Justin Springer calls Guelph, Ont., home but proudly wears the international colours of St. Kitts & Nevis.
Even when Canada is the opponent.
CONCACAF Nations League qualifying play took the 76th-ranked Canadian men to Basseterre on Sunday to face No. 133 St. Kitts. That meant a date with some familiar faces for Springer.
“(It’s) definitely something that’s on your mind but when it comes to match day and match time, you can’t really think about all that,” Springer said Sunday on the eve of the game. “All I can really focus on is the game at hand.
“Definitely in the leadup, I recognize I live in Canada and everything like that but at the end of the day I’m here to represent St. Kitts and I’m going to try and do that to the best of my ability … I’m definitely blessed and definitely very fortunate to be consistently called to represent my country. That’s a big honour.”
The former University of Guelph captain isn’t the only Canadian member of the Sugar Boys. Alain Sargeant spent time at the Toronto FC academy in his home town while fellow defender Nile Walwyn hails from Mississauga, Ont.
Springer’s father was born in St. Kitts. Justin visited family there regularly and became part of the St. Kitts setup as part of Mexican coach Jacques Passy’s global recruitment plan.
“Our head coach and our coaching staff have done an amazing job scouting talent all over the world,” said Springer, who grew up in Burlington, Ont. “Not only in Canada but also in the U.K. We have a large number of U.K.-based players that are playing in very competitive leagues over there.”
St. Kitts has profited as a result. Springer’s team stood seventh in the CONCACAF Nations League qualifying standings going into Sunday’s game after wins of 1-0 over Puerto Rico and 10-0 over Saint Martin.
The Sugar Boys are hoping to finish in the top 10, which would qualify them for the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time.
Anthony Johnson, president of the St. Kitts and Nevis Football Association, called Sunday’s game “the most important match in the history of St. Kitts Nevis football.”
Canada, like St. Kitts with a game in hand, was fifth going into the game after drubbing the U.S. Virgin Islands 8-0 and Dominica 5-0. Its goal is to finish in the top six, which would qualify the team for the top tier of CONCACAF Nations League play next year as well as the Gold Cup.
Springer was playing for K-W United in the Premier Development League when one of Passy’s assistant coaches flew in to see him play in a game in Cincinnati. Springer was invited to camp and made his debut in 2016 in a friendly against Nicaragua.
Since then the 25-year-old has won a dozen more caps, visiting Armenia, the Dominican Republic, Georgia and India in the process.
His passion for St. Kitts runs deep.
“This is an island that’s definitely very close to home to me … definitely close to the heart,” he said.
The six-foot-three defender was a five-time OUA all-star and named a second team All-Canadian prior to leading Guelph to a 3-0 win over Cape Breton in the U Sports bronze-medal game in his university finale in November 2016.
He represented Canada at the 2015 Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea.
“It definitely prepped me very well for what we play now … That was a great experience.” he said, noting that many countries sent strong teams in the leadup to the 2016 Olympics.
He also spent some three months with Toronto FC 2 on trial, training with Canadian internationals Jay Chapman and Liam Fraser.
Today Springer is an assistant coach with the Gryphons and serves as technical manager of Guelph Soccer, a local club with some 4,000 members. Like Sargeant, he played for Vaughan Azzurri in League 1 Ontario this summer.
He hopes the Canadian Premier League will be in his future. Former Guelph teammate Jace Kotsopoulos went third overall to Hamilton’s Forge FC in the recent U Sport-CPL draft.