NEWS
10/05/2011 04:15 EDT | Updated 12/04/2011 05:12 EST

Teenage midfielder Joseph Di Chiara enjoys first taste of Canadian national team

Meet the newest member of the Canadian men's soccer team.

Just 19, Joseph Di Chiara was a virtual unknown to most before coach Stephen Hart included the midfielder from Thornhill, Ont., in his squad for Canada's next two World Cup qualifiers.

Di Chiara, in his first year with FC Krylia Sovetov Samara of the Russian premier league, was taken aback by the senior team invitation. He had never previously been in a Canadian camp at any level.

"Yeah, I actually was kind of surprised to get the call," he said. "I thought maybe I'd play with some of the younger teams but I was surprised to get the call to the men's team."

Di Chiara is currently training with the Canadian team in Sunrise, Fla., ahead of games Friday in St. Lucia and Tuesday in Toronto against Puerto Rico.

So far so good.

"It's different from playing in Russia so it will take a few days to get used to but it's going well so far," he said of training.

The six-foot-one midfielder worked his way up the soccer ladder via the Toronto-area Spartacus Soccer Club, trying out in Germany and Russia before landing with the so-called Soviet Wings team.

He has seen limited action with the Samara-based side, having survived a sports hernia, a fired coach and a team struggling to escape the relegation zone.

But he has no regrets.

"I wanted to play over in Europe and I figured Russia was a good place to start," he explained. "It's a strong league and I wasn't really thinking too much about the (Canadian) national team. I was thinking more about trying to start my professional career and if I did well over in Russia, I kind of figured Canada would notice."

It just took a little time.

"I wasn't disappointed. Maybe I just figured they just didn't think I was good enough," he said. "Before Russia, I hadn't really played on any big teams on (done) anything to get Canada to really notice to me.

"Coming to Russia, I guess the national team, noticed."

Playing in Russia is a challenge, especially for a teen far from home.

"Being on your own all the time, having to always focus on your training. Everything's about football," he said. "You don't have much time to do other things.

"That's probably the No. 1 thing young players have to really work on to play over in Europe. And it's very difficult. You're away from your family, you're thousands of miles away from home. You have to really adapt for a different lifestyle."

Language is a major issue. While his team also features players from Serbia and France, he is taking Russian lessons to ease the transition and makes use of an interpreter.

On the field, Di Chiara describes himself as a hard-working, tenacious and comfortable on the ball.

"I thought he did very well in the bits and pieces of the games that I saw him playing in," said Hart. "He looked composed, he looked technically sound. He kept the ball moving through midfield.''

Should he make an appearance, he will be the first teenager to appear for Canada in a World Cup qualifier since Jaime Peters played in a 1-0 win over Guatemala in 2004.

Canada is 2-0 after winning its opening two matches in the second stage of CONCACAF qualifying.

The Canadian men, ranked 87th in the world, play at No. 185 St. Lucia before hosting No. 145 Puerto Rico at BMO Field.

The winner of the four-team pool, which also includes No. 123 St. Kitts and Nevis, advances to the next stage of qualifying in the region covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.