TORONTO — Standing next to some of the younger players suiting up for the Canadian men's national team these days, Samuel Piette almost looks like a veteran at 23.
That just means, despite his relatively young age, the Montreal Impact impact midfielder is being called upon to provide some leadership on a promising squad that features teenagers Ballou Tabla, Liam Millar and Alphonso Davies, among others.
“I consider myself as a young player and to have them on board—they have so much talent playing at big clubs like Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich — it’s so good to have players like them as the new generation coming in,” Piette told MLSsoccer.com after Canada wrapped up a training session ahead of Tuesday night’s Concacaf Nations League qualifier vs. Dominica at BMO Field (7 pm ET).
“I have a lot of experience with the national team [so I can] let them know my knowledge and how it was before and make sure they know what they need to do when they come to camp.”
While much off-field work has been done by new coach John Herdman so far this year, the team has been almost completely inactive on the field in 2018. Apart from the early friendly against New Zealand in the spring, Canada has played just one other game — an 8-0 rout of the U.S. Virgin Islands last month.
The program will be buzzing over the next year with more Nations League games, the 2019 Gold Cup and possibly the resumption of World Cup qualifying. It’s been a long time coming for the players who have largely had to only focus on their club careers.
“We’ve always played a lot of friendlies in past years because we were out of World Cup qualifying,” said Piette, who's earned 39 caps for Canada since 2012. “Playing friendlies is good but to have something to fight for with every game counting, it feels good to be back here.”
After Canada plays Dominica, Piette will jump right back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race with the Impact, who are battling D.C. United for the final spot in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Piette has played every game under new coach Remi Garde, and after a slow start where players and coach were learning on the fly, the midfielder is pleased with how Montreal has steadily improved.
“If we don’t make the playoffs, I think it will be because of not getting points at the beginning of the season,” Piette said. “I think we had 13 games with nine points, which is very bad. There’s been a lot of improvement. I don’t think it’s a failure. We’re so close to qualifying. It’s not like we’re 10 or 20 points behind.”
D.C. currently hold a one-point advantage with a game in hand on Montreal, putting the Impact in a tough spot for their final two regular-season games (vs. Toronto on Sunday and at New England on Decision Day).
But regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Montreal’s improvement as the season’s progressed under a new coach is reason for optimism.
“He’s very disciplined,” Piette said of Garde. “Tactics are important but he’s very big on us giving our everything and pushing our limits. He’s pretty direct in his messages so it’s good that there’s no gray zone. It’s black and white.”