It's every soccer player's dream to play for their country, and it's certainly true for SIGMA FC's Krisitan Lee-Him and Greg Ranjitsingh.
And while one day, the pair of standouts from SIGMA FC's A1 squad hope to wear the white and red with a Maple Leaf emblazoned on it, for now, their international aspirations lie in playing under another flag.
Lee-Him and Ranjitsingh have been called to the training camp of Trinidad's U20 national team. Both are of Trinidadian heritage, with strong family ties to the Caribbean country. It's an opportunity of a lifetime for both players, one they could not pass up.
The 17-year olds from Pickering, Ont. are in the final stages of tryouts for the Trinidad U20 squad. And in a strange twist of fate, the friends and teammates will find themselves on the pitch, opposite Canada in a friendly match during Trinidad's final selection camp that runs Feb. 4-12 in Miami.
During that camp, Trinidad will select its team for the CONCACAF U20 World Cup qualifying matches.
Lee-Him and Ranjitsingh participated in Trinidad's training camp held over two weeks during the Christmas break. The players were identified by scouts within the SIGMA FC network.
Ranjitsingh said that despite some initial nerves, they were accepted into the Trinidadian camp, that included several professionals from Europe, the MLS and players in the U.S. College ranks.
"At first, I was intimidated, being a foreigner in Trinidad," said Ranjitsingh, a goalkeeper. "But they were really welcoming and helped me out a lot. We had a lot in common and it was easy to adapt."
Lee-Him is an attacking minded midfielder, said that their training with SIGMA FC helped prepare them for their experience.
"The training was very similar to SIGMA actually," said Lee-Him, of the drills they encountered in training. "The coach is European, and he had similar training techniques to [SIGMA Technical Director] Bobby Smyrniotis.
"The coach said I fit in very well. I was surprised," said Lee-Him.
The team had two other goalkeepers in camp, so Ranjitsingh was able to test himself against the established keepers.
"I was very intimidated going in there, but the guys were really nice, I felt really welcomed when I got there. The style was just like SIGMA, very European," he said. "It was very easy for me to adapt to their training style. It was really good."
The two players also had to deal with an age difference. The bulk of the players in the camp were one-two years older than the Canadians.
"That is a big difference, size wise," said Lee-Him. "But they were welcoming. They shook your hand after every training, made sure you knew the drills properly, know what you are doing right, if you need help."
It's a daunting task for any player to gain experience at the international level, doubly so, when you have to face the country in which you live.
Still, the players wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, the pair is looking forward to facing former SIGMA teammate and current Canadian U20 national team player Jerome Baker.
It helps, says Lee-Him, to know that other players from the SIGMA training environment have also succeeded at the international stage.
"I feel like international soccer, that is your target. That is where you want to get," said Lee-Him. "You want to work hard like they did in training to get to their level, or exceed their level."
This is all pretty exciting stuff for Ranjitsingh, a first-year SIGMA player, who has excelled since joining the academy. He attributes his development to the structure and discipline of the SIGMA training environment.
"It's just playing at a higher level of soccer," said Ranjitsingh. "Before I didn't play with teams as organized as SIGMA. So coming to this environment helped me get better, helped me improve.
"There is a lot of discipline, I have gotten really disciplined since I came here. Even away from training. Getting used to that, even off the field, helps me be a better person as well."
Lee-Him and Ranjitsingh said that they have taken a much stronger interest in proper eating and off-field training the past year, and it has helped them improve their fitness and performance on the pitch.
Lee-Him as accepted a soccer scholarship to Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina for next season. Ranjitsingh is in talks with several schools and plans to continue his education next season.
For now though, the players' thoughts are on international soccer.
"It's great to play at the international level, to play on the world stage. Get myself noticed," said Ranjitsingh. "In the future I want to pursue education, get my degree, maybe pursue my opportunities overseas or the MLS."
Both players say the key to their success has been parental support.
"That's a big part of a child's development in soccer," said Lee-Him. "You need parents to support you. You see kids that drop out because they don't have the family support that me and Greg have, through the hard times and the good, financially and emotionally."
Ranjitsingh said that before he could have dreamed on an international soccer opportunity, he had to believe in himself.
"There have been times when I have felt that maybe I am not good enough to play at a higher level. My parents would speak to me, Coach Bobby would talk to me, sit me down and talk about keeping my head up, keep working hard," explained Ranjitsingh.
"Right now, I am very confident," he said.