CanMNT: Playing days growing short, Julian de Guzman says role is to groom new generation

Training the person who's eventually going to take your job can present a bit of an awkward situation – but not for Julian de Guzman. Instead, he’s relishing the opportunity to help guide the next generation of Canadian national team players.

“To be here, to bring up the level of play and to give a challenge for these young guys to aim for and become better, this is my goal for the national team,” de Guzman told reporters on a conference call from Austria on Monday.

The 33-year-old midfielder is preparing for Canada’s second international friendly of a 10-day training camp in Austria, as Les Rouges will face Moldova on Tuesday (11:30 am ET). After breaking a 10-game goalscoring drought against Bulgaria on Friday in a 1-1 draw, Canada are now looking for their first win in their last 15 international matches.

“The best way to end this camp on a good note, a finishing touch, would be to get a result against Moldova,” said de Guzman.

But the former Toronto FC and FC Dallas Designated Player is also keeping his eyes on the big picture. Head coach Benito Floro has said that de Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson, Canada’s two most experienced veterans at this camp, would have a crucial role to play in guiding and helping teach the many youngsters. And de Guzman, who has been with the senior team for nearly a decade-and-a-half, is fully embracing that role at this juncture in his career.

“Time flies by so fast, and it’s really interesting to go through this experience, seeing the talent that comes through,” he said. “The more I see midfielders come in, the [Kyle] Bekkers, the Bryce [Aldersons], the [Samuel] Piettes, my goal for myself and them is to become better and hopefully at some point, knock me off my spot.

“That’s one of the main reasons why Atiba and I are here, to help set the tone and standards and hopefully sometime in the years to come, months to come, there will be that younger generation that is good enough to fill in our boots.”

While some Canadian fans believed wholesale changes were in store after Canada’s ignominious exit from qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Floro knew that a core group of veterans would be needed to help ease the transition to a new generation of players, with eyes on the 2018 World Cup.

That’s led some to worry whether players like de Guzman – who’ll be 37 when the World Cup rolls into Russia – will cling desperately to their spot, in the hopes of one final shot at making the big tournament. But while de Guzman says he’s “enjoying the game more than ever”, he insists he won’t overstay his welcome with Canada.

“In all honesty, I would rather see younger guys take my spot,” he said. “This is the idea of having a better national team.”

De Guzman says there’s been a shift in the mind set at this training camp, and the level of confidence reminds him of the team’s halcyon days of 2007 (back when the team was one disallowed goal away from potentially reaching the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup). But he said he also realizes that confidence in camp isn’t enough – going forward, it has to translate into on-field results, starting on Tuesday.

“The mentality of this team and the country itself, it has to change,” he said. “We have to treat these camps as if we’re playing for points; and actually, we are playing for points. We desperately need better rankings in the tables of CONCACAF.

“Right now, every friendly match is very crucial for us. A lot of the guys are aware of that and I think it’s good we have this type of pressure. … This is what the younger generation really needs to adapt to and accept when it comes to this level of football.”