VANCOUVER, B.C. — Vancouver Whitecaps striker Lucas Cavallini left his home aged just 16 to follow his footballing dreams. It's been a journey that's taken him to Uruguay and Mexico, but now, 11 years into his career, Cavallini has returned to play his club soccer in his home country for the first time.
Born in Toronto to an Argentine father and a Canadian mother, while other Canadian kids were chasing their hockey dreams, soccer was the sport that captured Cavallini's heart.
"In my household, football was the most popular thing," Cavallini told MLSsoccer.com. "Every TV I had in my house had soccer on it. With my dad being from Argentina, he motivated us to play football. It didn't stop me living in Canada, where back in the day you didn't have that many opportunities to become a professional soccer player.
"But I knew I had to go abroad to chase my dreams. I never stopped. As a youth in Canada, I just stuck with it. I trained as hard as I could and tried to get as better [much] as I could, just so that I could have a good tryout down south, and that's where everything started."
For many Canadian kids, 'down south' means the US, where professional and college opportunities were far more forthcoming. For Cavallini though, his journey took him much further — to South America.
Perhaps surprisingly, he ended up in Uruguay, not his father's homeland of Argentina, where he ended up signing with the development squad of storied side Nacional.
"With Uruguay being a smaller country, and at the time security was a big problem in Argentina my dad thought it was better there," Cavallini explained. "I was 16 years old, by myself, so it was a better decision to go down to Uruguay.
"One of my coaches [in Canada] had a lot of contacts there and he was able to get me the chance to try out with Nacional in Montevideo and from then on I was on a good path. That's where everything started for me and it was a dream come true."
It wasn't to be easy for a young Canadian kid to go down there, impress and win over his coaches and teammates, cope with a new environment, the homesickness, and everything else that goes with such a move. Cavallini notes it was tough at times but he was driven by his dream, worked hard, and it all paid off when he signed a pro deal with the Nacional first team in 2012.
He would only make four appearances for the Montevideo giants in his four years there, with loan spells to Juventud and Fenix along the way. The goals came for the young striker though, earning him a new two-year deal with the latter, and that was where he stayed before he made the next major move of his career, signing for Nacional's bitter cross-city rivals Penarol.
And in a footballing hotbed of a country like Uruguay, such a move brought with it another testing time and a lot of hostility from rival fans.
"Obviously you have to go through that and it's not easy," Cavallini admits. "I didn't have too many problems. Once in a while on the streets you'd get cursed or something from other fans. 'Traitor, traitor' stuff like that. But you do anything for football.
"I needed to be in a better place to try and keep climbing stairs. I knew Penarol was even a bigger step for me, in order to go abroad and leave Uruguay eventually and have an even better career."
That experience was to serve Cavallini well for his next move as he left the passion of Uruguayan soccer for the arguably even more fervent atmosphere of Mexico with Liga MX side Puebla, first on loan and then on a permanent deal.
"As any professional soccer player, I wanted to play in Europe, but at the time that wasn't the case," Cavallini revealed. "I got the chance to go to Mexico and it was something that I didn't expect to happen but sometimes you can't time your own life.
"When I got there, woah, I didn't expect it to be so great. The Mexican league is so competitive, the fans are really passionate. It's like a mini-Europe. There's a lot of talented players. Players that have played around the word there. It's a good experience. I was happy with my decision and it's brought me to where I am now."
And that is Vancouver and Major League Soccer.
After more than a decade away, Cavallini has now returned home to Canada for familial and financial stability, ready to play his first every season on home soil as Vancouver Whitecaps' latest Designated Player.
He admits it's "kind of weird" to be back in Canada, but he's delighted to be back, and keen to show everyone what's he's learned in his time away and bring what he feels is an ideal South American style to the 'Caps and the league.
"I have a sort of a Latin American mentality when it comes to football," Cavallini said. "I don't think I'll change my mentality now. I'll look to bring what I've learned to MLS and make it a better place, make it a better league, as all the Latin American players are doing coming to this league, like Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez. They're shaping up the league to be something great."