It’s the end of the road for Canada’s 2018 World Cup hopes, and likely also the end of the road for two of the team’s longest-serving players.
Canada won 3-1 against El Salvador at BC Place on Tuesday night, a positive result to end the campaign, but not enough to see them through to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.
It was a bitter ending to the qualifying cycle, particularly for midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, who wore the captain’s armband on Tuesday. The 33-year-old, who has made 77 appearances for Canada, broke down into tears when asked after the game about his national-team future.
“We’ll see what happens,” said an emotional Hutchinson. “It’s too early to say right now.”
Another veteran midfielder, Julian de Guzman, seemed a little more definitive about what’s coming next. The 35-year-old is Canada’s all-time caps leader with 89 and was forced to miss the last two games with injury, but did travel with the team.
“Emotionally it’s been very heavy,” said de Guzman. “For me, dying to be on the pitch, unfortunately I couldn’t.
“This has been my major push to continue to play football, and because we’re no longer going to the next stage, I think that’s probably it for me.”
The duo have been at the heart of Canada’s midfield for multiple World Cup qualifying cycles. But neither have had the opportunity to play in the Hexagonal round. This time around, both lamented Canada’s missed opportunity last November, when the team played to a 0-0 draw in El Salvador.
“I think that game really slipped away from us,” said Hutchinson. “When you look back, that’s one that maybe you wish went the other way.”
Though the departure of the two veterans, whenever it does take place, will leave a massive hole to fill in the Canadian midfield, both Hutchinson and de Guzman are confident about the team’s ability to be competitive going forward.
“It’s a bright future; there’s a lot of talent there,” said Hutchinson. “We just have to continue to build on what we’ve been doing.”
De Guzman, for his part, seemed to enjoy watching the game from a different vantage point, and said he could definitely see himself continue with Canada Soccer in an off-field role once his playing days are done.
“I still want to be a part of this. I still bleed red,” said de Guzman. “This is my degree right here, Canadian football. I still believe we’re going to major places.”
While Tuesday night was an agonizing way for the two to see their dreams of playing in a FIFA World Cup come to an end, the longtime Canadian stalwarts both took a moment to express pride not just in their teammates’ performance, but in their long careers suiting up for their country.
“It’s been a huge honor in my entire life to witness this and experience this for the last 18 years, and to be part of the program,” said de Guzman, formerly of Toronto FC and FC Dallas.
As for Hutchinson, perhaps Canada’s finest player of the past decade: “From the first moment I put [a Canada jersey] on, it’s meant everything to me. I’ve dreamed of wearing a Canadian jersey from a very young age.
“It’s been very special for me.”