With Canada delivering the type of dominating performance against St. Lucia on Friday that Canadian soccer pundits have been bellowing for since Canada kicked off their first round of World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014 and with Simeon Jackson having become only the second player in the history of the Canadian Men’s National team to score a hat trick, the news that Julian de Guzman has earned his 50th cap for Canada has flown a little bit under the radar. RedNation Online recently caught up with the veteran midfielder to discuss the milestone and the progress that the Canadian National Team has made since he made his first appearance back in 2002.
“It's a great honour to hit that 50th cap. I mean it was always a dream for me growing up to play for the Canadian National Team and to represent my country at the highest level. I feel great and I always look forward to stepping on the pitch and being able to play for my country. Fifty games is a great number and a great achievement in anybody's career in terms of representing their country and I look forward to representing Canada for many years to come,” said De Guzman today ahead of Canada’s World Cup qualifier against Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
With Kevin McKenna earning his 50th cap earlier this year and Dwayne De Rosario now past sixty in terms of appearances with the National Team, De Guzman believes that the Canadian team has a nice mix of players of who have been core players with the squad for a number of years now and new players who have brought a fresh energy and injection of youthful talent into the squad.
“It's always good to have good balance. Every time I come into the National Team and you see the guys that you have been playing with for over a decade, it definitely adds a lot of comfortability and confidence to your game. To have that experience in the squad for a lot of the young players coming in and trying to find a spot as well, I think it's does well for the team and brings a lot of stability for the future of the program. I think that if Canada continues to do well with the guys that we have that have that national team experience, I think it definitely provides a good impression for the young guys and the young talents that are coming up and showing their abilities towards making the national team.”
When asked for his thoughts on how he thinks the national team program has evolved since his first appearance with the Senior team in a Gold Cup match back in January, 2002, the 30 year old Toronto native was not only candid in stating that he believes that the team has come a long way, he also wasn’t shy in crediting the establishment of MLS clubs in Canada with being a multifaceted leap forward for the sport in his home country.
“You can see the difference. You can see a lot of talent coming out and getting their chances, not just with the Canadian National Program, but now we have professional teams involved in the MLS. That is also a huge bonus for the program. It's an opportunity for the National Team to follow a lot of young Canadians with the MLS teams around. I think if you look at the squad now and the amount of MLS players that are playing or that are involved in the league, they are playing a lot and they are young guys too, which is something that you didn't really find in the past. Maybe you would have been able to find a handful of guys getting minutes overseas and not always at the highest levels. But now you have guys that are playing full nineties with their clubs and it's easier for the National Team staff and scouts to follow them, the production and development of Canadian talent is a lot more than it was before. It's continuing to make progress and I think the difference is such that you can definitely see the difference between 2002 and now.”
And with the advent of the MLS in Canada, not only is the country producing more national team quality players than ever before, De Guzman has also seen the rise of a soccer media and national team fan base that is demanding better performances from a team that it ultimately wants to see playing in a World Cup. The Toronto FC designated player believes that those have been fundamental characteristics that were missing in past years and he sees the national team players responding to the pressure brought on by a more fervent fan base and a more critical media eye.
“(The MLS) definitely improved the football culture. This is first time I think that the National Team has felt this type of pressure in terms of getting results. In the past years, we have always had the potential and the guys that could have gelled together, but there have always been a couple of aspects missing in terms of getting the complete national team side and making it really top level. Now that we have the MLS involved, it improves the football culture in all parts of Canada. And then when the country gets together to perform, that pressure is also there and I think that pressure is something that is a spark for the national team in terms of doing well. I can imagine what is going to happen if Canada makes the World Cup - it's going to take football to another level in Canada.”
As he looks to the current state of the team, De Guzman believes that the current extra round of World Cup qualifying matches has been a genuine blessing for a team that simply didn’t have enough opportunities to play together in the past.
“These games are very important for us. I think it is also a bonus to get the guys together for these games, being able to gel and prepare ourselves for the upcoming stage next year. With the performance of guys being able to fight for their spots, that's also of huge importance for every individual and getting the games - that's something that I think the National Team has been struggling with in the past when leading up to World Cup qualifying in terms of getting the amount of games that we needed to prepare. Playing games does help the team to bond well and it helps us to perform and allows us to prepare for the important stages in the future.”