When he was growing up in Canada, Ian Bennett was crazy about soccer.
“That’s all I know,” said Bennett, a midfielder for the Richmond Kickers. “I’ve played it since I was 4 years old.”
Huh? Isn’t hockey the national sport north of the border? It’s too cold for soccer, right?
Not for Bennett and his two younger brothers, Andre and Josh, both of whom love the sport, too.
Ian and his brothers became addicted to soccer because of their father, Dwight, who moved from Jamaica to Hamilton, Ontario, to open an upholstery business when he was 19. He was invited to join the Canadian national team after gaining his citizenship.
“At that time, he was making more money doing his business than they would have paid him for playing soccer, so he decided to do his business and start a family,” Bennett said. “That’s when I came along, which was good, but I feel bad because he gave up on his dream to have us.
“That’s why I’m trying to help him and continue his dream through me. My father is like a little legend in Hamilton.”
Bennett joined the Kickers in late May after spending the 2007-08 season with the Chicago Storm of the Major Indoor Soccer League, where he scored 13 goals and added five assists in 22 games. The 5-7 160-pounder also played for the Charleston Battery (USL1) last summer.
Richmond coach Leigh Cowlishaw was looking for someone to put the ball in the net when he signed Bennett.
“We had seen him a little bit at Charleston and had gotten a good recommendation on him,” Cowlishaw said . “At the time, we were looking to improve the squad offensively. We weren’t sure where his best position would be for this team, but right now, he’s doing a good job out wide.
“He’s very, very quick and pacy. He’s good one v. one and has a very good service. Crosses an excellent ball.”
Bennett has scored two goals in limited playing time in five games while he makes the adjustment from indoor (smaller field) to outdoor soccer.
His quickness probably is Bennett’s biggest asset. The 24-year-old ran track at Marian (Ind.) College when he wasn’t playing soccer. In 45 games for the NAIA school in Indianapolis, Bennett scored a school-record 49 goals and added 19 assists.
“I took a half-scholarship in track so they could bring in some more soccer players,” he said. “It kept me in shape, too.”
A sprinter who ran the 100 and 200 meters, Bennett says he hasn’t tested himself against any of the other Kickers yet. “I don’t think anyone wants to race me,” he said, laughing. “We’ll see if I can find somebody.”
Bennett also played five years as an amateur in the Canadian Professional Soccer League and spent one season with the Palm Beach (Fla.) Pumas of the Premier Development League, where his coach was Bobby Lennon, Richmond’s first coach from 1993 to’96.
Soccer has gotten much bigger in Canada in recent years, thanks in part to a Major League Soccer franchise in Toronto.
“It’s huge now,” Bennett said. “The amount of camps we have. The amount of kids we have playing the game now. We’ve even got the indoor game going, too, and kids are playing all year round. That’s really helping the development of our youth programs.
“I think having the MLS team [since 2006] has really helped a lot. Fans pack the BMO Stadium for every game.”