Jason was played 55 games with the Impact before moving overseas where he had a great career in England and Scotland. He was also captain of the national team with whom he won the 2000 Gold Cup. He retired in 2008 after four years with Ipswich Town.
Optimum Soccer: You started professionally with the London Lasers in the old CSL at a pretty young age, was it a good place to start a career for a 16 year old?
Jason DeVos: The thing for me, and I always say that, is that I was in such a good environment. The old CSL was doomed to fail because the business plan couldn't support the league. But every week I was playing against some of the best players in the country, as a young defender I was up against Paul Catliff, the late Domenic Mobilio, Paul Peschisolido, Alex Bunbury, when you're playing against these player week in and week out, as a 16 year old, you're just a kid, you have to learn, it's sink or swim. It was a great environment for me to develop as a player and learn the finer points needed to be successful in the game.
OS: After the CSL you played in Montreal, how did you get that chance?
JDV: It was quite funny actually, when the CSL folded I came to Montreal with about 80 other players. Montreal and Vancouver were the only two Canadian teams that would continue to play and operate in the American league, the APSL it was called, unfortunately they already had a full complement of players.
Eventually I got a phone call from Montreal on a friday night telling me I had to get on a plane to be able to fly with the team to Italy on saturday because Mauro Biello I believe it was, had hurt himself and wasn't able to make the trip, so they asked if I could come along. Fortunately for me I was able to make it and within the space of a week in Italy I was offered a contract. One player's misfortune I suppose is another's opportunity.
OS: In 1994 the team won its first championship, what made it possible for you guys to win it all?
JDV: It's funny because I still talk to one or two of the guys that I played with on that team. Grant Needham I bump into every time I'm in Montreal doing an Impact game. We were talking about the caliber of players we had on that team. We had players like Nick DeSantis, John Limniatis, coming back to Montreal, I don't believe he was on the team in 1994, but when he joined he was a great asset to us, then there was Rudy Doliscat, Patrick Diotte, Pat Harrington, Patrice Ferri, Jean Harbour... We had an exceptional team, these guys were really good experienced professionals that were able to come together as a group and perform. I look back at that period of my career, as a young player to play alongside such teamatmes I learned an exceptional amount of things in a short amount of time.
Today the Impact is an important part of soccer in Montreal and in the whole country, the situation was different in the mid 90s. How was it playing in Montreal back then?
It was great, at one point the NHL was on strike and baseball wasn't playing, we were essentially the only major sport in town. The coverage that we received from the press was fantastic and the community was supporting us exceptionally well. When we won the championship in 1994 I remember having the parade through Montreal with all the cars that mister Saputo had provided for all the players, it was just a great experience. A real taste of things to come I suppose in many respect for me.
I always felt that as my career progressed, every club that I went to, I went there for a reason, I never went to a club because they offered me more money, it was always about what is the best environnement for me to learn. That was right up until I retired when I was 34. I was very fortunate to be able to progress, every club that I went to, I went for a reason and I learned and became more educated as a footballer. Montreal certainly contributed to that education.
OS: After three seasons with Montreal, you moved to England to play with Darlington, how did it happen?
JDV: I was very fortunate, I played with a number of players over the years and one of them was Nick Dasovic, he had moved overseas and was playing in Sweden at the time and his agent had asked him if there was anyone in Canada that he felt was capable of playing in England, Nick recommended me and to make a long story short I ended up in Darlington.
Initially the agreement was that I would go there on loan. But the club was quite impressed and they decided to make the signing permanent. Fortunately for Montreal they had a clause in the transfer that gave them a percentage of any future transfer fee. After a little over 18 months at Darlington I was sold for close to a million dollar to Dundee United and Montreal got a percentage of that which is fabulous. It gave the Impact the chance to put that money in their program and to continue to give young players in Canada the opportunity to play.
OS: After a couple of seasons in Darlington, you were transfered twice, first to Dundee United in Scotland and then to Wigan Athletic of England. Do you feel an additional pressure when you play for a club that spent a good amount of money to have you?
JDV: Yeah, but it's also just a part of being a footballer. You always have expectations on your shoulders and when you have a price tag that's attached to your name and people know how much a club has paid for you, you are always under pressure to deliver beyond the fans expectations and certainly beyond the manager expectations.
But ultimately that's why you play the game, it's to compete and to test yourself, to be the best that you can be. I think that most players put themselves more pressure than anything that can be exerted from an outside source like a supporters group or a manager. I, as a player myself, was my own worse critic. Most players are like that, when they play well they always look at something they did wrong or something they can do better the next time, and when they don't play well they feel like it's the end of the world, they just want to get back on the field to put things right. So yes there's pressure, but ultimately if you want to be successful you have to be able to deal with that pressure.
OS: You finished your career by playing four seasons with Ipswich Town in the English Championship, what is your best memory from that time?
JDV: Ipswich was just a wonderful club. When I left Wigan I was a free agent and I had the possibility to go to different clubs in the UK. I consulted David Hodgson who was my manager at Darlington. He was essentially the man who was responsible for bringing me in the UK. As soon as I told him that Ipswich was interested he told me: "get in your car, drive down there and sign for Ipswich. You'll love playing for them. They're a proper football club, they play the game the right way, you'll love every minute of it". That was the case, it was phenomenal. It was a great experience.
What I want to see happen here in Canada is that clubs become like Ipswich was. A place that was like a family, where everyone looks after each other, where everyone from the president of the club to the gentlemen that lets you in the player parking lot treats you and your family like you were one of theirs. That feeling allows you to go on the field and perform, it was a great experience. I can't really single out one moment, the whole four year period at Ipswich was just one great experience.
OS: You played in Great Britain for 12 years, was it easy for a Canadian player to establish himself in Britain?
JDV: I think now it's probably easier because there are guys that were there prior to me that kind of paved the way, guys like Craig Forrest and Paul Peschisolido. They've gone overseas and they had success. Frank Yallop, obviously, is another one who went over there and had a good success. They showed the English and the Scottish what Canadians could bring. The one thing that most Canadians that go overseas bring with them is a strong work ethic. They really do work hard and they commit countless hours to be the best they possibly can be. That is a real asset when managers are looking to sign a player.
You can make up for a lot of shortfalls in ability if you have a good attitude. I think that it's something that a lot of Canadians can bring to the table and now we've got players over in Europe that are doing well, players like Atiba Hutchinson in Holland, Simeon Jackson in England, Mike Klukowski and Josh Simpson in Turkey and Kevin McKenna in Germany. All of the Canadians that went overseas enhanced the reputation of the Canadian players in general.
OS: During your career you represented Canada 49 times. At the beginning was there pressure from your club to stay in England and not travel to play for your country?
JDV: Yeah, all the time. I'll be honest with you, it was really difficult and I really get annoyed when people question the loyalty of national team players if they don't come back to represent their country every single opportunity they get. They have no comprehension of what it's like to be told that the only way to get another contract is for you to quit playing for your country. It is intense pressure and I think a lot of the players that play in Europe have had to deal with such a situation at one time.
The reality is that the vast majority choose to continue playing for their country. When I joined Wigan Athletic, they were one of the only clubs that didn't tell me that I had to quit playing internationally. I was 27 I believe when I joined Wigan, I wasn't ready to retire from international football at the time, I still felt I had something to contribute in trying to get my country to the world cup. I went to a club that was in a lower league, it turned out to be a great experience and we were successful because we won promotion.
A part of me still felt I had to try to get Canada to the World Cup. That was the dream I had when I was a little boy and I wasn't willing to give it up for the sake of money, but that menace from your club is always there so I think that the men and women that play for our country deserve our respect as opposed to our criticism.
OS: I guess your best memory with Canada must be when you won the 2000 Gold Cup, what was different in that team that made it possible to succeed?
JDV: I think we had a really good mix of players who were really experienced, who complemented each other well on the field and who got along off the field as well. You talk about experienced players like Craig Forrest, Mark Watson, Paul Peschisolido, Carlo Corrazin... We had a good group of guys there.
Earlier I talked about attitude over ability, we didn't have the greatest team, we had our limitations, but in terms of work ethic these guys would run through a brick wall for you. That went a long way towards us getting results, we were disciplined, very well-organized and really hard to break down. We had an attitude of never giving up until the final whistle. That saw us through games, the semi final against Trinidad is a perfect example.
We did not play well against them and probably didn't deserve to get the result, but ultimately we had the best goalie in CONCACAF in Craig Forrest in net and we managed to grind a result. Just the composition of the team, the players and the character they brought in the dressing room I think that played a large part in the success we had on the field.
OS: After your career you worked in the media, that gave you the chance to see the advent of MLS in all three major soccer market in Canada and the birth of the Canadian championship, do you think it's what was missing in Canada to be a competitive soccer country?
JDV: You know, I think there's a lot of things that are missing for us to be competitive. Having a viable professional option for our young players is very important to the development of the game in our country. There is no question that if young players in Canada can aspire to play in Major League Soccer and earn a career as a soccer player it's certainly going to improve our chance on the international level.
We do have to do a better job as a nation of developing those players and that's not necessarily the responsibility of the professional clubs. It's more the responsibility of the grassroots club who are teaching the kids the introductory stages from the age of four onwards. How to kick a ball properly, how to control the ball, move the ball, be comfortable with the ball on your feet. Those skills have to be acquired at the right stages. That's not gonna be done at the professional level. That has to be done in a club environment, at the grassroots level.
I'm very pleased at the direction the game is going, I think that there are a number of former professional players and coaches who are now getting involved at the club level teaching young kids and teaching coaches how to improve the game in Canada and if we continue to do that as a nation I think we will have a much better success developing players at the international level.
OS: Talking about former football players we have a good number of them that are working with smaller clubs in Quebec, guys like Patrick Leduc and Sandro Grande, was there any players involved with the smaller clubs when you were young?
JDV: No, not at all. Club soccer when I was young was very unorganized. The vast majority of clubs were run by volunteers who had little or no experience in the game. And I'm really pleased to see that so many people are getting involved. Sandro is a good example of someone who I played with at the national level who is now working towards improving the game in Quebec and I think that's fabulous. There's also Lloyd Barker who's trying to make things better, also there's a guy like Jeff Clarke in Surrey British Columbia.
That network of colleagues is getting wider and wider all the time. The more people we have who have played the game at a high-level who the get involved and reinvest their time, their effort and their energy in the grassroots level the better job we are going to do of developing young players that can be competitive in the CONCACAF and in the rest of the world.
OS: You are also technical director of the Oakville soccer club, how many players are in the club?
We now have a little bit over 12500 players
OS: How do you manage to identify the talent at the club and how are you able to give them what they need to develop without forgetting the other players?
JDV: It's a monumental task. I've been here now for a little over a year and the vast majority of my time is spent in putting the infrastructure in place to do just that, identifying talent and nurturing talent. Every child that play soccer at our club needs an opportunity to have access to a top development program.
Not everyone is as committed as a young player who wants to train five days a week, but we have to give every child the opportunity to be seen by coaches, assessed by coaches who have the ability to identify players who could blossom in an environment like that. After that it's about maximizing the amount of time that they can spend in a good training environment.
We have challenges like every club has challenges, certainly the weather is an issue for us. We have to spend six months a year training in an indoor facility, we are very fortunate that we have a top training facility available, but again with the amount of players we have, the amount of coaches we have, giving them all the opportunity to develop is a challenge.
It's exciting, it's something I've enjoyed thoroughly, I've developed some wonderful relationships and friendships with a lot of people here in the community. We're moving things in the right direction. I would like to say that it's going to pay dividends in the next year or two, but I realize it's very much a long-term project.
OS: In 2011 we saw the beginning of FC Edmonton, were you surprised to see a squad of mostly unknown Canadian youngsters be able to compete with established players?
JDV: I was very pleased to see the direction that they took and I congratulated one of their executives when I met him recently. I thought they did a wonderful job of giving young Canadians an opportunity to play professional soccer. That's something there just isn't enough of. Certainly in Major League Soccer you look at Vancouver Toronto and Montreal, when you look at the percentage of players that are actually Canadian playing for them it's quite small.
I really want to see that change. Obviously their obligation is to win on the field to be successful, but I also think they have a moral obligation to try to develop the game in Canada and to give young Canadian kids an opportunity to play. We've seen good examples of youngsters who've achieved success, last year in Toronto Ashtone Morgan was a perfect example of a player who was given an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. I'm hopeful that that's going to happen on a more widespread basis.
I'm hopeful that more clubs like FC Edmonton are able to come into existence because it's a real challenge, there are so many difficulties we have in Canada in terms of starting our own league or starting a professional soccer club. It's not easy to do, there are a lot of financial sacrifices to be made in order for that to happen.
OS: Your former teammate Ian Westlake will start his MLS career in 2012, do you think the US is a good place for English footballers?
JDV: I think it depends on the player. When Ian had the opportunity to come over here last year to join Montreal, I spoke with him and I spoke with Nick DeSantis and kind of conveyed to both parties that the relationship could be a strong one.
From Ian's perspective I think he has all if the qualities needed to be succesful in MLS. He's a very, very good athlete, he's a very hard worker, he has a never say die attitude and he's willing and able to compete and that's something that's required in MLS. It is a very physical league and I think that Ian will have no difficulty adapting to that and succeed in that environment.
From Montreal's perspective I knew that they were getting a player who was committed, hard-working, who would be good in the dressing room and that would buy into the community has well. He's not someone who's just there to pick up a paycheck, he certainly enjoys his time in Montreal and he enjoys the city so he's hopefully going to hit the ground running, like all of his teammates in Montreal and have a very successful career in MLS.