Cool as Ice: A Conversation With Canadian Soccer Star Jonathan David

In March of this year, the Canadian men’s national soccer team clinched its first FIFA World Cup berth in 36 years with a resounding 4–0 victory over Jamaica. When the tournament kicks off on November 20th in Qatar, it will be only the second time Canada has appeared on the largest stage in the sport — the 1986 squad failed to score a single goal in the tournament held in Mexico, losing all three of its matches.

The hopes for Qatar are higher. Much higher. Leading the charge for this generation of Canadian players is striker Jonathan David, who finished second in scoring in the two-year qualifying window among CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football) nations, which fought for three guaranteed spots in the 32-team tournament. David scored nine goals over 14 matches — second only to the 13 goals scored by teammate Cyle Larin — and was instrumental in helping Canada exorcise three decades’ worth of demons.

That’s not the only recent soccer history of which David has been part, either. In 2021, the now 22-year-old’s 13 goals helped LOSC Lille win Ligue 1, the top tier in French soccer, denying overwhelming favourites Paris Saint-Germain their fourth league title in a row, and ninth in 10 seasons.

This summer, while clubs around the world were spending billions buying and selling players in the annual transfer window (“billions” isn’t hyperbole — English Premier League clubs alone spent almost €2 billion on players), David was linked with powerhouse clubs across Europe, like Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, and Inter Milan. He ended up staying in France, where he’s been since 2020, when he moved from Belgian club K.A.A. Gent in a $35 million transfer.

Born in Brooklyn while his parents were visiting family, David spent the first six years of his life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, before his parents uprooted the family to Ottawa. His passion for the beautiful game was evident at a young age. David’s father played, and David would eventually take up the same position, scoring goals at a prodigious rate as a teenager.

jonathan david

“Soccer is such a [big] part of Haitian culture, it’s absolutely crazy how much they love soccer down there,” says David over a Zoom call from France after a training session for Lille. “And I’ve always loved the game, from as young as I can remember.”

It was last winter when David realized that the World Cup might be a realistic goal for Canada. In October, Canada beat Panama 4–1 and leapfrogged its opponent into third place in the standings. Then, in the January qualifying window, Canada won all three of its matches, including a statement 2–0 victory over the United States, ranked 11th in the world at the time of the match.

“I think at that point, we knew that we could really do it, but the job wasn’t done yet,” says David. “We knew we couldn’t act as if the last three games were already over and start celebrating.”

jonathan david
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David credits John Herdman, coach of the men’s national team, with helping the group stay focused until the very end, when Canada officially clinched a World Cup spot. “John came in and changed everything,” explains David. “He changed how we thought. We have a lot of good players in this country, but John helped us believe in ourselves. It’s become a brotherhood, where every player wants to fight for each other.”

It was Herdman who coined the nickname for which David has become famous: the Iceman. Herdman gave David (who’s known for his cool-under-pressure demeanour) the moniker early on in their professional relationship, and it’s stuck ever since. “I like to think I’m someone that’s always calm,” laughs David. “As a striker, someone who’s relied on to score goals, I think that quality comes in handy. I’m never too eager in a situation, and that extends off the pitch too. I’m pretty quiet in real life; I make my words count.”

Even now, the fact that he’ll be in Qatar in November feels surreal to David.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” he says. “It’s something I dreamed about as a kid. It’s the biggest stage in the world, and everyone’s watching. It’s the ultimate goal of every player in the game.”

Outside the game, David is your typical 22-year-old. When he’s not helping lead his adopted country back to soccer respectability, he enjoys gaming, fashion, and hanging out with his friends and family. “I wouldn’t say I’m a sneakerhead, but I like to try things that are a little bit outside the box,” he says of his sartorial choices. “I like experimenting with different kinds of looks.”

David’s interest in fashion has even led him to an official collaboration with renowned streetwear boutique Union Los Angeles and marketing agency Fly Nowhere. Earlier this year, the trio released the For Haiti collection, which featured gear that David helped design. All of the proceeds from the collection, which is still available for purchase, are donated directly to The Haitian Foundation and The Sanneh Foundation with the goal of bringing sustainable programs to Haiti, using soccer as a catalyst to combat poverty.

“I was a kid who spent his first few years in Haiti, and I’m about to play in a World Cup,” David says when talking about the genesis of the collaboration. “Maybe we can help these kids live out their soccer dreams too.”