Commentary: Junior Hoilett commits to Canada, but World Cup qualifying will dictate his reception

Junior Hoilett, Queen's Park Rangers (Aug. 25, 2012)

For nearly a decade, the same question has cropped up time and time again: When is Junior Hoilett going to play for Canada?

It appears that we finally have an answer: In a friendly against Ghana on Oct. 13, 2015.

Rumors began circulating last week that the long-time national team holdout would finally be ready to commit some time in the near future. Then, on Wednesday, two days before the planned roster release for that Ghana friendly, the Canadian Soccer Association unexpectedly put out an early-morning teaser video on Twitter, then dropped the official news shortly thereafter.

The 25-year-old Queens Park Rangers winger, born in Brampton, Ontario, has been a subject of fascination for Canadian fans ever since he joined the youth ranks of Blackburn Rovers as a teenager back in 2003. Once he became a regular contributor in England, first for Rovers and then for QPR, the attention became more persistent and pointed.

But despite having a younger brother, Jaineil, who’s been involved with Canadian youth teams, and despite heading back to southern Ontario on numerous occasions for soccer activities, the elder Hoilett has never represented the Canadian national team at any level.

As the years went on, the speculation grew. Junior was (and still is) eligible to play for Jamaica, and several years ago, the idea began floating that he was waiting for eventual interest from England. Many have mused about what level of influence his Jamaican-born father, David Hoilett Sr., who is also his agent, may have had over his international ambitions.

Some held firm to the idea that, perhaps, Junior (whose legal name is David Hoilett Jr.) was simply the rare player who had no interest in playing internationally. After all, unlike other players who’ve turned their back on the Canadian program, Junior Hoilett has never given interviews or appeared in the media proclaiming his allegiance to Canada.

But with the question of when (if ever) Hoilett would play for Canada answered at last, a new one emerges: Why now?

The naïve dreamer might suggest that Junior woke up one morning earlier this month, chugged a bottle of maple syrup and had a sudden, unprecedented swell of nationalistic pride and desire to help the team advance in World Cup qualifying. Canada begin the semifinal round against Honduras at BC Place on Nov. 13.

The cynic would suggest that Hoilett, being out of favor at QPR, is using the Canadian national team as a means to earn a contract somewhere (possibly Schalke) and that, once he’s established at a new club, we’ll go back to hearing nothing but silence from him.

Nonetheless, Hoilett remains a polarizing figure in Canadian soccer circles. For a team that’s struggled to create dangerous scoring opportunities, the addition of a crafty player like Hoilett is undoubtedly a boost. And if your main interest is in seeing the Canadian team win meaningful games, then adding Hoilett at this juncture in World Cup qualifying can only be seen as a very positive development.

But then, this isn’t the first World Cup qualifying campaign in which Canada needed goal-scoring help. Could Hoilett have made the difference in the team’s 2014 qualification campaign, in which a single goal at home against Honduras would have been enough to see the team through to the Hex?

Unless anyone in the Canadian soccer community has a working TARDIS, we can never go back and know for sure. However, it is indisputable that at many moments over the past decade, the Canadian program and its fans have been clamoring for help—and Hoilett has not been there.

This ambivalence is likely not the reaction the CSA was hoping for when it decided to drop the Hoilett news. But the reality is that for many of the program’s most ardent supporters—who want nothing more than to see the team succeed on the field—the addition of a player who’s rebuffed national-team advances for 10 years can’t be met with uncritical celebration.

That, however, is the hardcores. For the majority of soccer fans in the country, the narrative is simply, “Junior Hoilett, who plays for QPR, is committing to Canada, a few months after Tesho Akindele did the same.”

Add in the fact that Fraser Aird will reportedly also be on Canada’s roster for the Ghana friendly and you’ve got three players with multiple allegiances choosing Canada so far in 2015.

That seems like some positive momentum. That seems like something that changes the equation for other players who are out there, sitting on the fence about whether the Canadian team is the right place for them to be—and not just current professionals, but youngsters who now get to fire up their copy of FIFA 16 and play as these players, wearing Canadian colors.

Of course, all of this off-field storytelling means very little if Canada can’t get the job done on Nov. 13 against Honduras. The addition of new players will certainly help boost the already-simmering excitement about that game at BC Place, but if the 11 to 14 men who represent Canada on that day can’t get full points, it may be all for naught.

Until that day comes, uncertainty will continue to swirl about Hoilett’s motivations and his capacity to help Canada succeed on the field. But what if, this time around, in front of a raucous red-and-white crowd, Hoilett plays a vital role in getting the team a much-needed win against the team that’s tripped them up so many times in the past?

Well, that might just help get everyone on the same page about this whole “Junior Hoilett playing for Canada” thing—including Junior himself.