HOUSTON – After spending most of his international career as a squad player, Dejan Jakovic finds himself as the old hand on the Canadian backline ahead of Tuesday's match against the United States (9 pm ET, Sportsnet in Canada, ESPN2/Univision Deportes in US; LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
The 27-year-old D.C. United man is the oldest defender in the current Canadian squad and, with 13 caps, he has more experience than the rest of the defenders combined. As Canada remake their squad with younger players looking ahead to the 2018 World Cup cycle, Jakovic will try to become a fixture on the Canadian backline and take the place of veterans like Kevin McKenna.
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“I’m looking forward to it, obviously,” Jakovic told reporters after training on Monday at BBVA Compass Stadium. “Kevin McKenna is a legend. I look up to him. He’s a great player and I was fortunate enough to play with him a little bit, but right now obviously we have a young group of guys that are definitely looking forward to step in and lead Canada.”
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Charged with leading his young defensive mates in matches this month, Jakovic admitted there were growing pains in Canada’s 4-0 loss to Denmark this past Saturday. In a trying game, Jakovic stayed in the lineup the entire 90 minutes, showing impressive speed chasing down balls and making tackles.
But Canada’s improved second-half performance has left him feeling more optimistic.
“There’s definitely a lot of talent here,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t have that much time to prepare and it was a first game playing together for a lot of us, so you can tell in the first 15 minutes, we were unorganized. But the sky’s the limit.”
Jakovic has had his opportunities to crack the first-team Canadian lineup, but it’s never fully worked out for him. Two years ago, he was in the squad for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but in a pre-tournament friendly at BMO Field against Ecuador, he picked up a hamstring injury and missed the entire tournament.
With this year’s Gold Cup just around the corner, and the only meaningful competitive action the Canadian team will have in the next few years, Jakovic aims to be ready to go this time around.
“The Gold Cup is a pretty big tournament and, definitely with the young group of guys that we have, it’s going to be a good test and a good challenge for us," he said. "But I’m going to do everything possible to stay fit and be on top of my game.”
Gavin Day covers the Canadian national team for MLSsoccer.com.