wishes. He has a chance to represent his country many times.”
In terms of his own activity with the para soccer team, Ferguson said he plans on doing a number of recruiting trips; he is always looking for new players. He added that the Parapan American Games are in Chile in November 2023, so the national team will likely begin practice in earnest next April.
Ferguson has been coaching the para team since 2005. He said there are 86 countries involved, with Canada being ranked 12, currently, but hopefully, the team will move up to nine or 10 at the end of the year.
“The level is very high,” he added, “and for us to be where we are in the world is good.”