Jonathan David a key to Canadian men unlocking deep run in CONCACAF Gold Cup

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·5 min read
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Canada forward Jonathan David celebrates after scoring during a CONCACAF Gold Cup match against Cuba in 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
Canada forward Jonathan David celebrates after scoring during a CONCACAF Gold Cup match against Cuba in 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

When the Canadian men's team competes in next month's CONCACAF Gold Cup, it'll do so with one of the brightest young prospects in European club soccer as its main reference point.

No, not Alphonso Davies, although the Bayern Munich star and last year's co-winner of the Lou Marsh Award is expected to be named to coach John Herdman's 23-man squad for the biennial continental competition.

Not enough Canadian sports fans are talking about Jonathan David, and that's a shame because the 21-year-old Ottawa native is considered an emerging star in the global game.

David is coming off a fabulous individual season in which he played a starring role in Lille OSC winning its first French league championship in a decade, ending mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain's quest for a fourth consecutive crown in the process.

David is also racking up the goals at an alarming rate on the international stage in his quest to help Canada qualify for next year's FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Since making his national team debut in 2018, David has scored 15 times in 16 games for his country, a strike rate that would be the envy of any forward in the world.

Given the way David is playing lately, it wouldn't be a major surprise to see him overtake Dwayne De Rosario (22 goals in 81 games) as Canada's all-time top scorer by the time the Gold Cup is over.

WATCH | David scores hat trick vs. Suriname in World Cup qualifier:

David's remarkable ascent represents a major coup for Canadian soccer, the likes of which it has rarely enjoyed in the past. A little over three years ago, he was playing at the youth level in the Ottawa Ottawa Internationals Soccer Club. Today, the reserved and soft-spoken son of Haitian immigrants has the world at his feet.

David is part of an exciting "Golden Generation" of Canadian players who have pumped new life into the long-stagnant national program, and have long-suffering fans of the men's team believing it can qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

The fleet-footed David joined Lille last summer from Belgian club KAA Gent, where he scored an impressive 26 goals in 50 games over two seasons. Lille reportedly paid a club-record $35 million US transfer fee for David, making him the most expensive Canadian player of all-time.

At first, it looked like Lille massively overspent — David went without a goal in his first 10 appearances. But he eventually found his footing and scored 13 times by the end of the term, setting a new record for a Canadian in a top-five European league in a single season.

The previous mark was held by Tomasz Radzinski, who had 11 goals for Everton during the 2002-03 English Premier League campaign.

"He got into lots of good scoring positions and was quite heavily involved, but he just couldn't seem to finish. The longer it went on the more you started to worry, and ask yourself, 'Is this guy going to be a massive flop?'... The first half of the season, there were a lot of those questions. But in the second half of the season, everything turned around," noted French soccer journalist Tom Williams told CBC Sports.

"He scored his first goal in November, by which time 'When is Jonathan David going to score?' had become this big thing at Lille and in French football. But when he finally broke through, it felt like this big moment of deliverance and he just took off from there."

Indeed, not only did David bag a lot of goals for Lille, but he scored hugely important ones. He netted twice in a 2-0 win over Olympique Marseille on March 3, the winner over PSG on April 3, and the equalizer in an incredible come-from-behind victory over Olympique Lyon on April 25.

WATCH | David instrumental as Lille OSC secures Ligue 1 title:

Then on May 23, on the final day of the season, he opened the scoring and won the penalty that led to the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory over Angers that sealed the Ligue 1 championship for Lille.

"If you were to draw up a list of the most influential players for Lille last season, David would be among the top three or four," Williams offered.

Now David is set to turn his focus to national team matters. The upcoming Gold Cup represents a chance for David and his Canadian teammates to come good after letting a two-goal lead slip through their fingers en route to suffering a shocking 3-2 loss to Haiti that saw them meekly bow out of the 2019 tournament in the quarter-finals.

Then in September comes the start of "The Octagon," the final round of the CONCACAF qualifiers for the World Cup.

David wasn't even born that last time Canada made it this far since the buildup to the 1998 World Cup in France. Twenty-four years later, Herdman believes it's time for fans to rally around the Canadian men's team.

"The men's team is the key to connecting this country together and giving it an anchor, a rally point," Herdman recently said. "We've got so many good things happening in our country."

Jonathan David is one of those good things, and if he continues down the path he's currently on, he'll play a major part in getting Canada back to the World Cup.

WATCH | Karina LeBlanc breaks down Canada men's World Cup qualification:

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