By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on January 31, 2024.
The Canadian Premier League is proving you really can come home, even if you wear cleats for a living.
After spending last year playing in England and Ireland, David Norman Jr. is back on familiar turf. He has signed a two-year deal with Vancouver FC, becoming the latest in a stream of B.C. players to join the second-year franchise.
The 25-year-old defender was born in New Westminster and grew up in Coquitlam. He is now making his home in Langley, home to Vancouver FC’s Willoughby Community Park stadium.
“It has taken some time, but we have finally succeeded in returning David Norman to his home,” Vancouver head coach Afshin Ghotbi said in a statement. “David is tactical, comfortable on the ball, possesses a winning mentality, and will bring stability and consistency to our backline. His maturity both on and off the field will help our transition from an expansion club to a contention team.”
Norman, going into his eighth year as a pro, had been monitoring Vancouver FC from afar.
“To see a professional team right in my community was very exciting to watch,” he said in an interview. “Obviously last year I had some great opportunities abroad but when I had a chance to come back and sign for Vancouver FC “¦ it was an opportunity that pretty hard for me to pass up.”
A former midfielder now operating as a left-sided centre back, Norman helped Northampton Town win promotion to England’s third tier last year before moving to Ireland where he stared for St. Patrick’s Athletic in its FAI Cup final win over Bohemians before 43,000-plus at Aviva Field in Dublin.
Norman has a football pedigree.
His grandfather founded Coquitlam Metro-Ford SC. And his father, David Norman Sr., played for the Vancouver Whitecaps and 86ers and was part of Canada’s team at the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
Norman Sr. won 49 caps for Canada from 1983 to 1994.
Norman Jr. joined the Whitecaps youth system in 2007 at the age of nine, working his way up the ranks. After a year at Oregon State University, he signing with Whitecaps FC 2 of the USL. In December 2017, he signed an MLS homegrown player contract with the first team.
The Whitecaps loaned him to Scotland’s Queen of the South in September 2018 and then traded him to Inter Miami in September 2019 in exchange for a conditional pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft.
Norman finished out the year on loan to the CPL’s Pacific FC, joining Inter Miami in January 2020.
The fourth player acquired by expansion Miami, Norman essentially spent the year on the shelf after injuring his ankle in the second week of pre-season. Miami declined his contract option in December 2020 and he returned to the CPL with Cavalry FC in March 2021.
At the time, Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. called him “a 10/10 character with a fiercely driven mindset, from a good football family and had a very good football education thus far.”
He made 48 appearances in two seasons with Cavalry, calling it “the most settled I’d been in my career.”
A Canadian youth international, Norman wore the Maple Leaf at the under-17, under-20 and under-23 level.
In going to Ireland, Norman followed his father’s footsteps. Norman Sr. played for University College Dublin (UCD) in the early ’80s on loan from the Whitecaps.
Norman Jr. joins fellow B.C. products Paris Gee (formerly with York United) and Ben Fisk (Cavalry) in returning home to play for Vancouver FC this season. Goalkeeper Callum Irving, a Vancouver native, was the first player to sign with the expansion franchise in December 2022 with fullback Kadin Chung (New Westminster) coming on board in March 2023.
“It’s a very desirable place to live, B.C., (the) Lower Mainland, Vancouver. Players are proud of where they come from and they want to be part of this project,” said Norman, whose wife Lynnea is from Vancouver Island.
Vancouver also recently signed teenager Grady McDonnell, who doesn’t turn 16 until Feb. 17, to a three-year contract.
The attacker from Surrey, B.C., a product of the Whitecaps academy, is the youngest player to sign a CPL contract. McDonnell has chosen to represent his father’s native Ireland, one of three 15-year-olds called up by the Irish under-17 squad for European Championship qualifiers.
Vancouver FC made waves last season with TJ Tahid, another teenager. Tahid, who was then the youngest player to sign and play in the CPL, became the league’s youngest scorer at 16 years 34 days when he opened his account in a 2-2 tie with Pacific in June.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2024.