03/22/2016 14:40 EDT | Updated 03/23/2017 01:12 EDT

Off-the-cuff remark led Scottish-born midfielder to Canadian men's national team

VANCOUVER — It was a passing comment that caused David Edgar's ears to perk up.

The Canadian soccer defender was playing with Burnley in England's second-tier Championship division a couple seasons ago when Scottish-born teammate Scott Arfield shared a key piece of family history.

"We were out for dinner and he mentioned his dad was born in Toronto," Edgar recalled. "That got loads of ideas in my head."

The younger Arfield suited up internationally for Scotland at lower levels, but had never earned a cap for the senior team, making him eligible to play for Canada through his father's connection.

Edgar quickly went into full sell mode.

"We got the ball rolling," he said. "I told him about the program. We talked about it a lot."

Arfield decided he would commit to Canada a year ago, but only got his citizenship papers last week. Along with FIFA signing off on a change of international allegiance, the midfielder is eligible for two crucial World Cup qualifiers against powerhouse Mexico, including Friday at B.C. Place Stadium.

"(Edgar) was really the driving force in making this happen," said Arfield.

Arfield, with his distinct Scottish accent, met the Canadian media for the first time after Monday's late-afternoon training session. The 27-year-old was asked if he had ever set foot in the country he now represents.

"I should probably lie, but no," Arfield said with a laugh, adding, "I'm just as Canadian as you."

Born in Livingston, a town west of Edinburgh, Arfield played in the Scottish Premier League with Falkirk before heading to Huddersfield Town in England and then Burnley.

He's used to big games after first suiting up against Rangers and Celtic at the age of 18, while Burnley was in the English Premier League last season. Arfield has seven goals in 38 appearances in 2015-16 for the club, which is unbeaten in 14 and leading the Championship table.

"He's a fantastic player and great guy in the dressing room," said Edgar, now with Sheffield United. "We're very lucky."

Along with midfielder Junior Hoilett and defender Steven Vitoria, Arfield is the latest example of a player choosing Canada, bucking a trend that previously saw a number of others turn down calls from the national team.

"It just gives everyone a boost," said Edgar. "Now we've got players who want to come play. It's massive for us."

Arfield's story is similar to that of English-born midfielder Marc Bircham, who burst on to the Canadian scene in 1999 when officials learned his grandfather was born in Winnipeg.

Bircham played 17 times for Canada, including a dream debut in 1999 that saw him score in a 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland in Belfast before ever setting foot in his adopted homeland.

"The more depth, the more quality you have in the team, the more options you have," said Canadian midfielder Will Johnson. "That's why Mexico's so good, that's why the U.S. is so good, they have a deep talent pool."

When it comes to Scotland's national team, Arfield isn't bitter things didn't work.

"There was no ill feeling," he said. "I was getting on in my career and I just thought this was the best opportunity for me to play international football."

Arfield is joining the Canadian setup at a crucial time. The country hasn't made a World Cup since its only appearance back in 1986, but is well-positioned to make a run at the 2018 tournament heading into Friday's qualifier before a crowd that's expected to number around 50,000.

Head coach Benito Floro named a strong Canadian roster for the game on the artificial surface at B.C. Place and Tuesday's return fixture at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

"Talking to a few of the boys, they're saying that this is the best squad they've ever been in," said Arfield. "It stands you in good stead."

Mexico, ranked 22nd by FIFA, leads Pool A in the penultimate round of CONCACAF qualifying with six points from two matches. No. 87 Canada sits second with four points, while El Salvador has one and Honduras has none. The Canadians play in Honduras and host El Salvador in September, with the top two teams in the group advancing to the region's final stage.

While it's all business this week for Arfield and his teammates as they prepare to take on a formidable opponent, Edgar indicated the roster's newest member might have to stretch his vocal chords and test his knowledge of "O Canada" in a friendly form of initiation.

"He's a bit of a singer so we're going to get him to sing it to us this week," Edgar joked. "He's got to know all the words."


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press