Stephen Hoyle got a taste of Canada during a brief tryout with Toronto FC in 2013. Now the English striker is looking forward to settling in Winnipeg as Valour FC's first international signing.
Hoyle, 26, joins the Canadian Premier League club on a multi-year contract from New Zealand's Canterbury United for whom he has scored 31 goals in 54 games.
Hoyle had one season of football with Hawke's Bay in New Zealand under his belt when then-Toronto FC manager Ryan Nelsen, a former New Zealand captain, brought him in for a trial.
"I really loved the country straight away from what I saw of the city and the people," he said in a media conference call Tuesday. "It felt a lot like New Zealand to me."
At 20, Hoyle wasn't ready for the TFC first team. He spent some time with the Toronto Lynx of the PDL before returning to New Zealand after two months in Canada.
"Ever since then I really wanted to go back to Canada," he added.
Hoyle went on to play for New Zealand's WaiBOP United, Napier City Rovers and then Canterbury. With the advent of the CPL, which kicks off next April, he reached out via friend to Valour FC coach Rob Gale.
He had other offers — from Finland, Germany and South Africa — but said Gale won him over.
"If you've ever had a conversation with Rob Gale, you'll see that he's pretty infectious. I felt quite a good connection with him straight away, just his plans and what he wants to do and how he talks about football align with me and my values.
"It just seemed like a no-brainer to join Winnipeg and start this adventure."
In a club statement, Gale called Hoyle "a proven goal-scorer with a great work ethic to lead the line and has a natural instinct around goal."
Hoyle says he has most of his scoring success within the penalty box.
Hoyle started his career as part of England's Football Association Academy with his hometown club of Barnsley FC, before playing for the Doncaster Rovers youth team and the University of Stirling in Scotland.
The six-foot-two Hoyle, who started as a defender before moving to midfielder and then striker, was sold on a move to New Zealand by a coach he knew after being released by Doncaster.
He met a woman in New Zealand and decided to stay.
Off the playing field, Hoyle has helped run a youth soccer club with more than 1,000 members in Christchurch.
Hoyle will join the Winnipeg team after Canterbury's season. The seven-team CPL kicks off its inaugural season in April.
Valour FC had previously announcing the signing of centre back Skylar Thomas, a former Toronto FC first-round draft pick.
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