Samuel Gardner is a Canadian/South African professional soccer player who was born in Toronto, Ontario.
Gardner made a name for himself in the world of soccer during his decorated college career. Gardner began playing Division I soccer for the Jacksonville Dolphins in Florida, where he would play an instrumental role in his team’s success over three seasons. In his senior year, Gardner would transfer to Grand Canyon University in Arizona where he would put his skills on full display.
After leading the backline to 9 clean sheets, scoring 1 goal and 2 assists, Gardner was named to the 2018 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) All-Conference team. The accolades didn’t stop there as Gardner was also named to the WAC All-Tournament Team for his key role in Grand Canyon’s first ever WAC Men’s Soccer Tournament Championship. His performances further led his school to their inaugural appearance at the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament. The 6’4 tenacious centre-back played every minute of every game, and he would catch the eye of many professional teams across North America.
He would make his professional debut in 2020, playing for Canadian Premier League side FC Edmonton. Gardner would be substituted into the game after their starting centre-back suffered an early injury and his performance would help his team return from a two-goal deficit to tie the game at 2-2.
Gardner’s career so far is exciting as much as it is inspiring. Perhaps the most influential moment in his career is soon to come, with plans to take his talent overseas and play professional soccer in South Africa. We had the chance to speak to Sam Gardner about his potential move and ask some of the most anticipated questions following his decision.
What factors impacted your decision to leave Canada and play overseas?
Even when I was in school, I had clear ambitions of trying to play pro ball overseas. I love experiencing new cultures and the ability to play football at the same time was always attractive to me. I ended up signing my first pro contract with FC Edmonton here in Canada and was able to make my professional debut which was a great experience. Although playing in Canada at the highest level was always a dream of mine, the professional soccer environment in North America is still in its infancy, and I feel gaining experience in a more developed league internationally will be more beneficial to my career at this time. That being said, I would still love the opportunity to return to North America after I gain more professional exposure and experience.
Of all places, what attracted you to South Africa?
My family is of African descent; my mother was born in Zambia and my father was born in South Africa. I’m proud to be a Canadian but I’m also very proud to be South African. All my family is still there. I spent many years of my childhood travelling back and forth between South Africa and Canada and would love an opportunity to give back to a community that practically raised me and gave so much to me.
With the move overseas, what do you hope to achieve in your soccer career?
I just want to focus on improving year after year and hopefully help my team challenge for trophies. I have always believed that I have a very high ceiling in terms of my ability to continually improve my game and I believe this environment will allow me to do that. Off the pitch, I have plans to develop a foundation where I can give back to the community through youth initiatives by providing children the necessities to play soccer and create a legacy of their own.
What value do you feel you bring to an international team?
Throughout my time playing in America and Canada I gained a reputation for being a leader on the field. I am composed on the ball and read the game well. Teams in South Africa can move the ball very quickly, and I feel my technical and tactical ability will help bring success to my team.
What challenges will the new environment bring?
I’ve watched a lot of South African football and have been talking to agents there, so I know it's going to take some adaptation. I’m going to have to get used to the pace and prove myself in a league where I have little-to-no reputation. I plan to stay healthy and focus on the controllables in order to present the best version of myself.