HFX Wanderers FC attacker Akeem Garcia is being rewarded for an incredible Island Games performance. The 2020 Canadian Premier League Golden Boot winner has signed a two-year extension, with a club option for the 2023 season, after scoring six goals in the Wanderers' run to the CPL Finals. The Trinidadian forward, who was nominated for Player of the Year at Awards 2020, is currently tied for the most goals in CPL history (13). Although he broke out as a goalscorer in 2020, Garcia’s offensive ability was not a surprise this year; he scored seven goals in 24 games in 2019, leading the Wanderers and finishing seventh overall in the CPL after making his way from Trinidad & Tobago months before. Garcia chatted with CanPL.ca about his playing career, his experience in Halifax thus far and to share a few stories.
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Can you tell us a bit more about your journey in professional football? AG: Where it all started was at my school in secondary, I started gaining exposure and I realized I really want to be a professional soccer player. Then at 17, I signed my first professional contract with W Connection. I must say, they helped me a lot – that's when the Trinidad league was really [popular]. W Connection helped me a lot with getting experience; we played in Caribbean championships and Concacaf. After that, I had an ACL injury and I had to stop playing for [almost] two years. So after I came back [from the injury] I joined North East Stars and that's where I met Derek King (who would become an assistant coach with HFX). We won the league that year, then [King] left to join Santa Rosa so I also said, 'you know what, I'm going to play with Santa Rosa.' Then after that I signed with Halifax. What was it about Derek King that made you switch clubs? AG: We worked together at the national under-20 team. He and coach Stephen Hart gave me my first team international debut. His style of play, his coaching, it just suits me as a player. What he wants from his forwards and wingers, that's the type of player I am, I always moved with him. He's also just a really good person who attracts a lot of good players and they work hard for him. It was a no brainer to go to a club where he was coaching. In following Derek King to the Canadian Premier League, was there anything that scared you about joining a league in its first year of existence? AG: Yeah, because we didn't know what to expect – I didn't know what to expect. I'm from the Caribbean and to get an opportunity to play abroad [doesn't] come too often, so taking the opportunity was really a no-brainer. When I went [to Halifax] of course it was scary. We didn't know what to expect, we didn't know the league and the players. We didn't have any friends in Canada either. But it turned out well once games started playing. In 2019 you got called up to play for the Trinidad national team. Can you tell me about that experience? AG: Yeah, it's always a dream to play for your country. Someone once told me 'if you don't want to play for your country, why are you playing?' Playing for your country comes with a certain level of responsibility so I was ready to take that. At a very young age, I've represented my country at the under-17 and under-20 levels. Under-23 was where I got my ACL injury. For me, playing for my country was a real joy and I was happy for the club as well; getting that recognition. So it was a really positive and great feeling for me and in my career so far. What's the next goal for you in terms of your football career? AG: For me, I take it one season at a time. Football is a game and you never know where you're going to end up. I take it one step at a time; obviously, I know the place I want to be in but I take it one season at a time and hope for the best. If scoring is what I need to do [for my team] then I'll do that and help the team in any way. Now that you've had a taste of living abroad, how has that experience helped you learn more about yourself and what else you want out of life? AG: Of course, it taught me great responsibility. I'm from a family where they do everything for me. It was new to have a roommate abroad and it just matured me in a way I've never seen myself before. When I came [to Halifax] I couldn't cook; I had to learn to cook and do things on my own. It was a big change for me but I'm good now. How much does your lifestyle in Halifax differ from when you're back home? AG: In the Caribbean it's different, you never get time to do anything — you know, there's always someone around. That's our culture, you always have someone around, always have someone to talk to and laugh with and it's really nice for me when I come home everyone wants to see me and they're all happy that I'm home. So you know, they're always around me. It's not like Canada how you live there and there's some peace and quiet, but in Trinidad, it's just noisy. A lot of your teammates say they have a close relationship with you. Could you talk a bit about relationships and why this is important for you? AG: For me it's all about creating a brotherhood. We're brothers on and off the field and I try to show everyone that off the field if you need anything or stuff like that, we make it as comfortable as possible with no drama. I reach out and see how they are doing and to win the title, it's not only on the field, you have to fight for each other off the field as well. When it comes to the community in Halifax it feels like the fans have a good relationship with the players. I know you even gave your boots to a young player. Do you have any fans in particular that keep in touch with you? AG: The fans are really cool. There's one fan that always messages me and says I'm his favourite player and wishes me good luck before every game. For me that's what it's all about, as I said where [Andre Rampersad] and I are from, we wish when we were younger that a player would give us a pair of boots — of course I was lucky enough to have a family that would buy whatever I need. But you always want to [look up to someone] who motivates you, so for me I will always do stuff like that. You had the chance to live with Alex Marshall during The Island Games. We saw your connection on the pitch but how was your relationship off the field? AG: It was a really smooth relationship. We're both from the Caribbean so similar things happen and we could always have a laugh and talk. Everyone likes banter [in the Caribbean] so it was easy to communicate with him. He came in late so I had to try and make him feel at home, because I knew we had a tournament. We have a really good friendship and that's just how we were. Going into these next couple of years with the Wanderers, what can we expect from Akeem Garcia? AG: I've grown with this league and I've gained more experience. With the right team, I think this year we can reach the finals [again]. From me I think you can expect the same thing; I'm hungry to score more, it's not done and I'm not done, there's still more to do. This isn't a stopping point for me so I want to keep going and help my team in any way and just go for it every day. Hopefully, I get a Golden Boot again next year; there are still more goals to come and I will try to be as consistent as I can.