MONTREAL — Canada captain Patrice Bernier could look on with justifiable pride on Tuesday night, as his country's youth movement kicked into gear to give Octavio Zambrano a win in his debut as the men's national team coach.
Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Bernier's Montreal Impact teammate, scored in the 87th minute to give Canada a 2-1 win in an international friendly against Curacao in the first meeting of the two teams. Both will compete in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup next month.
Bernier exited to a standing ovation from 6,026 hometown fans at Stade Saputo, 79 minutes into his 54th international appearance for Canada. The 37-year-old midfielder appreciates that his experience offers a bridge to Canada's younger players for Zambrano, who was hired as Canada's head coach in March.
“He's a guy who wants to play offensive football and he has seen the qualities of the players he has at hand,” Bernier said. “It's a young team, and when we spoke, it was because I had a lot of caps, but I have experience and to try to help this transition so these young players can grow and build strength and confidence and become the players that they can be and the team that this can be.
"And so now, like I told him, if I can help him short term, then I would. And we talked about this game and the Gold Cup, and this was a good victory, a good second half, and slowly now it's to work step by step to go to Gold Cup and get victories so that they can build and believe that Canada can play with everybody and win.”
Zambrano acknowledged the value of having a leader such as Bernier, who has 16-year-old Alphonso Davies of the Vancouver Whitecaps as a roommate.
“It's very important because his contributions are not only on the field, but off the field, that's a fact,” Zambrano said. “He's a player that can complement what we are trying to get across to the young players. So his contribution is very good in this moment that is a transitional moment. We have a lot of young players but we need to have those doses of experience that he can give us.”
Davies made his Canada debut on the night when he replaced Toronto FC's Raheem Edwards in the 53rd minute.
“Look, we have 21 years difference, you know, when I was starting he was barely born,” Bernier said. “But the good thing is I see a bit of myself, being a teenager, the things he does, but at 16 I was coming out of the World Cup U-17, and he's in the [senior] men's national team. So it shows the gap of where Canada has gone, where 16-year-olds can play and contribute, because he could have scored and brought the penalty.”
Jackson-Hamel, who has four goals in eight MLS regular season games with Montreal this season, came on for Orlando City SC striker Cyle Larin in the 61st minute in his second game for Canada.
“Patrice is a very important guy in the locker room.... I would even say for the whole team he's a good liaison with the staff,” Jackson-Hamel said. “I've come to know him over the years and he's someone who really keeps us on track and focused together, so it's really important to have him with us and it's fun that he has been selected to be here.”