Lensky spurns Canada for Czech youth team

Vancouver's Jacob Lensky has turned down the chance to play for the Canadian men's soccer team and appears to have pledged his international allegiance to the Czech Republic, CBCSports.ca learned Thursday.

It appears another talented youngster has spurned the Canadian men's soccer team in favour of another country.

Jacob Lensky, a 20-year-old defender from Vancouver who plays professionally for Dutch club FC Utrecht, was to be officially named to Canada's 18-man roster on Thursday for a pair of international friendlies against Macedonia and Poland later this month.

But Lensky, who has yet to make an appearance for Canada's senior team, turned down the offer so that he can play for the Czech Republic's under-21 side next week, the Canadian Soccer Association confirmed to CBCSports.ca.

In theory, Lensky, who has represented Canada at the U-20 and U-23 levels, could still turn out for Canada's senior team sometime in the future, as a player's international and World Cup eligibility isn't determined until he plays in a qualifying game for a country's senior team.

What this means for Canada

Jacob Lensky was considered a talented future prospect for the Canadian national team.

The 20-year-old native of Vancouver, who can play either in defence of midfield, spent a large part of his teenage years playing for several top European youth teams, including Anderlecht (Belgium), Sparta and Slavia Prague (Czech Republic), Blackburn (England) and Celtic (Scotland).

When he was 17, Lensky signed with Rotterdam’s Feyenoord and made his professional debut in the Dutch first division on Feb. 11, 2007. He also represented Canada at the under-20 and under-23 level.

Shockingly, he announced his retirement in August 2008, citing personal reasons, but after taking some time off and training with the Vancouver Whitecaps, he returned to professional soccer earlier this year when he signed with Dutch club FC Utrecht.

So, how big of a blow is the potential loss of Lensky to the Canadian national team?

It's hard to say. Lensky has only played a handful of games Utrecht this season, but he did show enough promise to earn a call up to the Canadian senior team from coach Stephen Hart.

Lensky has tremendous upside and his versatility would have given him a good chance to earn a regular spot in Canada's starting lineup.

But Lensky's decision appears to be a clear statement of declaration that he intends to represent the Czech Republic, his father's birth nation, and not Canada in international play.

Interim coach Stephen Hart was informed of Lensky's decision Thursday afternoon via email.

"It was shocking. I spoke to him before, he agreed to come in, we issued a [plane] ticket to him, and up until today, as far as we were concerned, he was going to play for Canada," Hart told CBCSports.ca.

Lensky's choice to play for the Czech youth team, and the way it was communicated, left Hart more than a little disappointed.

"The manner in which it was done, right now I have a sour taste in my mouth," Hart admitted.

Steven Bottjer, a contributing writer for RedNation Online, a Canadian soccer news website, corresponded with Lensky via email earlier this week.

In an article published on the RedNation website Wednesday night, Lensky confirmed that he already accepted Hart's invite to play for Canada against Macedonia (on Nov. 14) and Poland (Nov. 18).

Like Hart, Bottjer was caught off guard by Lensky's decision to play for the Czech youth team.

"He indicated to me that in speaking with Stephen Hart that he was surprised to get called up and was looking forward to playing for Canada," Bottjer told CBCSports.ca.

Lensky, who was offered the chance to play for the Czech youth team on Wednesday, is not the first Canadian-born player to snub Canada in favour of another country.

Owen Hargreaves, born in Calgary, famously debuted for England's national team eight years ago in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup.

In 2008, Jonathan de Guzman, born in Scarborough, Ont., decided to play for the Netherlands after receiving Dutch citizenship.

Last month, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina but grew up in Edmonton and played for Canada's youth team, was capped for the Bosnian national team.

As a passionate Canadian soccer fan, Bottjer doesn't feel betrayed or angry over Lensky choosing to nail his flag to the Czech mast. But he says he does think the young defender could have handled things in a more professional manner.

"He made an agreement to play for Canada next week, and he dropped out at the last minute. If it were me, I would have honoured that commitment," Bottjer said.

"Like a lot of Canadian players, he has options to play for other countries … [but] it is a little bit disappointing because he is a talented player, and it would have been interesting to see what he could have brought to the table for the Canadian national team."

Jacob Lensky could not be reached by CBCSports.ca for comment on this story at time of publication.