Tuesday night in a hostile Panama City would be a perfect time for Canada’s Simeon Jackson to borrow a page from Julian de Guzman and be a better player for country than club. Just this once.
Whatever the reason, de Guzman has been able to put his imprimatur on the international game more than at the Major League Soccer level. Perhaps that tendency will change now that de Guzman has been freed from the revolving door of teammates and coaches at Toronto FC, and maybe de Guzman will find the club and country balance of Dwayne de Rosario, but that matters naught ahead of a game against Panama in which a result would put Canada within hailing distance of the 11 points that should guarantee advancement to the next stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Head coach Stephen Hart and the rest of us will take de Guzman as he usually is in the Canadian uniform. FC Dallas? Meh, we care not what’s best for them.
It would be splendid if Jackson, the forward who has displayed a knack for timely goals at English Premier League outfit Norwich, raised his game on the international stage. There were hints in Canada’s 1-0 win over Panama at BMO Field last Friday, when he was something of a surprise starter down the wing and when his speed into the box prompted Panama to pull him down in the 77 th minute, setting up Atiba Hutchinson’s sneaky restart that surprised the Panamanian defence and gave de Rosario an unfettered and smoothly accepted opportunity to become his country’s career leading goal scorer.
“Sim’s like a little spark plug,” de Rosario said. “He just keeps going and going and tires the defence out. He’s the kind of player who wears on a defence, and we need that. He has great speed but he also has great awareness.”
Hart used Jackson wide right last Friday, but with Olivier Occéan not with the team in Panama, there could be a shift in formation as well as responsibility. Make no mistake: This will be a test for Canada, with Panamanian fans planning to once again camp outside the team hotel as they did Sunday with horns, drums and laser lights watched over by police that Hart said were “just there to control traffic.”
Hart said the Canadian bus kept being held up in traffic on Monday en route to practice by cars that would pull in front and slam on the brakes – but this appears to be a team with their tails up.
Canada has seven points out of three group matches, with one more home match against Cuba and the final match of the group against Honduras at San Pedro Sula – a match that nobody wants to have any meaning for the Canadians. Just two teams will advance out of Canada’s group into what is known as the hexagonal, a six-team tournament out of which three teams qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Jackson’s status with the Canadian team always seems to be subject to – well, subject to something. He came off the bench late in a scoreless draw against Honduras, then heard suggestions that he was not match fit. Jackson can be that most maddening of commodities: a player who teases, but fails to deliver. Even on a team with an almost pathological aversion to scoring, he stands out.
Explaining his success internationally, de Guzman said he hasn’t had the “75 teammates, five different coaches and a couple different systems” that he had at TFC. How comfortable is he in the Canadian uniform? “I could be blind-folded and still know what I need to do and where I need to be,” he said, shrugging.
de Rosario, Hutchinson, de Guzman, Kevin McKenna – all have been noble competitors during Canada’s lost generation of international men’s soccer. But winning away in CONCACAF requires something extra special, like a transcendent performance from a player good enough to log responsible minutes in the Premiership, but still finding his way internationally.