Teen Jonathan David making waves in Belgium, looks to add to Canada goals total

TORONTO — Teenager Jonathan David has started this season as he finished the last — on target.

The Ottawa-raised attacking midfielder/forward scored twice last weekend for Belgium’s KAA Gent against Cercle Brugge to raise his club tally in all competitions to six this season.

The 19-year-old looks to add to his national team total Saturday when Canada, ranked 78th in the world, hosts No. 179 Cuba in CONCACAF Nations League play at BMO Field. David scored a hat trick — his first in professional soccer — in a 7-0 win in June when the two teams met at the Gold Cup.

“He’s a special talent,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “I think he’s got big things coming.”

Canada exited the CONCACAF Championship in a shocking 3-2 quarterfinal loss to Haiti, which rallied from a 2-0 deficit. David opened the scoring in the game, notching his sixth goal of the tournament. That earned him the Golden Boot as the Gold Cup’s top scorer.

David was also named to the tournament’s Best XI.

With 10 goals in just eight senior appearances, he is already 45 per cent of the way to matching Dwayne De Rosario’s Canadian men’s record of 22 national team goals. De Rosario, who also doubled as an attacking midfielder and forward, compiled his total in 81 games between 1997 and 2015.

Even as a teen, David has the ability to be in the right place at the right time. He can find a crease in the defence and, when he gets the ball, knows what to do in front of goal. He can score with both feet or his head.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., David was three months old when his family moved to its native Haiti and six when the family came north to Ottawa. He played for Gloucester Dragons Soccer, Ottawa Gloucester SC and Ottawa Internationals Soccer Club, representing Canada at the under-17 level.

A trial with KAA Gent came in 2017 after a scout saw him on video. He went to Belgium twice that year, spending time with the second team before earning a full-time invitation. After finishing high school in Ottawa, he returned to Europe to focus full time on his soccer.

It’s been a whirlwind ever since.

“It’s true. It’s been kind of a big jump because it went very fast. I was with the (Gent) second team at first. Then from there, at the end of that season with the second team, everything went really really fast,” he recalled. “I got in with the first team in pre-season, played some good games, scored some goals and had my opportunity. Then (I) kept scoring goals.

“From there everything just escalated.”

David had to wait until his turned 18 in January 2018 before he could sign a pro contract. In June 2018, he turned heads in Canadian colours at the renowned Toulon youth tournament in France.

He scored in his league debut for KAA Gent that August with a late equalizer against Zulte-Waregem as a substitute. And he kept scoring off the bench. He raised his total to five in just 65 minutes of game play (three in Belgian league play and two in Europa League qualifying).

He has 20 goals in 54 games in all competitions for his Belgian side.

David made his senior debut for Canada last September in an 8-0 Nations League qualifying game against the U.S. Virgin Islands. Thirty-two minutes later, he was the youngest player ever to score for the country on his debut. Another five minutes later, he was the fifth player to score twice in his first outing for Canada.

David says he grew up a striker but he is comfortable playing all across the frontline. KAA Gent plays in a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond which has him playing behind the two strikers.

“It’s good because I basically have a free role to roam around where I want,” he said. “The defenders aren’t really focused on me so I have a lot of space to get in the right space and try to score goals.”

These days he has his own apartment in Ghent, but started life there in a family-owned hotel that put up several second-team players.

“You were never really alone … I think that helped,” he said.

The soft-spoken David, who speaks English and French, has picked up a few Flemish words but admits his gasp of the language is “not good.”

Still he is enjoying life in Ghent, located in the northwest of Belgium. “It’s a nice city. Very friendly people,” he said.

He has been recognized out on the street there, but only three or four times so far.

KAA Gent, which currently stands fifth in the Belgium Pro League with a 3-1-1 record, recognized his talents by awarding him a new contract that runs through 2022. While there have been reports that larger European clubs are interested, David says he just focuses on his football and leaves the rest to his agent.

Asked whether he splurged on anything after signing his new deal, David smiles and shakes his head.

“No, no. I wouldn’t say I’m a big spender,” he said. “I was just pretty happy.”

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