Atiba Hutchinson’s devotion to the Canadian cause is demonstrated every time he is summoned by his country.
For the past home World Cup qualifier, the 32-year-old from Brampton, Ont., jumped on a four-hour flight from Istanbul to London, where he had a three-hour stopover before folding his lanky body onto another plane for a 9 1/2-hour flight to Vancouver.
“My sleeping pattern’s all over the place,” the veteran midfielder said, when asked about the toll the travel takes.
Hutchinson, who plays for Turkey’s Besiktas, has learned to endure the jet lag. And he keeps answering the call.
Canadian soccer is grateful. The elegant Hutchinson is Canada’s most influential and important player, a status reflected Friday in his fourth Canadian male player of the year award.
“We are very proud of Atiba Hutchinson,” Canadian coach Benito Floro said in a statement. “He is the player that coaches and teammates want to have around.”
Hutchinson, who also won in 2010, 2012 and 2014, joins Dwayne De Rosario as the only four-time winner of the award.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Hutchinson said.
Orlando City striker Cyle Larin, the MLS rookie of the year, was second in voting by Canadian media and coaches. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan was third ahead of Canadian captain/midfielder Julian de Guzman and defender Adam Straith. In all, 15 players received votes.
“As a four-time winner of this award, he ranks amongst Canada’s best athletes, ” Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani said in a statement.
Hutchinson played in four World Cup qualifiers this year, helping Canada eliminate Belize before taking four points in the first two matches of the current qualifying round. He was named man of the match in the 1-0 win over Honduras on Nov. 13.
Hutchinson helped Besiktas qualify for the Europa League by finishing third in the 2014-15 Turkish league. The Istanbul-based club is currently atop the Turkish standings.
While listed at 183 pounds and just under 6 foot 2, Hutchinson looks more pipe cleaner than bodybuilder. But he is deceptively strong, able to hold off opponents while using his technical skills to further protect the ball.
A savvy footballer, Hutchinson can play ball-winner in front of the backline or move up to trigger the attack.
Next up for Hutchinson and 88th-ranked Canada is No. 22 Mexico, the No. 1 side in CONCACAF. The Mexicans have won both their opening matches to lead Canada’s pool with six points.
Canada hosts Mexico in Vancouver on March 26 before heading to Mexico’s City’s imposing Azteca Stadium for a March 29 rematch.
“I think we have a chance, at least to win our first game at home,” Hutchinson said. “I think we’ve got a good chance at that.”
Canada will visit Honduras and host El Salvador in September to wrap up Group A play. The top two teams in the pool will qualify for the final round of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“I think it would mean a lot, not just for the group [of players] but for the whole country,” Hutchinson said of qualifying for the so-called Hex [Hexagonal] round.
“it would be a very big step for us,” he added.
Defender Kadeisha Buchanan, also a Brampton native, was named female player of the year on Thursday.
Hutchinson acknowledged his team has watched the success of the Canadian women, World Cup quarter-finalists ranked 11th in the world.
“The men obviously want to have a part of that … The only way to do that is to bring in results,” he said. “We’ve have a good start and we want to just continue that now.”