De Guzman focused on Canada’s future, not past


Julian de Guzman, left, in action for Canada. (Ronald Zak/AP)

VANCOUVER—Julian de Guzman understands why everyone wants to talk about the humiliating loss Canada suffered at the hands of Honduras three years ago.

“It’s not easy to forget,” said the 34-year-old midfielder of the 8–1 drubbing, which happened during the last cycle of World Cup qualifying. After that loss—a cringe-worthy performance on Canada’s part—de Guzman spoke openly about Canada’s failure to earn a draw in San Pedro Sula, which would have allowed the team to move forward in the next stage of CONCACAF qualifying.

“We pretty much embarrassed ourselves,” he said at the time.

But as much as people might want to build a tidy redemption narrative around Canada’s World Cup qualifier against Honduras on Friday, de Guzman told Sportsnet it’s not that simple.

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“It’s something we want to forget about,” he said, “and I think moving forward, and doing well in this game, will help that matter.”

“It was a lesson learned, not just the 8–1 but also the tie game that we had in the opening—the home game in Toronto—so I think it’s more something we’ve grown from,” he added. “All in all I think that particular game doesn’t play too much of a role in the game on Friday.”

What a good result would do, of course, is help people to forget—meaning the focus would be placed on the promise of a team with an influx of young talent. This is a different squad, after all, and a win for Canada would signal a change in their fortunes, which, for long-time team fixtures such as de Guzman, would mean that all those low points were worth something.

For de Guzman especially, as a veteran with 83 caps, a win in Vancouver—gaining those crucial three points—and an eventual move to the next round of qualifying, would be significant. He’s conscious of his legacy, and hopes those achievements will be a part of his story once his career winds down.

“This will definitely be my last cycle,” de Guzman offered. “I think that’s a lot of pressure—you want to be able to walk away from not just the game itself but from your country, what you’ve done for your side for such a long time, on a good note.”

De Guzman hasn’t just stuck through the team’s rough years to don a red jersey. The five-foot-seven Toronto native made what he called a “heartbreaking” decision to miss out on his pro club’s championship game on Sunday in order to suit up for Canada.

De Guzman’s lengthy professional career has taken him everywhere from the Bundesliga, where he spent three seasons with Hannover 96, to La Liga, where he became the first Canadian to play in Spain’s top professional league, with Deportivo La Coruna between 2005 and 2009, to Major League Soccer, where he famously became the first Canadian designated player in MLS history when he joined Toronto FC in 2009.

He now plays for the Ottawa Fury of the North American Soccer League, a second-tier league whose championship, known as the Soccer Bowl, will take place in New York, two days after Canada’s matchup with Honduras in Vancouver.

De Guzman considered playing in both games—flying out to New York on Saturday in the hopes of suiting up the next day—but the logistics proved tricky. Canada faces El Salvador on Tuesday, meaning de Guzman would have to fly out after Sunday’ game in order to rejoin the Canadian team in San Salvador. The recovery—to maintain a suitable level of fitness for all three games—would be impossible.

“It’s something that I don’t think anyone wants to ever experience,” de Guzman said of his disappointment at missing out on Ottawa’s final. He’s hoping it’s a situation the NASL will rectify in the future—the decision to schedule a final during a FIFA international break.

Despite skipping his club’s championship match, de Guzman is feeling positive. The Canadian squad features a crop of exciting new players, and for the veterans, there’s extra reason to be optimistic about the team’s chance.

“It’s a different feeling, [for] guys who experienced the last cycle, going into qualifiers,” de Guzman said. “Before our first game we already feel there’s something special in the group in terms of scoring goals.”

De Guzman points to Junior Hoilett, the Queens Park Rangers winger who will make his competitive debut for Canada as a 25-year-old, and Cyle Larin, the 20-year-old Brampton native who was named MLS rookie of the year earlier this week, as players the team can look to.

“Having these young guys, it makes my job a lot more enjoyable,” he said.

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In de Guzman’s assessment, Canada is a well-balanced team.

“I think for what the core has brought, from the last cycle until now, and what’s been added around it, you find a complete side,” he said. “Overall the quality and matureness of the squad is very sound.”

The team has had three years to study Honduras’s game, though coach Benito Floro said this week that Canada will “need to do our things, not depend on the opponent.” Floro added that a win for the team on Friday is critical, not just for the three points they’d earn, but because it would show how far they’ve come.

“It’s a lot different that it was before,” de Guzman said of the team under Floro’s watch. “What we’ve created, just in the change room, is very positive. It will help a lot in our performance in the game.”

For de Guzman, a successful outcome—not redemption, exactly, but a step in the right direction for the team—would mean getting further than any Canadian side has gone in decades. The ideal final chapter in his storied career?

“Helping Canada make not just the Hex but also the World Cup,” he said. “To walk away from something like that—that you know you’ve finally done it for your country—it just makes your career a lot more colourful.”

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