From Rejection To Redemption: The Story Of Jordan Haynes
Jordan Haynes had to fight every step of the way throughout a long, winding path to becoming a Canadian Premier League champion.
Having undergone a tumultuous career path that saw the full-back fall out of the professional game for several years and, at one point, give up on it entirely, the full-back now sits atop a redemption arc that has proven a lot of doubters wrong – including multiple CPL sides who once rejected the 25-year-old.
The existence of the Canadian Premier League saw Haynes make good on a last-gasp opportunity at the professional level, but one can’t really surmise it as a ‘lucky break’ given all the work, hardship, and rejection he endured to get to where he is today. To truly understand what hoisting the North Star Shield meant to Peterborough’s Jordan Haynes, one has to look back at a career path that did not come easily.
A Bright Start
Born and raised in Peterborough, Jordan fell in love with the game early and carved out playing opportunities with youth sides in Whitby and Ajax before landing with the TFC Academy as a teenager. It was there where the youngster – who was enjoying the sport but unsure of his future within it – was invited to trial with English side Queens Park Rangers, who were a Premier League team at the time.
While QPR is known as the side that gave Michael Petrasso and Dylan Carreiro opportunity, Haynes was actually the first Canadian to travel through a pipeline that had been laid down by Canadian coach Marc Bircham. Haynes impressed in his first trial, but it was only when he was invited back for a second that he realized he had a real shot at a pro career.
“At the time, Queens Park Rangers were in the Premiership,” reflects Haynes, “if I could be in the youth system of a Premier League club, I knew I could make it as a professional.”
While Haynes didn’t stick with English side, he still holds an ancestral visa that might re-open the door to European aspirations one day. Since trialing abroad as a teenager, however, his ambitions have been centered around a playing career in North America. It would not come easily.
Jordan was just sixteen when he left the TFC Academy for the Whitecaps Academy program, travelling alone out west to make good on his dreams. Placed in a billet house away from his family, the youngster put his nose to the grindstone and focused on giving his all at the youth level.
It was during this time that Haynes made a splash in a Canada U-17 squad led by Sean Fleming, with the team qualifying for the U-17 World Cup by virtue of a top four finish in the Concacaf U-17 Championship. Haynes helped the side to a bronze medal in the qualifying tournament, scoring an extra time equalizer against Jamaica to bring the match to a shootout. Converting his penalty, the youth international then got to experience the U-17 World Cup in Dubai not long afterwards.
“I’ll always cherish the memories of being able to play in a U-17 World Cup. Very few people get to say that, even in top-tier football countries in Europe or South America. As a Canadian, to do that is unbelievable.”
After two years of continued development at the academy level and a few Canada U-20 caps, Haynes found himself unexpectedly pulled to the side by Craig Dalrymple one day. Without any build-up, he was offered a professional contract with the newly-formed Whitecaps’ USL-based reserve team.
“I was on cloud nine,” Haynes reflects, “I remember the week after I signed, I got to meet with Carl Robinson, who was the head coach of the MLS side at the time. I had never met him before, and they were telling me what they thought and where they saw my trajectory as a player going.”
I couldn’t believe it was happening: you have dreams and aspirations as kid, and you always want something to happen, but when something you’ve been working for towards your whole life actually happens, you get floored. It’s real. When we won the CPL, I was asking if this was really real. It was just crazy. That’s where I started, with Whitecaps II.Jordan Haynes
His first season in the USL saw Jordan make good returns, with the full-back featuring regularly for the side and earning an invitation to return for a second season. It’s at this point, however, where cloud nine would give way to years of struggle.
That year saw the Whitecaps bring in an international left-back who they were considering for the first team, and he landed ahead of Haynes in the depth chart. His playing time took a back seat, and things went from bad to worse for him when Brett Levis – a current Valour FC player – was sent from the reserves to the first team. He was seen as a winger at the time, but through preseason injuries he was placed in a left-back role that he ultimately excelled in.
“He did very well, and they saw him as a left-back after that. My playing time took a real hit.”
Now third in the depth chart, Jordan began discussions with his agent ahead of an expected departure. He was sold a comfortable view on prospects in both Europe and North America in the fall, but then contact from his agent went quiet. Haynes thought he was just hard at work, but waited too long to take matters into his own hands: “by the time I decided to find a team on my own or work with someone else, all the teams in the USL had their players and had started preseason. That’s when I fell out of the pro game.”
What followed were difficult years that would test the soul, spirit, and fight of any player. Haynes would bounce between various semi-professional environments in his fight to climb back into professional heights, and that started with a stay in the United States with the Oklahoma City U-23 side. While the club covered his direct housing costs, it proved to be an expensive endeavor.
The bouncing around was really hard for me, especially when it came to not playing professionally in Oklahoma. I had to pay for my flights and living expenses, and being in a foreign country without getting paid is tough – especially with having a Canadian bank account. Everything I put on my visa had a foreign currency percentage charge, and this was my first destination after being out of the pro game.Jordan Haynes
Haynes had a few opportunities to train with the first team at Oklahoma, but was informed at the end of the season that the club wasn’t interested in signing him. After a difficult call back home, Jordan returned to Ontario and played with League1 Ontario side Vaughan Azzurri, where he – like many others – had a good working relationship with Carmine Isacco.
Canadian Premier League Comes Into Play
It was around this time when whispers of the Canadian Premier League forming were being heard from coast-to-coast. Jordan knew several of the league’s inaugural coaches from his international days, including the likes of Tommy Wheeldon Jr, Rob Gale, and Stephen Hart.
A phone call to Tommy led to an invitation to join the Calgary Foothills. Tommy was using the 2018 PDL season to get the core of his eventual Cavalry FC roster familiar with one another, which would give the side a competitive advantage in 2019. Haynes helped the side to a PDL Championship that year, but then got a bombshell at the end of it: they were going in a different direction.
Throughout the whole year, I was told that I’d be playing on the team. There were jokes of other teams wanting my rights, but them being told I was a Cavalry player. At the end of the year, though, they weren’t interested. They didn’t think I was at the right level to play pro again, and I was really shook. I had been bouncing around and thought I found my spot in the pro game. I didn’t know what to do.Jordan Haynes
Moving quickly to rescue a 2019 season he thought had been locked in at Spruce Meadows, Haynes arranged a trial with FC Edmonton through Sean Fleming. He heard good things throughout his two weeks trailing with the side, but was then informed that the club were going with a different left-back instead – the same way his tenure with the Foothills had ended.
After experiencing another failed trial with FC Tucson after that, Haynes had faced enough rejection for a lifetime, and a breaking point was reached.
“In my head, I’m wondering if I’m biased, thinking I’m doing well but I’m not,” he says, “when enough negative things happen to you, you start to think that it must be you. I always give my all in games and training, and my style of play is to work hard and ride it all out. If I can’t even do that right, that’s the bare minimum of being a professional – I might as well hang up my boots.”
Having been burnt multiple teams and bouncing around the likes of Oklahoma City, Vaughan, and the Calgary Foothills between those failed trials, Haynes decided to call curtains on his professional dreams and took a look at enrolling with UBC. His family supported whichever decision he made, but his Mom also made an offer offer: if he wanted to make one last effort to turn pro, she’d help him return out west to play with the TSS Rovers and stay sharp ahead of his first year with UBC.
Even though he was frustrated by how many barriers had stopped his return to the pro game, Haynes took her up on the offer.
“When I went, I was just so done with football. I couldn’t take the politics of it, I couldn’t take being turned away from every corner I had an opportunity to play, or being turned away without even getting the opportunity to play. I remember my first week there, I was a big sulk. Then, Will Cromack, our head coach, he made me enjoy football again.”
With a spark igniting from within him, Haynes started to play differently. He was enjoying the game for the first time in a long while, and his performances on the pitch rose to match with his spirits.
“I asked myself, why don’t I just get the most of it and enjoy it, because I still loved playing – it was just the other side of it almost ruined it for me. I started to have fun, and I was doing well with the TSS Rovers. When I went to UBC, I thought maybe I could even get drafted.”
Haynes helped lead the UBC Thunderbirds reach the nationals, where he put in a good showing and caught the eye of Pacific assistant coach James Merriman. The ever-connected coach told Haynes to expect a call after they all got home, and rang him up not long afterwards: a U SPORTS contract offer was put on the table.
“I was floored, I didn’t expect it. I thought this can’t be real.”
Pro Opportunity With Pacific
With Pa-Modou Kah – someone Haynes knew both as a player and a person through his time with the Whitecaps – being announced as the club’s head coach not long before his arrival, things seemed to be finally clicking into place. Kah took the player out to lunch and told him his goals for the club and for Jordan himself, and the near-forgotten feeling of being on cloud nine returned.
“I knew this was my chance to turn professional again,” he affirmed.
Haynes came into preseason camp with the side in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt and – once again – appeared to threaten his hard-fought return to the pro game.
COVID happened, and I was almost scared and worried – I was an unsigned player at the time. I was doing all the offseason workouts, talking to our strength and condition coach about the program, doing all the group chats and video work with everyone, but I was the only guy on the team who wasn’t ‘on the team’ at the time. I was still worried about not getting the chance again, because it had happened like that before.Jordan Haynes
When training was able to start up again, Jordan was living in Victoria on his own dime – but he didn’t have a lot of them left. He told Pa that he was nearing the point of being unable to afford the venture, but was told to keep hanging on. Just before the 2020 Canadian Premier League season began, Kah and Merriman gave Haynes a life-changing offer: a full professional contract.
Having fought to get to this point for several years, the moment came as a big one for Jordan.
I burst down in tears. I remember when they sat me down and offered it to me, telling me they wouldn’t sign me as a U SPORTS player but rather as a full-time athlete. I couldn’t picture it happening again, because I was so close and so far with all the bouncing around and going up and down at different levels of football.Jordan Haynes
Kah made it clear at the time that Haynes deserved the opportunity, having already put in plenty of hard work and showing a lot of character towards to the club. After joining the side as a proposed U SPORTS prospect in March, he was formally announced on a pro deal in July.
For Haynes, the moment still feels surreal, even two years later.
I remember telling my parents and they burst into tears. They worked so hard when I was younger to give me the opportunity. Every time I got turned down they were right there having to hear about the news, and they couldn’t be any sadder every time it happened. This was one of the most amazing pieces of news I had gotten in the last four years.Jordan Haynes
Back In The Pro Game
Jordan had been outside of the professional game for three seasons by this point, and knew he had to readjust to a faster level of training and play than he had experienced with the likes of the TSS Rovers or UBC. Feeling comfortable after a few weeks of such out west, he travelled with the squad to the Prince Edward Island bubble, an experience described as mentally and physically challenging for even the most seasoned professional athletes.
Haynes started the club’s first match in the bubble, a coast-to-coast clash against the Halifax Wanderers.
“I remember thinking before the game, this is it. This is real. This means something. I remember at the first whistle thinking ‘I better not eff up’, right? I had a really good game, though unfortunately we tied it.”
Haynes featured in eight of the club’s ten matches at The Island Games, with two of his appearances coming in the postseason stage. Pacific was pleased with his performances, opting to keep him on for what would become a memorable 2021 season.
Becoming a Champion
Jordan established himself as the team’s go-to left-back in the 2021 CPL season, making 29 appearances across all competitions and notching in a game-tying assist against Atletico Ottawa along the way. The side finished third in a league it led for goals scored, qualifying for a playoff run that would bring The Isle its first professional sporting trophy since 1966.
I didn’t even expect to play professionally two years ago, right? I was done. Two years later, here I am playing against all those teams who turned me away and winning the league against everyone. We played both of our playoff games away. We played Cavalry, who tied on points with Forge for first place this year, and won away at ATCO Field in extra time. Forge came first, and we came and won away in ninety minutes. It was one of those moments that you look back at and say, this is one of the best things I’ll ever do in my life.Jordan Haynes
The 25-year-old full-back also got the opportunity to face former side Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship. He’s quick to admit that it was more than just a game to him: it was personal.
“Winning that game and moving on wasn’t just about advancing in the cup, it was beating the team who let me go. We beat their first team. I was going up against Cristian Dajome, one of the highest-paid players on the team. Having the experience of playing that game is one thing, but the fact that we won is another, and the fact that I did my part is another, too. It was unbelievable.”
While his side would bow out in the semi-final stage against another former academy side of his – Toronto FC – he looks back on those cup experiences as something he’ll carry with him.
“The atmosphere against the Whitecaps was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life. In the next round we played away to Toronto FC at BMO Field against people like Bradley and Altidore, and I had to mark Pozuelo. I thought I held my own in that game and I learned so much from playing against pros that you would never think you’d ever get to meet. Those moments were surreal too, for the year we had.”
With the 2021 CPL season now wrapped up and Haynes finishing it as a champion, the 25-year-old is now a proven talent in professional circles – something he, of all people, will never take for granted.
If you ask any player why they play, they’ll say they play because the love it or they play to win. You always play to win games. You have so many players who play to win, but never win. That’s the majority of professional football. To actually have been able to play and win is one of the biggest things for my career. The amount of players who can’t say they’ve won at the professional level is a lot. To be able to have done that is surreal.Jordan Haynes
While his path back into the professional game saw him get knocked down aplenty, Haynes always got back up. After earning his way back in after bouncing around at the semi-professional level for years, nothing has come easy for him. He didn’t do it alone, though, and the defender recognizes that it all started with a dream back home that was fully supported by his family.
“That gold medal is as much mine as it is theirs,” says Jordan, “they helped me along my entire youth career, driving me around and being there for me. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”
While what happens next remains to be seen, the future is looking brighter for Jordan Haynes than it ever has before. The Peterborough-born full-back put in a full season in a title-winning campaign, and that will go a long way for his future opportunities.
Pacific FC has yet to confirm any returning players for the 2022 CPL season. With Lukas MacNaughton now in talks with Toronto FC, the backline seems likely to see some movement – and whether Haynes will remain in purple still remains to be seen.
If he does move, expect other Canadian Premier League sides to take more notice this time around.