The Great White North has provided the Bundesliga with some stand-out performers over the years. It all began on a fateful day in the summer of 2000…
August 12 2000 might look like an inconsequential day in the annals of German football history. Defending champions Bayern Munich kicked off their 2001/02 Bundesliga campaign with a 4-1 win over Hertha Berlin, and the biggest surprise of that season's opening weekend was promoted Bochum's 1-0 victory over 1998 champions Kaiserslautern.
Those who had their lenses trained on the Weser Stadium for Werder Bremen's clash with Energie Cottbus witnessed a landmark moment though. Thirty-eight years after the first Bundesliga season, Canada finally contributed a player to Germany's top flight. Not once, but twice.
After spending two years in Bremen's reserves following his 1998 transfer from Toronto Lynx, Etobicoke, Ontario-born wing-back Paul Stalteri was handed his first Green-White start. At the other end, Calgary, Alberta-born Kevin McKenna made his Bundesliga debut at the heart of the Cottbus defence, having helped the Brandenburg club clamber out of Bundesliga 2 the previous season.
"A dream come true," was how Stalteri described the match in which he scored Bremen's equaliser on the way to a 3-1 win. "I knew I would always have a chance eventually and I knew this year my chance would come; I just didn't know it would come in the first game of the season!"
Stalteri would go on to seize a number of other chances, helping Bremen to a league and cup double in 2004. A four-year stay in England with Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham followed before the versatile defender returned for a second spell in Germany with Borussia Mönchengladbach, concluding his career in 2011 with a Canadian-record 170 Bundesliga appearances.
McKenna spent 2001 to 2005 in Scotland with Heart of Midlothian before returning for a second term at the Stadion der Freundschaft. A subsequent transfer to Cologne in 2007 brought with it a second Bundesliga 2 promotion in his first season with the Billy Goats, and the "Canadian Oak" finished his career at the RheinEnergieSTADION in 2014 with 112 Bundesliga appearances to his name.
A friend indeed
As if that fateful Saturday 17 years ago was not story enough, just over six hours after Bremen put Cottbus to the sword, a certain teenaged Owen Hargreaves, also born in Calgary, came off the bench to make his debut in Bayern's evening kick-off at the Allianz Arena. Whilst Hargreaves went on to represent England 42 times internationally, the Bundesliga has been treated to more of Canada's finest since that halcyon summer. Canada's record cap-holder Julian de Guzman enjoyed a fruitful three-year spell at Hannover, and Bochum midfielder Daniel Imhof attracted admiring glances from clubs at home and abroad in the 2007/08 season having helped the North Rhine-Westphalia club to promotion the previous year.
Stalteri's time at Gladbach saw him united with international teammate Rob Friend. Friend fired the Foals to promotion in the 2007/08 campaign with 18 goals in 33 matches, before adding ten top-flight strikes over the next two seasons to become the top-scoring Canadian in Bundesliga history. The striker also represented Hertha, Eintracht Frankfurt and 1860 Munich. Of his seven-year stay in Germany, Friend joked: "You do not need to find a Canadian restaurant to feel at home here. It is best just to go to Starbucks!"
A Canadian legacy
Canadians Olivier Occean and Simeon Jackson - strikers with Eintracht Frankfurt and Eintracht Braunschweig respectively - followed, each enjoying single seasons in Germany's top tier, while the most recent import from the North American nation was Marcel de Jong, the left-back who concluded a five-year stay with Augsburg the summer before last.
"I wanted to go out and show the people and the coach that I could actually do something when he decided to play me," said Stalteri all those years ago. His countrymen have managed to achieve that and then some since.