David Edgar set to return for Canadian team after lengthy injury absence


David Edgar, left, in action for Canada. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/CP)

David Edgar admits there were times during his time on the sidelines recovering from a knee injury when he thought he might not ever play again.

But the veteran Canadian defender never waivered in his desire to return to the pitch, even when he was at the low point of his recovery process.

“It never crossed my mind, even in the slightest, that I didn’t want to come back,” Edgar told Sportsnet.

Edgar, a 30-year-old native of Kitchener, Ont., tore the meniscus and the posterior and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee while on vacation in Arizona in December 2016. It was a cruel blow for Edgar, who signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps only a few months earlier after playing with a number of English teams, most notably Newcastle United. He ended up missing the entire 2017 MLS season, and he recently parted ways with the Whitecaps.

Currently without a club, Edgar is in Spain training with the Canadian national team ahead of its exhibition match against New Zealand on Saturday in Murcia. Not only is it John Herdman’s debut as Canadian coach, the game also marks the return of Edgar, who has 41 caps, to the national team for the first time since appearing in a 2-0 loss to South Korea on Nov. 11, 2016.

Ahead of Saturday’s contest, Edgar spoke one-on-one with Sportsnet about his time off, returning to the national team fold, his thoughts on Herdman, and leaving the Whitecaps.

SN: What’s your condition? How are you doing physically?
EDGAR: Really good. It may have come as a surprise to everyone when they first heard about the injury, but I’ve stayed positive all along and this was my aim, to be back and involved with Canada and playing football. This is the first step in continuing down the road of where I want to go. I have good days and bad days, but I have strict protocol in terms of how I look after my knee, so I’m feeling really good.

How does it feel to be back in camp with the Canadian national team after such a lengthy absence?
It’s tough to put into words. It’s been a long time in coming. I’ve watched all of their games and I’ve spoken to all the boys since I’ve been away. It just killed me watching [the 2017] Gold Cup. It’s a proud moment after everything I’ve been through with this injury.

John has called me in and we’ve had a good chat. He knows how much it means to me to play for Canada, so being back and involved is such an honour for me.

What was the year off like for you? What kind of mental challenge did it pose for you?
You should call my wife and ask her that. [Laughs] You know what? When I look back, I think I handled it pretty well. Obviously, with anything in life, something like that is going to take a toll on you, but especially as a professional athlete. Overall, I did a good job of keeping up my spirits. There were good days and bad days, and I understood it was never going to be a straight line from the bottom to the top in terms of recovery.

I learned a lot. I learned about myself, and I spent a lot of time with my family and my [four-year-old] daughter. You lose the soccer side of things but you gain in other ways. That being said, it was never completely off my mind.

How much strength did you draw from your family during your recovery?
A lot. My daughter use to put a bandage on her knee, and recline back on the couch with me. She’d get a little ice cube on her knee when I was icing my knee. [Laughs] She even wanted to get a set of crutches like her daddy. She was a good helper.

You mentioned before that you learned about yourself during your time off. Can you expand on that?
I learned a lot about the human body because this was my first, long-term injury. I learned a lot about the body, and how my body works – what I needed to do to make my body work at 100 per cent each day and about recovery. I took those things for granted when I was fit.

I have a whole new love for soccer. Not that I ever fell out of love with it, but it was reignited. I’m telling the guys [in this Canadian camp], don’t ever take for granted training each day, because once that’s taken away from you, it makes life very hard.

I learned how strong I was, in terms of coming back from this. I don’t think many people gave me a real chance, and in my head, there were days when I thought it wasn’t going to happen. But I learned how mentally strong I can be.

That’s interesting. So, there were times during your time off when you doubted that you’d be able to come back. But did you ever think to yourself, ‘Do I even want to come back’?
I did think that I might not be able to come back, but it never crossed my mind, even in the slightest, that I didn’t want to come back. It actually made me more determined to come back. Soccer is all I have ever known; it’s who I am. I just wanted to play again.

Do you ever go back to that day of the accident and replay what happened in your head?
I do, yeah. I try not. I’m looking forward. Someone once told me that your rehab doesn’t start until you can start looking forward, so I’ve packed away [the accident] in the back of my mind. But I still think about it. You can regret going on that trip or getting on that golf cart, but it’s done. It was a bitter pill to swallow because it didn’t happen on the field, but it happened, and I just have to get on with it.

What led to your recent parting of the ways with the Vancouver Whitecaps?
I came back with the intention of signing [with Vancouver]; I just needed to prove to them that my knee was good and that I was fully fit. They wanted to sign me, but they just didn’t seem to have the roster room for me, so we had to make the decision to move on. It came to a point where I had to move on. It’s unfortunate as I would have liked to have stayed and I know they wanted to keep me. They just didn’t have the roster space. But that’s football.

What’s next for you? Are you talking to any other teams, either here in North America or abroad?
I have a few things I’m looking at. I just want to play football. My wife and I have a new baby due in a few weeks, so it has to be right for my family and I. I want to play football. There’s plenty of life left in me, I want to play for Canada and I want to get to a World Cup.

What’s your early impressions of John Herdman as Canadian coach?
He’s meticulous, very organized. He’s an extremely hard worker, and he’s putting absolutely everything he’s got into leading this men’s team to a World Cup. [The coaching change] caught a lot of people by surprise but I wasn’t shocked by John’s appointment. What he did for the women’s program, it speaks for itself. As a group, it’s happened before to us where a coach leaves and there’s a changing of the guard. It means that all the players come in with a clean slate and you have to earn the right to play for Canada again.

John has come in and set out his clear vision for the team. That’s massive for us a group; we have a clear vision and a distinct set of principles as players and men off the field. It’s almost a code of conduct, and I think it’s something we desperately needed.

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