The first piece of Canadian soccer history in the 2020s has occurred.
FC Edmonton’s Amer Didic became the first Canadian Premier League player to suit up in a match for the Canadian men’s team on Friday when he was named to John Herdman’s starting lineup for a friendly against Barbados in Irvine, California.
Didic lined up in a centre-back pairing with Derek Cornelius of the Vancouver Whitecaps as the team went on to beat their Caribbean opponents 4-1. Didic made history again in the second half when he became the first CPLer to score for Canada.
Didic wasn’t the only CPL debutant on the day. Forge FC’s Tristan Borges also made his first appearance for Canada as the CPL Player of the Year came off the bench in the second half.
It took some time, but CPL players are finally starting to break through with Canada’s national team. Regardless of any pathway or system created, you need to have players good enough to make it. This season, we saw that from the CPL player pool, and now the Canadian senior side is reaping the rewards.
Here’s how we arrived at this point in history.
Will it ever happen?
This time last year, you’d be remiss to think a CPLer wouldn’t represent Canada at a senior level by 2020. With several former national stalwarts knocking around the league, it looked probable (three CPLers found their way to CanPL.ca’s national team depth chart that winter).
Arguably Canada’s top left fullback when he signed with Pacific FC, Marcel de Jong seemed destined to reappear for Canada with Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup matches on the horizon.
But it wasn’t meant to be. A tragic Achilles tear suffered in pre-season left de Jong sidelined until October. With fellow Canadian Michael Petrasso battling fitness concerns at Valour FC and Forge FC’s Kyle Bekker sputtering to start the campaign, it seemed the younger, lesser-known members of the CPL player pool would have to lead the charge with regards to earning a Canadian call up.
Carducci becomes the first
It was a dream come true, both for the Canadian Premier League and one of its most promising young stars.
Marco Carducci finally broke through the Canada ceiling in August, becoming the first CPLer called up to the Canadian men’s team ahead of the Concacaf Nations League. Flying into Toronto on a red-eye after Cavalry FC’s famous 8-0 dismantling of Valour FC, Carducci began the maiden CPL voyage at a Canadian camp.
Carducci didn’t see action in the two games against Cuba. Still, the 23-year-old’s call-up was a monumental achievement and was a sign of things to come.
Didic and Zator call ups proved Herdman is watching
Carducci had company soon enough. Herdman turned to FC Edmonton’s Amer Didic and later Cavalry FC’s Dominick Zator as Canada faced off with the U.S. in a pair of Nations League qualifiers. These were important Canadian camps and big chances to learn from some of the national team’s best players.
As a technically-gifted oversized centre back, Didic shined over the inaugural CPL season, earning the attention of Herdman.
“The chance to see him play regularly in the Canadian Premier League this year was excellent,” Herdman said at the time of Didic’s call up. “That’s the sort of platform and opportunity the league is providing. Someone like Amer has benefitted from that, and to see his progression in that league – he’s a player that we like his profile. He’s got an attacking profile and he’s got good physicality.”
The most monumental off the call-ups, though, was Zator’s. At 25, the Calgarian had never been involved in any Canadian youth or senior set-up prior to November’s camp. The six-foot-two centre back had exploded onto the Canadian soccer scene over the season after logging 3,145 minutes of playing time in all competitions for Cavalry FC.
Zator’s involvement proved two things: Herdman was watching the CPL.
Borges opens the door for attacking players
With Didic, Zator, and Carducci all being called up, Herdman seemed to set his CPL gaze towards defenders and goalkeepers while midfielders and attackers waited for their chance. These call ups were ironic, in a way, considering how Canadian attacking prospects were succeeding in the CPL without the big-money, international signings pushing them out, much like happens in MLS. But with Canada’s recent surge of attacking resources (Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, et al) they needed to get in line.
The door for CPL attackers was opened in the New Year by, well, who else?
Tristan Borges was clearly first in that queue as the Player of the Year. Makes sense that, as soon as he got the call this month alongside Didic and Carducci, he let out “a sigh of relief.”
“It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about over the full year, coming back to play in Canada,” Borges told CanPL.ca.
Borges’ call up came at a great time, too, as Canada took aim at 162nd-ranked Barbados. A chance to shine for the Forge star, perhaps?
Didic makes the start, Borges appears
Borges’ time would come, just not before Amer Didic’s.
Herdman made history on Friday when he handed Didic a start in the second of back-to-back matches against Barbados. Didic had done it. It had taken months and months, but the CPL finally had its national hero.
The 25-year-old was clearly the pick of the CPL lot for Herdman as the gaffer was looking to build some depth in an area of the pitch where Canada lacks it. The best part? Didic returned the favour right away by heading home a third goal for Canada and becoming the first CPLer to score for the men’s side.
63’ Didic scores from a header by a perfectly placed corner kick from Liam Fraser
If Carducci broke the ceiling, then Amer Didic and Tristan Borges smashed it. Of course, friendlies outside the FIFA window isn’t a top-tier experience for Canada, but they both took their chance well.
Canada closes out this January camp next Wednesday when they take on 39th-ranked Iceland in California.