After turning 18 on March 22, Vaughan Azzurri and Canada U20 midfielder Duwayne Ewart has officially signed with USL Pro club Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
"Pittsburgh understand the quality of Canadian players after having the likes of Canadian international Tyler Pasher and Miro Cabrilo," said Patrice Gheisar, head coach of the Vaughan U21 and assistant coach of the League1 side.
"Moreover their coach Mark Steffens has had 18 years experience coaching another USL Pro team and is more of a mentor. With Duwayne being so young, we felt like the coaching staff - with their beliefs, desires, need for that position, and mentorship they would provide - was the most important factor."
Ewart came to Vaughan Azzurri from a rival east-end club, and was a crucial part of the Vaughan senior men's program that won the Ontario Soccer League U21 Provincial Elite division, the prestigious Disney Soccer Showcase in Florida, and was a stalwart performer in the 2015 League1 Ontario season.
"At the very beginning you could see he was used to playing with players his own age, and things were easier for him at that level," said Gheisar. "We put him at a level that was much harder in League1, where he was playing with and against older players. He had some learning curves at the beginning but he adjusted very quickly because of his natural tools and his ability to flourish in a high-level environment."
"When we won the Disney showcase, he scored three goals in four games out of a midfield position and had every big college drooling at his feet because of the way he teased the opposition with moments of brilliance."
Ewart had a big decision to make between making the leap directly to professional levels, or continuing his studies and playing at the NCAA level.
"We sent him down a little before Disney for a workout with Pittsburgh and they really liked him," explained Gheisar. "Then we went to Disney and we contemplated if the university route would be the best for him or moving directly to USL Pro. It's never easy for a young player to go to USL Pro, where the players are much older, experienced, physically strong and fit. This immediately vetoes Duwayne's athleticism, and now he'll need to win based on football skills."
"However, based on the feedback and interest from Pittsburgh and Duwayne's own desire, we felt going USL Pro immediately was the avenue for him to succeed."
A regular starter at the junior international level - Ewart was nominated for U17 player of the year and was a part of the U20 squad that completed a March 2016 camp in England, beating England U21s 2-1 - Ewart also received technical advice and backing from the national program.
"Duwayne is doing very well with the national program and we're obviously very proud that they continue to feature him," said Gheisar.
"U20 coach Rob Gale has been really behind him and is one of the people that supported him when Pittsburgh needed further references so it's good to see Canada Soccer providing support for him to have a home to flourish and hopefully help the national team further in coming years."