Dominick Zator hopes the road to the national team leads through Sweden.
That's why the 26-year-old defender is wearing the colours of Vasalunds IF these days, on loan from York United FC ahead of the 2021 Canadian Premier League season.
Zator signed with York on Feb. 1 after two years with Cavalry FC in his hometown of Calgary. Two days later he was on a plane to Sweden and played some 65 minutes in Vasalunds' 2-0 victory over Djurgarden in a pre-season game last Sunday.
It was a big win considering Vasalunds has just won promotion to the Swedish second division and Djurgarden finished fourth in the Swedish top tier last year.
"Pretty big," Zator said of the result. "I don't think many clubs were expecting that to happen. And to keep a clean sheet on my debut, I'm pretty pleased with that."
Zator was called up by Canada coach John Herdman in November 2019 but did not see action. He hopes his time in Sweden — and at York — will help catch the coach's eye again.
York United president and GM Angus McNab is already a fan.
"I really truly believe that Dom is a player capable of being in the national team setup for Canada and pushing for a place in the World Cup qualifiers, in the Gold Cup this summer," he said.
The Swedish league opens in April.
"Then it's really trying to get as many games in the regular season … But really the best part is just keep training every day, trying to get better, keep improving and see where everything falls into place," Zator said.
The CPL is targeting the Victoria Day long weekend (May 22-24) as the kickoff for its third season, pending approval from local government and health authorities.
McNab says his club will likely start training camp March 1 with Zator perhaps arriving back in late June during Sweden's mid-season break.
While that timetable means Zator will miss York's opening games, McNab believes the short-term pain will lead to long-term gain.
"Having Dom coming back absolutely full speed into our environment would be a major, major plus and give us another boost and another level for us to go up in our preparation," he said.
"To be honest, I almost hope I don't see him straight away the first week in July. I hopes he's in that national team set-up," he added. "I think this loan gives him the best chance to do that."
Zator, who previously had training stints with Scotland's Ross County and Spain's RCD Mallorca's B team, made 47 appearances for Cavalry FC prior to joining York.
McNab says loans allow his club to give players opportunities.
Jamaican forward Nicolas Hamilton, unable to join York for last year's Island Games because of the pandemic, is currently on loan with Scotland's Dundee FC.
German striker Julian Ulbricht is training with Germany's Phoenix Luebeck.
"With Dom, (the loan) was very much part of the pitch and the recruitment plan," McNab said.
"It's about what's right for the international player," he added. "But for us, I think loans and getting guys football are important as we look to help them out and advance them in their careers. Because right now, we're not able to present match opportunities for our guys."
For Zator, the loan spell is also a chance to get out of his comfort zone.
"That's one of the biggest things as a footballer — if you're able to adapt to changing environments, being able to just jump in, build chemistry with new teammates and play to everyone's strengths," he said.
His arrival in Sweden has been smooth. He says the club has been welcoming and life is "quite normal" in the Stockholm area despite the pandemic.
He didn't have to quarantine on arrival but had to provide proof of negative COVID tests.
Zator signed his first pro contract with Whitecaps FC 2 in March 2017 after a five-year playing career at the University of Calgary.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press