TORONTO – The 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup is fast approaching.
The biannual tournament is set to kickoff on June 15 and run until July 7; its expanded format will draw in 16 teams from the region. Two of those sides will be making their debut: Bermuda and Guyana.
It was Forge FC’s Emery Welshman who scored the goal that ensured Guyana would be there.
His 43rd-minute marker against Belize on the final matchday of CONCACAF Nations League qualifying in March, a goal that proved the game-winner in a 2-1 win over the Central Americans.
At the time, Welshman didn’t realize the importance, only that, “if we won the game we would qualify for the Gold Cup.”
“It was the end of the first half, we had just missed a penalty, so it was a very important time to score,” recalled Welshman. “If feel if we went into half 1-1 after missing a penalty, the tides could have changed, our heads might have been down a bit.
“Scoring that goal really helped boost our team.”
Guyana saw out the second half to clinch their berth. Afterwards was when the gravity set in.
“People coming to tell me that I did score the goal that sent Guyana to their first international, major FIFA tournament,” continued Welshman. “That’s a very special moment. Just the qualification itself is the proudest moment of my career. The goal is the most important goal of my career.
“I’m just glad I get to share something like this, or experience something like this, because it’s not something that comes along very often.”
Born in Mississauga, Ontario, Welshman was first presented with the opportunity to represent his parents’ homeland in college.
“(Guyana Captain) Chris Nurse messaged me, maybe my junior year,” said the 27-year-old. “I wasn’t ready to make that commitment yet, I was still hopeful for Canada to give me the opportunity. Once Toronto FC released me and I spent a year without a professional club, I was at a crossroads in my life and my career, (it) came up again.
“And I thought it was a good opportunity for me to experience something new and to get my career going again. Luckily, it worked out.”
Work out it did. Welshman has made nine appearances for the Golden Jaguars, scoring seven times.
“It’s been great, really humbling. You get to see different sides of the world, travel to very beautiful places,” explained Welshman. “There is so much that we take for granted here: playing on turf pitches their whole life (versus) well-groomed grass. A lot of good players here in North American could go try and play for some of those Concacaf countries and wouldn’t make it because they’re not mentally tough enough to deal with the lack of facilities, the lack of resources.
“A lot of players couldn’t cope with it. It’s just a different world.”
That international exposure, and the confidence that comes with it, has kickstarted his professional career, earning him a spot on FC Cincinnati’s MLS roster in their expansion season, prior to going to Forge on loan.
“Me being able to do that the last four years, consistently be one of their top players, proves to me that I can play anywhere in the world, do this at the highest level,” said Welshman. “I’m just privileged and grateful to have the opportunity to be representing my parents’ country.
“The values that I’ve been raised with have been instilled from (Guyana).”
Drawn in Group D, when the country makes their debut against the United States on June 18 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Welshman and his teammates will have helped put it on the map.
“It’s going to be a big moment for Guyana. There are going to be millions of people watching and once Guyana steps on the field, they’re going to pull out their phones, Google where exactly Guyana is. A lot of them probably don’t even know where it is and what it is about,” said Welshman. “The only English-speaking country in South America, but still considered part of the Caribbean. All those interesting things people will find out.”
“That’s a very proud moment for me, for my family. I’m excited,” continued Welshman. “As much as this is for Guyana, it shows kids here that if Canada doesn’t give you an opportunity, that it’s not over, it’s not the end of the road, there are other avenues, other paths to go.”
Family has a deep meaning for the Forge attacker, who recently welcomed his second child, Ezra, into the world.
While Ezra isn’t exactly aware of his father’s international football career or its impact, Emery sees far enough in the future to know how a good showing this summer could influence young footballers down the line.
“Anything can happen from there, it could be very special, especially for the kids aspiring to play [for Guyana],” added Welshman. “They don’t really have the resources to develop these highly-talented kids, so a Gold Cup appearance, maybe a few wins, going as far as we can, can boost the country’s footballing future.
“That’s what we do it for, to leave our mark.”