The beautiful game has a way of changing lives. Tsubasa Endoh can tell you first-hand, although he and soccer seemed an unlikely pair at first.
Half a world away in Japan, a young Endoh found himself at odds with the sport he would come to love.
“My dad forced me to play soccer even though I didn’t want to,” Endoh recalls. “I was the kind of child who wanted to watch anime on TV and hang out with my friends, but my dad only wanted me to play soccer.”
Citing its status as the world’s game, Endoh’s father pushed a young Tsubasa to achieve more in the hopes that soccer would take him around the world. That push, however, wasn’t always well-received.
“My dad used to watch all of my games and always had a comment on every single play that I’d make,” he says. “I used to get so frustrated, I’d be crying every weekend. Even if I played well, he would still have comments for me and it would get me down.”
Even still, Endoh learned to love the game, striving to prove his worth and stand out.
“I can’t remember exactly when I fell in love, but I got more serious about it when I started elementary school. I began to enjoy the process of getting better. I wanted to show my dad that I could do this, and I just wanted to show that I could play well and make him proud.
“He was very harsh on me, but soccer was always my passion.”
Staying the same is almost the same as moving backwards. You have to be constantly evolving and looking forward, especially when things aren’t going your way. It keeps you going on the right path.
That passion opened doors for a young Endoh who began to shine. Honing his craft at a youth residency program in Japan, the chance to move abroad and expand his limits proved to be an exciting prospect.
“I got to choose between the United States, Spain, Germany and other places. I wanted to go to the U.S. because I wanted to learn English and experience a different culture. My mom really wanted me to learn English from when I was young. That influenced my decision to go abroad and learn the language.
“I was 16 when I started at a camp a Wake Forest University, but that didn’t go so well. Then I went to camp at the University of Maryland and it was amazing.”
His stay in College Park turned out to be a life-changing experience as Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski quickly identified Endoh as a talent to watch.
“Sasho really liked me and told me to learn English as best I could, take my SATs and get to back to the States so that he could offer me a scholarship.” And that’s exactly what he did.
Enrolling at the University of Maryland in 2012, Endoh encountered some of his toughest challenges as he strived to adapt to his new surroundings.
“My first month in the U.S. was the toughest moment in my life,” he says. “I didn’t know anyone at Maryland or in the country; I was always in the dorm by myself. Obviously, I had my teammates, but they didn’t know how to communicate with me. It’s very hard when you can’t even say, ‘what’s up’ or start a conversation. But my teammates were great to me, they were patient and always helped me with my homework. Little by little, I learned.”
After a difficult freshman season, Endoh found his feet on and off the pitch. Becoming more comfortable in his new home, he began to show his worth.
“It’s a very physical game in college, much different than back in Japan, but Sasho prepared me well,” he explains. “He saw the potential in me and helped me come along.
“It took me some time to adjust, especially in my freshman year, but I learned how to adapt to the college game. I felt like I had something that most American players didn’t have, and I was able to show that during my time there.”
His accomplishments hardly went unnoticed as Endoh entered the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, earning a first-round selection to Toronto FC, ninth overall. The move, however, was met with a fair amount of consternation.
“I was expecting to stay in America; I didn’t know what to expect from Canada,” he admits. “Part of me was saying, ‘I don’t want to go!’ I had been in the states for four years, I was finally getting comfortable, and the next thing you know, I’m getting sent to Canada.”
Nowadays, the 23-year-old has come to love his new home. Whether exploring Yorkville or relaxing with a good book, Toronto has offered Endoh more than he could ever imagined.
“My perception of Canada has dramatically changed,” he says. “I find that Canadian people are very nice, similar to Japan. The city itself is beautiful; you get something here that you’d never experience anywhere else.
“There’s even a restaurant called Yamato —it’s walking distance from house—that’s made a roll for me called the Tsubasa roll. It’s pretty amazing.”