FC Edmonton defender Mallan Roberts and Vancouver Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks
USA Today Sports

CanMNT newcomer Mallan Roberts "thankful and grateful" after first national-team call-up

It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet for Mallan Roberts, but it’s the truth – he is a member of the Canadian men’s national team.

The 23-year-old central defender for FC Edmonton (above, left) was a late addition to the Canadian squad that will face Dominica in a pair of World Cup qualifiers on June 11 and 16. The move came as a surprise to some – including Roberts himself, who got the news from Eddies head coach Colin Miller after the team’s game in Tampa on Saturday.

“He didn’t really give me a chance to get a breath after the game,” Roberts told MLSsoccer.com over the phone on Wednesday. “Right after the game, he told me, ‘Pack your stuff up, you’re leaving in the morning.’ But I’m very excited and very thankful and grateful for the opportunity.”

Miller – who was Canada’s interim head coach in 2013, before Benito Floro was hired on as full-time manager – had a hand in the whole process.

“I was talking with Colin [about Roberts],” Floro told reporters earlier this week. “He offered me a very good impression about the possibilities of Roberts to play with us.”

Roberts, who replaced the injured Dejan Jakovic on the roster, has no prior experience with the Canadian program at the senior or youth level. But after several days of training with head coach Benito Floro’s team in Orlando (prior to heading to Dominica), Roberts was reveling in the new experience.

“I’ve never been in an environment like this before,” he said. “I’m definitely trying to learn as much as I can, and take in as much as I can from the senior guys.”

Roberts was born in Sierra Leone, but moved to Edmonton with his father and attended high school in the Alberta capital. He signed his first professional contract with the local NASL side in early 2013, and has made 32 appearances since then.

The Canadian team has been in contact with Roberts over the years, but he was ineligible to represent them until he received his full citizenship. That finally came on Feb. 15 of this year, opening the door for this month’s call-up.

“In honesty, it hasn’t even clicked in yet,” Roberts said of his Canada call-up. “In a way, it kind of seems surreal.”

Roberts normally provides a physical presence in the middle of the defense, but Floro suggested he could test the FC Edmonton man at other positions, including fullback. Floro has recently been using natural center back Doneil Henry on the right side of defense; with Henry injured, Roberts – who said he was shifted outside for part of the team’s training sessions – could fill that role.

The newcomer says the shift didn’t worry him at all.

“I felt comfortable because the guys around me were giving me all the support I needed,” said Roberts. “It was a good environment, nothing out of my comfort zone.”

With Roberts getting the late call, Floro’s squad – for the first time ever – has representation from all of Canada’s three MLS teams and its two NASL teams. For a hometown hero like Roberts, that’s made a big moment in his career all the more special.

“I’m very proud, not just being from FC Edmonton but also being from the NASL,” he said.