TORONTO — Nik Ledgerwood went to Europe in 2003 in search of soccer employment. He was 18, excited and a little scared.
"It was all those kind of emotions. You didn’t know what to expect going there," he recalled. "To be on trial, if you speak to any player, it’s a weird, uncomfortable experience. You have to fit into this team atmosphere, you don’t know any of the players or the coach. You don’t speak the language."
The 33-year-old Ledgerwood ended up playing more than dozen years in Germany and Sweden before returning to his native Alberta.
Now, as one of the Canadian Premier League’s first signings, the defensive midfielder who has won 50 caps for Canada is looking to help others start their careers at home. Joining Calgary’s Cavalry FC is more than a job for him.
"I think people are going to underestimate how big of an impact this league will have on soccer in Canada — for the youth growing up, for all that next generation of players who want to aspire to be part of the national team and play professional soccer," said Ledgerwood, a native of Lethbridge.
"Once this gets up and running, I think it will be the next biggest thing for Canadian soccer players because we didn’t have anything before."
The CPL, set to kick off in April with seven founding clubs, announced the signing of Ledgerwood and nine other players Thursday. The league has already held a U-Sports draft, giving top collegiate talent the chance to make its squads.
Ledgerwood will be joined at Calvary FC by midfielder Sergio Camargo, a former Toronto FC homegrown player.
Midfielder Kyle Bekker, who has MLS experience with Toronto, Montreal and Dallas as well as 18 Canadian caps, and forward Chris Nanco, a former Philadelphia Union draft pick, are headed to Hamilton as Forge FC’s first signings.
Both came up through the Sigma FC system, so are well-known to coach Forge FC head coach and Sigma co-founder Bobby Smyrniotis.
Centre back Skylar Thomas, a former Toronto FC first-round draft pick, will wear the colours of Winnipeg’s Valour FC.
Defender Kadin Chung, a former member of the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program and Canada U-17 Male Player of the Year in 2015, is the first signing for Victoria’s Pacific FC.
Defender Zach Sukunda, a former member of the Montreal Impact academy who has played professionally in Sweden and Australia, will represent Halifax’s HFX Wanderers.
Speedy forward Randy Edwini-Bonsu, who has won 10 caps for Canada, and defender Allan Zebie are FC Edmonton’s first signings. Zebie played for Edmonton in the NASL while the speedy Edwini-Bonsu, a former member of the Whitecaps residency program, has spent most of his career in Germany.
Kyle Porter, a versatile fullback-winger who has seven caps for Canada, is York 9 FC’s first signing.
"This is just the beginning of creating a pathway for our homegrown players to develop and showcase their skills in front of passionate supporters," CPL commissioner David Clanachan said in a statement. "We are thrilled to attach this diverse group of players to our clubs to give our fans something to look forward to as we continue to build our rosters."