Sam Piette was 17 when he first appeared for the Canadian national team. He replaced Julian de Guzman that evening at BMO Field in the 86th minute of a game which ended scoreless.
That was back in 2012, the game was organized to mark the centenary of the Canadian Soccer Association.
Now 26, this evening in Florida he is set to become Canada Soccer’s latest half-centurion, only the second Quebecer to do so after Patrice Bernier, who won 56 caps.
Of the current squad, Piette and Atiba Hutchison are the only players who go back as far with the national team. Stephen Hart was the head coach back then, one of six that Piette has played under at international level.
“It’s a totally different scenario right now,” said Piette, who at the time became the third-youngest male to play for Canada’s national team.
“I know the players we have now, the group is a lot younger than before. We have players playing at a high level with their club. Before it wasn’t always the case.”
He’s absolutely right. Not often has Canada been able to call upon so much quality at the same time.
There’s Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett up front, with Piette, Mark Anthony-Kaye, and Scott Arfield foraging in midfield. On the defensive flanks there’s quality too in Richie Laryea, Kamal Miller and Samuel Adekugbe.
The concern though remains real in central defence. This part of the equation is the least strong. There is cover and options but a real dominant partnership has yet to emerge.
In Piette’s first seven caps Canada never managed to score, the first goal coming in a 1-1 friendly draw with Bulgaria in Ritzing, Austria, a game in which the official crowd figure was reported as 50 - environment-wise, it won’t be much different this evening.
That goal, a penalty from Atiba Hutchison in the 28th minute ended a goal drought for the Canadians which lasted 959 minutes. With the array of attacking talent at John Herdman’s disposal it’s not a sequence you’d expect to see repeated any time soon.
Other highlights that fall into Piette’s national team career include being part of the team which defeated the USA (2-0) at BMO Field in 2019. It was the first time in 32 years since a Canadian side had tasted success over its southern neighbour.
That was his eighth straight win in red, and although the return game was lost, there’s enough to suggest Canada can be a significant player should they reach the octagonal round robin to determine which CONCACAF nations represent the region in Qatar.
The Canadians cannot get too far ahead of themselves just yet though. After four group games against Bermuda (tonight), Cayman Islands (Sunday), Aruba and Surinam (both June), a play-off looms, and the likely opponent is Haiti.
This will be a true acid test for Herdman’s team. It's far from a forgone conclusion. I’d make Canada only slight favourites given the most recent meeting of the teams, a 2-3 comeback loss, which remains all too fresh in Canadian minds.
Get over that hurdle then it’s a case of who knows what could happen? The octagonal promises to be highly competitive with every nation capable of taking points off the other. It should be a fascinating contest, and there’s no reason why Canada can’t be in the mix.
A fourth place octagonal finish guarantees a two-legged play-off against a country from one of the other three Confederations listed in the table below; AFC (Asia), CONMEBOL (South America), OFC (Oceania).
Should Canada claim that fourth spot in the octagonal, they will play an incredible 22 games in attempting to qualify for Qatar.
Plenty of opportunity for Sam Piette to succeed Patrice Bernier’s as the country’s most-capped Quebecer.
In the meantime, mountroyalsoccer.com congratulates the Repentigny native on reaching his half-century...
WELL DONE, Sam!
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 21). Recorded yesterday (24 March), the TBIR team discuss the National Team’s Road to Qatar, the U23s in Mexico, a return for Jason Di Tullio and Florida pre-season plans... Plus all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!
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