Samuel Gardner, born April 4th, 1997, is a Canadian/South African professional soccer player who hails from Toronto, Ontario.
Gardner became acquainted with the sport early in his childhood. Born into a family from African heritage – his mother from Zambia and his father from South Africa, soccer served as a universal sport that could connect him to his family overseas.
From a young age, Gardner’s talent on the field became apparent and he attracted international attention. He caught the eye of English side Sunderland AFC, however, with parents that valued education first, he opted to attend college. With scholarship interests from multiple schools across North America, Gardner ultimately decided to take his talents to Florida where he would play three seasons for the Jacksonville Dolphins.
Playing soccer at a Division I level provided Gardner invaluable experience. Gardner had to learn discipline and responsibility to accommodate the demands of both soccer and academics. Waking up at 5am to train before class, going to school, then back to the field afterwards became Gardner’s daily routine.
Although this schedule was demanding, learning how to strike a balance only led to further character development and maturity that was visible on and off the field. Gardner went on to have a successful run at Jacksonville, making 41 appearances for the Dolphins, scoring three goals and three assists.
In his senior year, Gardner switched to Grand Canyon University in Arizona to play for the Grand Canyon Antelopes. After another successful season, Gardner was named in the 2018 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Men’s All-Tournament team after playing a key role in Grand Canyon’s first ever WAC Men’s Soccer Tournament Championship – which also led to the school’s first ever appearance at the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament.
Adding to his already impressive list of accolades, Gardner was also named to the WAC All-Conference Team for his stellar senior season – being the only player to play every minute of every game.
After college, Gardner spent time practicing in California where he would be presented the opportunity to play for Orange County Soccer Club. This opportunity, however, did not align with Gardner’s long-term goals and he opted to return to Canada and train in Mississauga to be close to friends and family.
This decision proved to be equally prospective, as Gardner was invited to an open tryout for Winnipeg’s Valour FC where he would ultimately attract the attention of FC Edmonton. This led to his first professional contract with the Canadian Premier League team and he went on to make an instrumental professional debut.
Edmonton went down early in the game 0-2 and after their starting centre-back suffered an injury 20 minutes into the game, Gardner was substituted in. With the thought process of nothing to lose and all to gain, his leadership and intelligence on the field helped his team to a 2-2 draw.
Albeit a noteworthy debut and opportunity to gain experience at the professional level, COVID-19 abruptly ended the season. Gardner reportedly had plans after the Canadian Premier League Island Games to play in Scandinavia through his agent Fabrizio, however, the potential move fell apart due to complications in receiving work visas during the height of COVID-19.
With professional experience under his belt, Gardner now has hopes to take his talents overseas to play in South Africa. Playing in the Canadian Premier League was a great way to showcase his skills, however, playing in a totally different landscape will only further develop his potential.
After over a year of waiting, Gardner has successfully received his South African passport and is in further talks with top agents in South Africa looking for the best possible placement for him, with teams from the South African Premier Division already taking an interest. It will take some serious adaptation to the environment, however, overcoming adversity is nothing new to Gardner as he aims to begin a new legacy overseas in 2022.
To stay up to date with Sam Gardner’s journey, you can follow him here2.