Tyler Pasher's soccer career has been a study in perseverance.
The 27-year-old winger from Elmira, Ont., received Canada call-ups in 2015 from Benito Floro and 2017 by Octavio Zambrano. But he never saw any game action.
It wasn't until John Herdman sent him in off the bench against Haiti on July 15 at the Gold Cup that he earned his first senior cap.
"(It was) a little surreal in a way," Pasher, a former Canadian youth international, said of his senior debut. "I got to the point in my career where I didn't think that that was going to be a possibility. So the fact that I was able to prove myself wrong, and really dig down deep and grind and get myself back to that kind of level, definitely gave me a lot more inspiration to keep pushing."
"(I was) very grateful for it afterwards."
The Houston Dynamo winger earned his second cap off the bench against the U.S. last Sunday and can add to his total Sunday when the 70th-ranked Canadian men take on No. 50 Costa Rica in the Gold Cup quarterfinal at AT&T Stadium at Arlington, Texas.
The Canadian men (2-1-0) finished runner-up to the U.S. in Group B, defeating Martinique and Haiti both by a 4-1 score before falling 1-0 to the Americans in Kansas City. The loss to the 20th-ranked Americans snapped Canada's eight-game winning streak in 2021.
Costa Rica (3-0-0) won Group C on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over Jamaica in a game delayed for more than two hours by bad weather in Orlando.
Pasher earned his latest call-up after turning heads in his first season with the Dynamo, collecting three goals and three assists in eight games.
Houston is his third MLS team, following stints with Toronto FC and Sporting Kansas City.
But his soccer journey started as a boy with Newcastle United in England. Growing up, Pasher got to work with coach Eddie Edgar, the father of former Canadian international David Edgar.
David Edgar was with Newcastle and his father would sometimes take local players over to train with the Newcastle academy.
"I just so happened to go on one of the trips and I kept getting inviting me back. They took me a real interest in me," said Pasher.
He had seven years worth of training stints in Newcastle, going over during breaks in school. But work permit and personal issues brought him back to Canada where he joined the TFC academy
He made a first-team appearance in July 2012 in Toronto's friendly against England's Liverpool at the Rogers Centre, and wore the captain's armband in the second half.
Leaving TFC, he signed as an 18-year-old with Finland's Kemi Kings, now known as Kemi City FC.
"It definitely built a lot of character in me, just to realize what it was like playing at pro level in another country and very very far from home," he said. "It was definitely challenging … There was lot of down time by yourself. It was not easy, I'll tell you that."
He returned to North America, working his way up from Lansing United and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to Swope Park Rangers, Sporting Kansas City's affiliate now known as Sporting Kansas City 2.
Moving up to the first team, Pasher made one appearance for Sporting Kansas City in 2017 but had his option declined after the season.
Pasher moved down to the USL and rebuilt his career with Indy Eleven, collecting 23 goals and six assists in 50 appearances — 10 goals and two assists in 15 appearances in 2020.
"It gave me an opportunity to kind of express myself in a different way than what was perceived in the past," said Pasher, who had previous clubs try to turn him into a defender. "I just wanted to take full advantage of it. I said 'You know what? I've got nothing to lose at the end of the day so I might as well give it all I have and see what happens.'"
His Indy eleven exploits earned the attention of Houston. Pasher had extensive talks with Dynamo head coach Tab Ramos about his role before signing.
"They explained their style of play to me and everything like that." he said.
It has been a good fit, with Pasher making his mark on both wings.
Herdman, who calls the Dynamo winger a "humble guy that's fought for everything," says Pasher was disappointed after the U.S. game, thinking he had played it too safe.
"Which is understandable, his first game for a while," he said. "For guys that have to had to fight that hard to get somewhere, sometimes it's that fear of risking it all on that one roll of a dice by throwing it all out there.
"So for him, this tournament, his next opportunity, I'm expecting to see more from him. And he'll need to show more to keep pushing to be part of what is a very talented group. But certainly his club form has put him in a position where he's built trust in the coaching staff to be a guy that we think we can rely on in this tournament in the right moments."
The Canadian men lost both Ayo Akinola and Cyle Larin for the tournament after injuries in the game with the U.S. Herdman called up Tesho Akindele as an emergency replacement, with the Orlando City veteran joining Pasher, Lucas Cavallini, Theo Corbeanu, Junior Hoilett and Tajon Buchanan as options up front.
Canada's record against Costa Rica is 5-7-9, with wins for either side hard to come by in recent years. The Canadian men are winless in five (0-1-4) against the Costa Ricans.
The teams tied 1-1 the last time they met, in Houston at the 2017 Gold Cup. Canada has not posted a win since the 2007 Gold Cup, a 2-1 decision at the Orange Bowl thanks to a pair of goals by Julian de Guzman.
"For us, it's another part of the journey. And if we're going to get the next round we have beat Costa Rica and we've to find a way. So regardless of the stadium, the crowd, we've just go to go out there and play like it's our last game on the planet," said Herdman.
The Canada-Costa Rica winner faces either No. 11 Mexico or No. 67 Honduras in next Thursday's semifinals.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press