"He de Guzman'd it!"
Tuesday evening, former Toronto FC designated player and current Canadian men's national team captain Julian de Guzman set the record for most appearances in a Team Canada kit, registering his 85th cap in a scoreless draw against El Salvador.
While many use the term "De Guzman" jokingly as a verb, indicating a desperate attempt from distance that sails high over the net (which Julian did far too much of throughout his 65 matches for TFC), let us today define the phrase differently.
To play the game with passion and desire, fully committed to the crest on one's shirt and country in which one was raised
While Canadians nation-wide have been historically irritated by his brother's complete lack of dedication and commitment to the Canadian team (younger brother Jonathan was eventually called up and cap-tied to the Netherlands), Julian has been heralded for the exact opposite reason.
A dedicated, impassioned, battle-hardened engine in Canada's midfield, de Guzman has always left it all on the field for his national team. Missing the NASL Championship (Soccer Bowl) with the Ottawa Fury this past weekend to compete in a World Cup Qualifier is a testament to his commitment to Team Canada, and his country over club philosophy.
While Fury fans may not have been thrilled with his decision and eventual result for their club, those who cheer on their national side were undoubtedly excited to see him on board for the two recent encounters. It was with his appearance in the second game, in El Salvador on Tuesday, that Julian de Guzman officially surpassed Paul Stalteri's mark of 84 caps for the Canadian senior men's side.
De Guzman was first capped for Team Canada in January of 2002, just prior to his 21st birthday. Two years too late for Canada's historic 2000 Gold Cup win, de Guzman unfortunately never had the privilege of winning a continental or international tournament with the Canadian side. Nobody can claim, however, that it was for lack of trying.
De Guzman holds the distinct honour of being the only Canadian position player (Craig Forrest won the award as well) to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup MVP award, a title he collected in 2007 as he led Team Canada to a third place finish. De Guzman notably bagged a brace in Canada's tournament opener that year, allowing les Rouges to overcome Costa Rica by a score of 2-1.
In 2009, de Guzman was also named to the Gold Cup all-tournament team, again amassing several impressive outings for Team Canada's midfield. Between those two accolades, Julian de Guzman was named Canadian player of the year in 2008, the same year he was awarded player of the year for La Liga side Deportivo la Coruna as they finished 9th in the league table. De Guzman's signing with Deportivo was also a Canadian first, as no Canuck had ever taken to the pitch for a club in Spain's top tier.
Here's the thing about Julian de Guzman: despite all those prior successes, once he returned to the Great White North as a Toronto FC player, he became incredibly frustrating to watch. De Guzman rarely demonstrated the glimpses of talent and brilliance that had landed him contracts with Bundesliga club Hannover 96 and the aforementioned Deportivo.
Many would argue de Guzman failed to live up to his billing as Toronto's first ever designated player. And at the risk of generalizing too broadly, as aggravated Toronto FC fans, we in turn tended to watch de Guzman more closely than most when he was called up to Team Canada, scrutinizing his every play and eager to judge him harshly.
Astonishingly, however, as closely as we watched and as much as we wanted to criticize, whenever de Guzman pulled on that Maple Leaf-crested (no, not the huge one forced onto the TFC kit) jersey, he much more often than not demonstrated fantastic skill and decision-making. Sure, he showed some rare lapses in judgment and moments of numbskullery- diving into reckless challenges and sending long balls awry, but de Guzman was by and large much better in Team Canada's midfield than that of Toronto FC. And that is what this is about: de Guzman as a representative of Canada, not his time with the omni-shambolic MLS club where careers go to die (Sebastian Giovinco excluded).
Canadian international Julian de Guzman, and his impressive milestone, should be celebrated. This is a player who went overseas and played in two of the world's best football leagues. He could have bided his time, waiting to see where his career would take him and whether he would be eligible for a European nation willing to call him up and give him a... errr... more realistic shot at playing in the World Cup.
But he didn't. He followed up his 13 appearances for Canada's U20 side with what has now become a whopping 85 for the senior squad. De Guzman has never wavered in his Canadian-ness, futile as the national team may have at times appeared to him, becoming a stalwart in team Canada's midfield. He is not the most decorated Canadian player, nor does he have the most impressive statistics (as a primarily defensive midfielder he has only amassed 4 goals in his 85 matches), but he has turned into a truly reliable veteran presence and leader for the team, evidenced by Benito Floro's insistence on not only starting de Guzman in important matches, but captaining him as well.
Love him or hate him, Julian de Guzman has been an epic warrior, honourable ambassador and loyal servant for Team Canada over the last 13 years. Congratulations, Julian- hopefully you can keep playing an important role for the Canadian side and lead us to the Hex in 2016.