TORONTO — Kyle Hiebert is having a year to remember. And it's only March.
The 25-year-old from La Salle, Man., has helped expansion St. Louis City SC to a record 5-0 start to life in Major League Soccer. And now the centre back can call himself a Canadian international after coming off the bench in Canada's 4-1 win over Honduras in CONCACAF Nations League play Tuesday at Toronto's BMO Field.
"An amazing experience," Hiebert said after the match. "It's a great group of guys. And to come in and contribute to a big win that puts us through to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Nations League is something I'll never forget."
Tuesday's lopsided victory sealed first place for Canada in Group C of League A, the top tier in the 41-team Nations League. And it earned them a berth in the tournament's final four June 15-18 in Las Vegas, where the 53rd-ranked Canadian men (3-1-0) will face No. 61 Panama (3-0-1) in one semifinal while the 13th-ranked U.S. (3-0-1) takes on No. 15 Mexico (2-0-2) in the other.
Hiebert, a late call-up replacing the injured Kamal Miller of CF Montreal, came on in the 62nd minute for Scott Kennedy.
"He put a real shift in (this week)," said Canada coach John Herdman. "He's a good teammate, just a real solid Canadian.
"He looked a little bit nervous coming in to start, but who wouldn't. But he settled in. He knew his role … All week, he's just been all in. He's brought maximum intensity and he's actually got quite a big personality as well behind the scenes. He's a good guy and he's been a good team player.
"The universe turned to get him his debut tonight. It will be a moment, I think, (that) will live for him for ever."
Hiebert's wife, mother and sister, plus several cousins and friends, were in the stands Tuesday to cheer him on.
Ignored in the 2022 MLS draft despite a stellar collegiate career at Missouri State, Hiebert turned heads in the MLS Next Pro league with St. Louis' reserve side last year. He was rewarded in August with a two-year contract with the first team, plus an option for 2025.
Hiebert started St. Louis' first four games and scored the winner in St. Louis's 2-1 win at Portland on March 11. He missed St. Loui's 4-0 win at Real Salt Lake in Saturday because he was on Canada's bench for a 4-0 win in Curaçao.
"It just seems to keep getting better and better," he said of his season. "So who knows what's around the corner next?"
Hiebert had a rough start to his collegiate career at Missouri State, missing both the 2015 and 2016 seasons with knee injuries.
He redshirted after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in 2015. His comeback in 2016 was delayed when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the Bears' penultimate pre-season game at Creighton.
Restored to health, Hiebert went on to make 86 starts for Missouri State and was named Defensive Player of the Year three times in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Away from the field, Hiebert has earned undergraduate and master's degrees in accounting along with a data analytics in accounting certificate.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press