The country versus club conflict for the player is always difficult. Growing up I always wanted to represent Canada on some sort of sporting level, whether it be hockey, soccer or track and field. The Olympics always seemed to be the ultimate sporting event until I saw my first FIFA World Cup in 1986 in Mexico. Canada had qualified that year (our only World Cup appearance) and there was a lot of coverage in my country. I was involved with the under-20 program at the time and watching the games was a great way to pass the time (and to learn a little about the game). But as the World Cup continued, not only did we watch, but some of us also realized that we too had an opportunity to participate in such a huge event.
Playing on a club allows you to create friendships that you do not necessarily have with the national team. This is due to the day in and day out of training and going through numerous battles on the soccer field together over and over again. This same camaraderie is difficult to achieve with the national team due to the ever-changing personnel and the time between games. This change in personnel is usually based on whoever is performing well at the time to give the country the best opportunity to win, although the closeness of a team can bring results as well. The time between games is unavoidable and only contributes to the difficulty of team chemistry at the World Cup level.
In order to be selected you must be playing well at the club level, and this explains why playing for your country is such an honor. But the honor can sometimes come with a cost. Often in the USA and Canada we are called away while the club continues their schedule and the player is forced to miss club games. Normally, this does not cause problems, but sometimes a missed game can allow an opportunity for another player to perform well and once you return you may have lost your job through no fault of your own.
My call-ups have come at some cost to my club career. While I was in Scotland I was away with Canada when the first team keeper went down with an injury allowing the third keeper an opportunity to play. Had I been there I most likely would have made my debut for Dundee United. But, it was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make and I know that had it not been for my international career I would not have been in Scotland in the first place (starting to sound a little like the chicken and the egg).
I am a big believer that any opportunity to represent your country should never be turned down. How often in someone's life are they afforded the opportunity to represent over 270 million people (27 million in my case)? I always take pride in putting on the Canadian jersey and representing my country because I recognize that if I were not successful with my club team I would never have had the opportunity to play for my country.
That does not mean that representing your club does not make you proud. Wearing the jersey of your club can be just as exhilarating. You are not only representing the city you play in, but most players have developed some sort of relationships within the community and with the fan base. As such, in San Jose we have the Casbah and Club Quake, who have stood by the club and players through good times and bad. So as a player when you are putting on the club jersey you are representing not only the city or region you play in, but also your fans.
My involvement in professional soccer started in 1987 with the Vancouver 86ers of the Canadian Soccer League. The next year I earned my first cap (appearance) with Canada against Bermuda in a 0-0 tie. Since then I have been in and out of the national team, appearing a total of 38 times, and to this day I can remember each and every game. The sacrifices made at the club level have allowed me to become the longest serving member of the senior national team. Now if [new Canada head coach] Frank Yallop can only take us to the Promised Land, all will have been worthwhile.