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On loan from Switzerland’s FC Basel to England’s Preston North End, Canadian forward Liam Millar is back on familiar turf.

Preston is a 50-kilometre drive from Liverpool, where a teenage Millar started in the academy in 2016.

His game has also flourished with five goals and five assists since arriving in September, sparking hope among Preston supporters the move might be made permanent. The 24-year-old from Brampton, Ont., likely won over a few more fans last Saturday when his well-executed half-volley was the decider in a 1-0 win over Plymouth Argyle.

“I actually missed an easier one earlier on in the game somehow,” he said. “And then I scored the hard one. So I guess I made up for it.”

While the nimble Millar is unsure where his club future lies, the present challenge with Canada is clear. Beat No. 96 Trinidad and Tobago.

A win Saturday and the 50th-ranked Canadians qualify for this summer’s Copa America. The game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex., will determine the final team in Group A alongside top-ranked Argentina, No. 33 Peru and No. 42 Chile.

“We’re all ready. We all really want this for us and also for our nation for all the fans and everybody,” he said in an interview. “We know going into this game it’s not going to be a walk in the park.”

The Canadians were forced into the playoff after losing the CONCACAF Nations League quarter-final in November to No. 57 Jamaica on the away goals rule after the two-legged tie finished knotted at 4-4.

Trinidad lost 4-2 on aggregate to the 13th-ranked U.S., despite winning the second leg 2-1 in Port-of-Spain.

Millar moved to England with his father to pursue his soccer dream when he was about to turn 13. He initially found a home with Fulham before joining Liverpool’s academy in 2016.

His family eventually reunited in Liverpool, which sold him to Basel in July, 2021.

He says the loan move back to England has been “absolutely amazing.”

“I had something to prove, in my opinion, in England,” he said. “I left Liverpool and I always wanted to come back and prove I was good enough to play in the [second-tier] Championship. And hopefully I can prove one day that I’m good enough to play in the Premier League.”

Preston (16-13-8) sits ninth in the Championship, five points out of a promotion playoff.

The club is no stranger to Canadian talent. Forward Iain Hume played there from 2010 to 2014, with loan spells to Doncaster Rovers and Fleetwood Town.

When Millar scored in a 2-1 win over visiting Leeds United on Boxing Day, Hume sent his congratulations.

“I know he was a great player and a lot of Preston fans talk highly of him,” said Millar.

With one daughter eight months old and the other about to turn 4, he and wife Daniela (from Oakville, Ont.) have a better support group in England.

“In Switzerland it was difficult for me sometimes off the field, with the language and not being near my family. My mom, my dad, my brother, my sister. And all that kind of stuff,” he said. “So being in England, being back in the northwest where they all live, really helps.”

“I think the stuff off the pitch really carries on to the pitch and it really helps me to play well,” he added.

Basel, which stands 10th in the 12-team Swiss Super League at 9-14-5, has gone through several coaches, complicating matters for Millar.

“You never know what can happen next season,” he said. “I have no idea. We’ll have to cross that bridge when I get there.”

Millar has won 24 caps for Canada with one goal and two assists. His first camp was also John Herdman’s first in charge, in Spain in March, 2018.

Millar, then 18, recalls Herdman’s words to him when he arrived in camp.

“First thing he said to me was ‘Play without fear. You have nothing to lose here. Just go out there and have fun and enjoy the experience.’”

At Liverpool, Millar progressed from the under-18 and -19 sides to captain the U23s. He made his senior debut in February, 2020, against Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup before a sellout crowd of 52,399 at Anfield.

Millar gained first-team experience through loan spells with Scotland’s Kilmarnock and England’s Charlton Athletic where his father Alan spent several years before an injury cut his career short.

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