For Canada, 2017 Gold Cup begins with must-win game vs. French Guiana

HARRISON, N.J. -- With a six-game Gold Cup goalless drought extending all the way back to the start of the 2013 competition, the Canadian national team has made it a priority to leave Red Bull Arena with three points in Friday night’s tournament opener against French Guiana.

“From past experience, the first game of the Gold Cup is the most important,” said veteran midfielder Patrice Bernier from the Montreal Impact. “The first game could solidify what we’ve done in the friendly against Curacao [a 2-1 win in June]. So it’s important to start off well because we know we’re playing against two other very good opponents.”

Canada knows from experience the troubles that come with a slow start. Back in 2013, they were out of sorts against Martinique and conceded a stunning goal to go down to a 1-0 defeat.

With the team somewhat shell-shocked, Canada were unable to rally back against Mexico and Panama as they went home early and without finding the net.

With new coach Octavio Zambrano prioritizing an open, attacking style, Canada wants to finally get things going offensively and put those kind of memories behind them. And it all starts with French Guiana.

“This is definitely the most important game for us right now,” said Zambrano. “We know that getting a good result in this first match would give us enough of a confidence builder. Our second match being Costa Rica, it’s vital that we get past this obstacle.”

Zambrano has brought in plenty of youth to gain international experience, but with the intention that those younger players will begin learning to win -- and not merely compete -- on the international stage.

That hasn’t happened at the Gold Cup since 2011, when Canada beat Caribbean side Guadeloupe in Tampa.

“We can’t expect that people will accept for too long the idea that we are just here to participate and give our guys some experience,” said Zambrano. “I don’t want it to be that way. I want us to have within us part of our developmental scheme going forward.”