By Daniel Fernandes, special to sportsnet.ca
Toronto-born Steven Vitoria, who has represented Portugal at the under-20 level, is reconsidering his international status with regards to playing for Canada’s national senior team.
“I always leave the doors open for my career. It’s true that I am out of the country but I don’t forget where I was born,” Vitoria told Sportsnet.
Despite turning out for Portugal at youth level, Vitoria could still play for Canada under FIFA international eligibility rules, as he has yet to be officially capped by the Portuguese senior team.
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Vitoria, 25, has been turning heads in the Portuguese Primeira Liga this season with Estoril and is widely regarded as one of the best central defenders not playing for “the Big Four” — Benfica, FC Porto, Braga and Sporting Lisbon.
Canadian coach Stephen Hart admits that Vitoria is a player of interest and even invited Vitoria to train with the Canadian team back in 2011.
“We invited Steven to a training camp in Turkey just before our World Cup campaign got underway. He declined and we left it at that,” Hart said.
Vitoria admits that his club career remains his number one priority at the moment, but with his chances of being called up by Portugal fading, he’s expressed interest in playing for his birth nation.
“I would never rule out playing for Canada,” Vitoria stated.
Vitoria was born in Toronto but moved to Portugal at a young age, and signed his first pro contract with FC Porto. His displays with Porto’s youth team saw him earn a surprise call-up by Portugal for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, a team that also featured Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao and Rui Patricio, Portugal’s current first-choice goalkeeper.
Following that tournament, where he made one appearance, Vitoria’s club career took several twists and turns which saw him go out on loan to three different lower division clubs before eventually rescinding his contract with FC Porto and signing on with Estoril in 2010.
It’s been at Estoril where the speedy centre back was able to play regular first-team soccer and quickly became a standout performer. His seven goals in 27 matches during 2011-12 (second highest tally on the team) helped Estoril return to the Portuguese top-flight for the first time in six years.
Vitoria, who was named Portuguese Second Division Player of the Year last season, already has two goals in his first two games in Portugal’s topflight this season, and has reportedly attracted interest from Braga and Spanish outfit Deportivo La Coruna. Scouts from both clubs watched Vitoria during Estoril’s 1-1 draw with Pacos Ferreira on Aug. 26, a match where Vitoria scored but was also red carded.
Estoril coach Marco Silva is fully aware of the interest in his Canadian defender by bigger clubs but considers him indispensable.
“Steven has a bright future ahead of him, but he is also a key member of this club and we hope he will continue to grow as a professional here,” Silva stated.
Not only is Vitoria a key component on the Estoril backline, he also has the knack for scoring goals, especially from the penalty spot. In fact he’s yet to miss one for Estoril with 11 goals from 11 penalty kick attempts, including two this season.
“It’s a tremendous responsibility, but I try and stay calm and hopefully they keep asking me to take them,” Vitoria jokingly told ‘A Bola’ sports daily in Portugal.
Vitoria also scored a hat-trick last season for Estoril and had three two-goal games as well.
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