Julian de Guzman on verge of Canadian men's soccer record
Midfielder set to surpass Stalteri’s cap mark of 84
Julian de Guzman won his first Canadian cap almost 14 years ago, a late addition to the 2002 Gold Cup squad after Garret Kusch was injured.
"I still have my debut jersey. You could still see the print of Kusch's name on my jersey with de Guzman over it," he recalled with a chuckle.
Now Canada's captain, the 35-year-old de Guzman is making his own mark. On Tuesday, the midfielder is set to surpass Paul Stalteri's men's record of 84 caps as Canada continues its World Cup soccer qualifying campaign in El Salvador (8:30 p.m. ET).
Ranked 102nd in the world, Canada is in a group with No. 24 Mexico, No. 94 El Salvador and No. 95 Honduras in the penultimate round of CONCACAF qualifying. The top two teams will advance to the six-country final round of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Three will eventually book their tickets to the 2018 World Cup in Russia while the fourth-place finisher meets an Asian team in a playoff to see who joins them.
This particular squad, when you look at it on paper, it's definitely one of the best teams put together in a long time.- Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman
Canada opened the current round with a stylish 1-0 win over Honduras on Friday in Vancouver. El Salvador, its top players absent due to a dispute with the national federation, was beaten 3-0 in Mexico.
De Guzman believes this Canadian squad, with its blend of experience and youth, has the talent to do some damage.
"This particular squad, when you look at it on paper, it's definitely one of the best teams put together in a long time."
The addition of David (Junior) Hoilett paid immediate dividends against Honduras as the Queens Park Rangers winger was a threat all night.
De Guzman says this squad has the most potential since the 2007 Gold Cup team, beaten 2-1 by the U.S. in the semifinals after a late Canadian tying goal was controversially waved off.
"I think we're not just as good but even better," said de Guzman, who was named MVP at the 2007 tournament.
De Guzman said he had the same feeling against Honduras on Friday as he did at the 2007 Gold Cup, the belief and confidence that Canada was going to win the game.
De Guzman made his senior debut off the bench in January 2002 in a somewhat inglorious quarter-final penalty shootout win over lowly Martinique in Miami's Orange Bowl. Despite the result, the midfielder still savours the memory.
"It was a massive feeling. And I still feel the same way every time I get a chance to put the jersey on. It hasn't changed one bit."
The roster that day included the likes of Stalteri, Jason deVos, Jason Bent, Dwayne De Rosario and Kevin McKenna. Kusch, meanwhile, is a practising chiropractic who works with the national team.
Stalteri, who also captained Canada, retired in 2013 and now helps unearth young talent for the Canadian Soccer Association.
Stalteri broke defender Randy Samuel's record of 82 caps. De Rosario ended his career with 81 caps while hard-nosed defender Mark Watson, now an assistant coach with Orlando City, finished with 78.
They are all Canadian soccer icons.
De Guzman has played for his country through good and bad, working under managers Holger Osieck, Bruce Twamley, Frank Yallop, Stephen Hart, Dale Mitchell, Tony Fonseca, Colin Miller and now Benito Floro.
His hairstyle may have changed from a bushy mop to a close-shave on top, but de Guzman has always been good on the ball, with an eye to linking up with a teammate.
While he has played club soccer in Spain, Germany, Greece and Major League Soccer, these days he is a member of Ottawa Fury FC of the second-tier North American Soccer League, although his international responsibilities kept him from Sunday's NASL championship game. Ottawa lost 3-2 to the New York Cosmos.
While his club future next year is yet to be finalized, he hopes to stay in Ottawa with an eye to helping Canadian soccer down the line.
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert did not make the trip to San Salvador due to injury.