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Biello names Stephen Eustaquio captain of the Canadian men's soccer team

In naming his roster for a crucial Copa America qualifier against No. 96 Trinidad and Tobago, interim coach Mauro Biello said the 50th-ranked Canadian men needed a "cultural reset."

Biello has chosen FC Porto midfielder Stephen Eustaquio to lead that change as captain, at least for Saturday.

"I think Stef ticks all the boxes," Biello told the pre-match news conference in Frisco, Texas. "When you look at his career and what he's gone through … He's experienced a World Cup. He's playing at the highest (club) levels in Champions League. And there's a calmness about Stef that I like and that I think will be extremely important in a game like this.

"He leads by example. He's someone that has the respect of the group. And yes, there's other leaders in this team and for sure, it's an opportunity for a lot of these players to step up in those roles and now lead in their way."

Eustaquio follows in the footsteps of Atiba Hutchinson and Milan Borjan.

Hutchinson, the team's longtime skipper, retired after last year's CONCACAF Nations League finals with a Canadian men's record 104 caps. Borjan, a 36-year-old goalkeeper with 80 caps, was not called up by Biello for the Trinidad game.

The 27-year-old Eustaquio, voted Canada's men's player of the year in 2023, has won 34 caps for Canada and is considered the team's key midfield cog.

Biello said the choice of Eustaquio as skipper was just for Saturday.

Toronto FC captain Jonathan Osorio was the most senior player called up with 71 caps. But he was unable to make the trip due to injury,

Canada Soccer is looking for a permanent replacement for John Herdman, who left to take over Toronto FC in October. The governing body has said Biello, who is a candidate for the coaching job, will remain in charge until a successor is hired

Biello, a former Canadian international, was an assistant coach under Herdman and served as head coach of the Montreal Impact from 2015 to 2017.

In opting to choose a young 23-man roster for Saturday's game, Biello said the Canadian men had "kind of slipped over the last year, post-World Cup (in late 2022 in Qatar)."

"And for me, it's about reigniting that passion and bringing the young players that are in form. These are players that are going to be hungry. These are players that are going to want to be part of this journey," he said in a March 12 virtual availability … And I think, for sure, that is the mindset that I want coming into this camp."

On Friday, acknowledging the team went through a "difficult 2023 for sure," Biello said he wanted a "new beginning."

"I think we need to detach ourselves from the past. That was that journey and now it's a new one. This is the direction I want to take the group. There's some changes that were made. There's some young players that have now entered the group and who have merited this opportunity."

He says he has preached being a good teammate and putting "Canada first."

"These are the types of things that I want to instil in the group — and that humility that we did have. We did have that humility. But it kind of fell through over the last year and a bit."

None of the Canadian players picked is over 30. And there are 10 players with less than 10 caps including uncapped CF Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois and teenage Fulham defender Luc de Fougerolles.

Canada was forced into Saturday's playoff after blowing a 3-1 lead and losing the CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal to Jamaica in November on the away goals rule with the two-legged series knotted at 4-4.

Eustaquio agreed that the Jamaica series was an "eye-opener" and that the Reggae Boyz were "more hungry than us."

"We have to get that hunger back," he said.

"We're ready for (Saturday). I can tell you that," he added.

Making Copa America is considered crucial for the Canadians, a rare chance to play elite opposition. And fellow 2026 World Cup co-hosts Mexico and the U.S. have already punched their ticket to the tournament.

Eustaquio was asked about the team's much-touted "brotherhood" under Herdman.

"Brotherhood was a very strong word for us in the past. I think we really were a team that connected well. We were brothers and we still are. But we're in a different era, as Mauro said. It's all about Canada first … There's no individualities here. It's Canada first and it's winning. I think we have the team to do that."

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press