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Butler: de Guzman happy in Dallas, but glad to be home

Noel Butler
9/6/2012 4:33:14 PM
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The last time the BMO Field faithful caught sight of Julian de Guzman was back on July 11. Trailing their favourite West Coast rival 1-0 courtesy of an early second half Darren Mattocks strike, come the hour mark Paul Mariner had seen more then enough.

He yanked de Guzman off. Taking his seat on the bench little then did the close to 20,000 in attendance know that would be the very last time they would get to see de Guzman in the red shirt of his hometown club.

On Friday night, the Canadian football jury gets to welcome home the most talked about and argued about player the country has ever known. Now nearly two months on from his BMO Field freeze frame, any emotional scars have healed for de Guzman.

"The whole TFC era for me is the past now," the midfield lynchpin disclosed to TSN.ca. "I've moved on, I'm with a new club but when it comes to your national team it's a completely different situation."
 
"This is your country you're representing - whether it's at BMO Field, whether it's at Saputo Stadium it doesn't matter where it is but it's your national team you're getting to represent and it's for the World Cup."

For that, de Guzman is certainly very glad to be home.

"It's great to be playing again in your hometown," he said. "This is a dream come true to me to be playing in Toronto for a national team game this is for myself, another great opportunity. I'm thankful and continue to look forward to representing my country, in my hometown and it's for the World Cup. I'm definitely looking forward to it."

To say he's not anticipating an occasion to rival any other in his career (that has seen stints in Germany and Spain, two of football's most blessed founding nations) is to miss entirely the significance of what Friday night means to De Guzman and his fellow countrymen.
 
"We know the importance of this match coming up," he said. "It's pretty much the match that will decide the rest of this group stage for us. We're definitely fired up for Friday night's game."

Since making his senior Canadian debut at the 2002 Gold Cup de Guzman is of no doubt that during his time in the national team set up that this current crop is the finest. "I feel this is the best prepared and fully equipped squad for a world cup qualifier and this is my third time involved with World Cup qualification," he said.

"You can see the guys coming from their clubs, the way they have been playing, producing goals and results and they're bringing all that into the national team. Bringing all these guys together who are coming off good runs with their clubs, it shows that the quality is a lot different and the depth of the team is definitely a lot more than it ever was before."

That squad he refers to is not much different to the one that back on June 12 trudged off the BMO Field pitch following a scoreless 90 minutes against Honduras. "We still have that bad taste in our mouths," he said. "It was more of us losing two points than it was being a tie.

"We know how important it is to get a home win in a World Cup qualifying game - there's only three home games and normally you want to come out with nine points at home. We've already lost two points. Now you know going into this game against Panama it is mandatory we walk off that pitch with the three points.

"The Honduras game when you look back at it we created a lot of chances, played good football and were disciplined in the back. The major problem obviously was converting the chances into a goal. It's something we've been working on and hopefully we've all learnt that lesson going into Friday's game."

Canada will certainly need that defensive discipline as he who lurks for Panama and certainly not in the background comes in the considerable football shape and size of their very own Honduran destroyer Blas Perez.

There's nothing blase about him. "He's a big player that Panama relies on a lot," he said. "He's their top scorer and he's also a guy that really likes to get involved. He sparks their attack. I can still recall the game against Panama in last summer's Gold Cup and the type of threats and trouble he can cause in the back if you're not sharp.

 "He's a guy who's strong, likes the ball at his feet and holds up the ball well for the rest of the attack to get involved and he's a great finisher as well. We're very aware of that. The guys we have on our side we are capable of putting that to a stop Friday night".

"If we can eliminate him from Panama's attack I think that solves almost half the work done from our part."

The other half involves what crucially Canada failed to do against Honduras at BMO Field. Perez meanwhile scored both goals when Panama opened up their campaign on a winning note in San Pedro Sula on June 8.

Since arriving in Dallas, de Guzman and Perez have their very own version of an entente cordiale.  "I get along with him - he's great to play with as well," he said. "A great guy and these are the things I guess professional footballers deal with when a player at your club ends up being a player you play against at the international level.

"But that's where your professionalism kicks in and once you're on the pitch it's all business and no friends involved. Once the game is over you can carry on with life and I guess you could carry on your club level activities as teammates."

"This situation coming up Friday though is a lot different. We both know about it and now and then in the lead up he'd remind me and I'd remind him what Sept. 7 is all about and how important that day is. We both look forward to been a part of it and representing our countries."

Representing his country is something de Guzman has done exceedingly well. In more recent years de Guzman the footballer shines brightest in the red clad shirt of his nation. It's what divides opinion on him. Even with alternate choices at his disposal like most Canadian players he is immensely proud to wear the Maple Leaf.

First impressions count. "My fondest memory would have to be stepping on the pitch and getting my very first cap in the Gold Cup against Martinique back in 2002," he said. "It was under Holger Osieck and I came off the bench."

"For me, one of the greatest feelings I've ever had in my entire football career was representing my country for the very first time and it continues to be a dream that I enjoy living up to and including now."

Having started life as a Canadian player in a Gold Cup it was de Guzman's performances at the 2009 Gold Cup that convinced the Toronto FC brass to put up the DP farthings.

Fast forward three years and it's the FC Dallas red and white hoops that de Guzman displays and not a hint of hometown blues.

"At this point right now I'm enjoying myself in Dallas surprisingly," he said. "I didn't think it would turn out so positive from my perspective. It's done me well, I'm getting games, playing good football again and I'm enjoying it as well."

The beneficiary today of this new found football love is Canada. It remains to be seen though with his contract expiring at the end of the season if de Guzman extends his time in Texas.

"I think definitely Dallas would be an option for my future but at the same time I like to also focus on Europe," he said. "I have family there - I have my two kids in Germany that I don't see often."

"I would like to continue my career closer to my kids whether it's in Germany or anywhere nearby. I think Europe is also definitely on my agenda in terms of what happens to myself next season."

For de Guzman now, it's all about these next two matches for Canada - starting with Friday's must win encounter at BMO Field. A stadium that was raucously loud and Canadian proud the last time the national team was in town back in June.

Over 16,000 strong was the crowd. More importantly red was the overwhelming color with just the hint of blue Honduran language in the air.

This isn't your grandfather's football supporter type. For that matter your dad might have trouble recognizing them.

Toronto FC might be holding up the MLS table but their supporters along with the very merry band of Voyageurs who have supported the national over land and sea are finally and rightfully so having their voices heard.

This is not lost on de Guzman and his teammates. "They are the reason why we have made it this far," he said. "They are the reason why the game has made progress and changed from the past. This is a public and a country that's just dying, dying for success."

"We have our Canadian clubs who haven't been successful since they have been in MLS and our men's national team hasn't really over come this hump of getting past this point in World Cup qualifiers."

"With their support, and you can continue to see it growing, and to have that support behind you it's great to finally feel at home when you play a World Cup qualifying game."

"Without them this opportunity and been a part of it wouldn't be possible for myself and on behalf of - I'm sure anyone who ever gets called up to the national team and gets to represent the country they are truly grateful for such wonderful support from the fans."

"This is a huge turning point for football in Canada."

Prior to the kick off and how fitting it comes during a World Cup qualifier for the men's national team the country's most famous group of ladies will take center stage as the CSA honor our Olympic bronze medallists.

An inspirational moment that De Guzman believes has finally put conversation of soccer on the country's sporting agenda in this, the CSA's centenary year.

"For what they've done, they've done us proud," he said. "They've put Canada on the map when it comes to soccer and they continue to impress us and support our name."

"I think they've done a great job in setting that bar in terms of doing well at football and I think now it's the men's turn to finally put the name up there as well."

That will start with putting goals in the Panama net. Three points on the World Cup qualifying board Friday night will go a long way to putting the men's national team's name up in lights across the country. Then for this World Cup journey it's on to Panama City next Tuesday night. Voyageurs included.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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