Jonathan de Guzman (R), seen with Villareal, may decide to join the Canadian national team.The Canadian men's soccer team is playing a crucial match in Honduras Tuesday (4 p.m. Eastern, Sportsnet), with a win or a draw putting them into the final six-team "hex" group of CONCACAF qualifying. That possibility's been described as one that would be "the men's team's biggest result in a generation," but much of the talk in the Canadian soccer world at the moment is about a player who isn't there. That would be Jonathan de Guzman, the 25-year-old midfielder who's currently playing for Swansea in the English Premier League. de Guzman was born in Scarborough, but has been playing abroad since he was 12 and has appeared internationally for the Netherlands at the U21 and U23 levels. However, his older brother Julian, the FC Dallas midfielder who's part of the Canadian team, told Sportsnet's Arash Madani Monday night that Jonathan wants to join the Canadian squad if they advance to the final round:
Veteran Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman told Sportsnet Monday evening that his younger brother, Swansea City midfielder Jonathan de Guzman, will play for his home country should Canada earn a positive result versus Honduras.
"He will be there. I can put my life on that, if we make it to the next round," Julian de Guzman said. "He will be here. He says it. He knows it now."
Thus, with a result today, Canada could get a talented player (and perhaps two; Madani's story also mentions Julian de Guzman saying Brampton's David "Junior" Hoilett, who also plays in the Premier League with Queen's Park Rangers, is likely to follow) in time for the next crucial round of qualifying. However, this hasn't been received with joy by many Canadians. Here's a selection of responses to the news from some Canadian soccer media figures:
—Richard Whitall, The Footy Blog/The Score: "On the eve of Canada's biggest game since 1998, Sportsnet has laid a giant turd on the Canadian soccer news cycle. ... I understand the implications here for Canada, for 2014, for the World Cup in what I'm about to write (not that what I write matters a damn fig). But please, PLEASE Stephen Hart: Just Say No to Jonathan. Canada isn't some Championship side on the verge of promotion. Playing for your country isn't a "marketing" opportunity."
—Ben Massey, Eighty-Six Forever/SB Nation: "I do object to Julian de Guzman using the morning before the biggest Canadian men's national team game of the year to turn the spotlight on his family. This is a guy who publicly stabbed Dale Mitchell and the Canadian Soccer Association in the back, who left Toronto in a blaze of the sourest of grapes, and who has been linked to more selfish behaviour around the Canadian men's national team by reliable if unprintable reports. Whatever benefit of the doubt Julian de Guzman might initially have had has been lost for years. I also object to the idea that Canada has so little self-respect that we'd be willing to accept Jonathan de Guzman at this late stage of World Cup qualifying, provided we win this afternoon. Are we really so debased and pathetic? I am second-to-none in my disdain for the CSA and their strategies but even I have more pride in them than that."
—Jason de Vos, TSN (via Twitter): "If JDG2 and Hoilett don't want to be a part of our struggle to make the game better, they don't deserve to be a part of our success."
—Greg Brady, Sportsnet The Fan 590 (via Twitter): "Sorry, my Canada doesn't include Julian de Guzman. Should have hopped on when the train left the station. I'd rather lose than add him."
Why are so many strongly against adding an English Premier League player to the Canadian squad? Well, that gets at the core of sports fandom. There have always been plenty of fans against adding a player from a rival team (see this list of some notable trades between rivals for examples), and this situation takes that to a new level. Most sports see players sent where they're drafted or traded, with them only choosing their own destinations in free agency; at the international level of soccer, though, it's a player's own choice that matters, and Jonathan de Guzman's choice to this point has been to try and make the Dutch national team. Now that it doesn't look like that will happen, he's using Canada as a fall-back option, negotiating through his brother and expecting to walk in halfway through the qualification process to cheers, but only if the team makes it to the final stage. It's not hard to understand why many take issue with that, especially the hardcore who follow the Canadian team through the most obscure friendlies, Gold Cup matches and early-stage qualifying games.
However, it's important to keep in mind that while respected, those voices aren't the only ones, and they don't have the only valid opinion here. The poll question on Sportsnet's story about Jonathan de Guzman, "Would you approve of Jonathan de Guzman joining the Canadian men's national team if they advance to the next round of World Cup qualifying?", currently has 83 per cent of respondents choosing "Yes." Even some hardcore fans, including Duane Rollins of Canadian Soccer News, have grudgingly said they'd call de Guzman up if he wants to play for Canada. Thus, this is a real debate, not just a one-sided issue.
Your opinion on this situation probably comes down to your goal for the Canadian soccer team. If that goal is to make the World Cup at all costs, adding Jonathan de Guzman is probably helpful to that (if the current players don't revolt against him). He's capable of playing in one of the best leagues in the world, which can't be said about most of the current Canadian team, and that's why I'd be fine with calling him up (albeit holding my nose while doing so). However, if you prize loyalty, patriotism and going with the players who got you there over pure results, the clear choice is to turn a player like the younger de Guzman away. Neither of those goals is necessarily wrong, and it's not that one group of fans is a "better" group of fans than the other for their stance. Like de Guzman himself was years ago, Canadian soccer fans are torn between a couple of options here. Also like him, they have a choice over which one to take.