It’s been just three years since Lucas Cavallini last played for Canada, but it may as well have been a lifetime ago.
The striker was only 19 years old when he was hastily summoned to join the national team mere days ahead of a do-or-die World Cup qualifier in Honduras on Oct. 16, 2012. A draw would have seen the team through to the Hexaganol. But by the time Cavallini entered the game in the 64th minute, that dream was already far out of reach. The score line as he stepped on the field was 6-0; it would end up 8-1.
Now, nearly three years to the day since his first and only appearance for the senior national team, Cavallini is back with Canada, preparing for a friendly against Ghana on Tuesday. And the 22-year-old, currently with Centro Atletico Fenix in the Uruguayan Primera Division, is looking forward to getting a fresh start.
“It’s great to be back,” Cavallini told MLSsoccer.com over the phone on Sunday. “I’m proud to be here, representing my country, to start from the beginning, to get us a spot in the World Cup 2018.”
Plenty has changed for both Cavallini and the Canadian national team since that infamous day in San Pedro Sula.
Cavallini blossomed into one of the top scorers in Uruguay last season while on loan with Fenix, before moving to the club on a full-time basis. At the same time, he was preparing to become a father. His daughter Brianna was born at the end of 2014, and Cavallini says that experience has helped shape him.
“[Fatherhood adds] a positive thing to my life; it’s affected me for the better, and motivated me to go forward in life, in soccer and my career,” he said.
“I’ve matured on the pitch and off the pitch. I think that from three years ago to now, I’ve totally become a better player, mentally and physically.”
That will come as good news to fans of a Canadian team that, during that same span, has struggled mightily to score goals on a regular basis. The composition of the team has also changed greatly; in addition to Cavallini’s return, the likes of Junior Hoilett, Fraser Aird and Wandrille Lefevre are all with the senior team for the first time.
Cavallini says that being part of that wave of incoming talent was another driving force behind his return to the national team scene.
“A lot of new faces, new players coming in; I know some of them personally and I’m happy to see them get their first call,” said Cavallini.
But while fans of Canada are similarly happy to see the Toronto-born target man come back to the program, there’s skepticism about why he hasn’t answered the call over the past three years. Specifically, a Spanish-language interview Cavallini did in Uruguay earlier this year – in which he appeared to suggest that he regretted being cap-tied to Canada back in 2012 – has rubbed some fans the wrong way.
Cavallini is unequivocal in his effort to set the record straight.
“I’ll make it clear: I never stated or said that I would not play for the team again,” he said. “Regretting playing for the team, I never said. I don’t know what the translation was there. Maybe someone translated that interview wrong; they got the wrong message, I guess.
“I get that the fans are mad. I would be mad as well, if one player that you’d really like to see on the team decided to not play anymore. But that’s soccer. I’m here now and there’s nothing else to say.”
He also insists that earning his first cap during “the 8-1 game” didn’t sour him on the idea of playing for Canada. Instead, it would appear that his absence has been largely circumstantial, as he acclimated to life in Uruguay and embarked upon a romantic relationship and, eventually, fatherhood.
These days, Cavallini is looking forward and says he’s excited about competing for a spot not just for the upcoming friendly, but for the next round of World Cup qualifying, beginning against Honduras at Vancouver’s BC Place on Nov. 13.
And though he’s only been with the team for a few days, he’s also getting excited about Canada’s prospects of doing what they were unable to do three years ago.
“I feel like we have a good chance of making it to the Hex and trying to fight for a spot in the World Cup,” said Cavallini. “Hopefully we make the fans happy and everything is successful on this journey.”