Canada veteran Bernier, teenager Davies excited to face Curacao in friendly

Canada veteran Bernier, teenager Davies excited to face Curacao in friendly

Canada’s Patrice Bernier kicks the ball during a practice Monday, June 12, 2017 in Montreal. Canada will face Curacao in a friendly game Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson.

MONTREAL — Veteran Patrice Bernier and teenager Alphonso Davies were like the Odd Couple at the Canadian soccer team camp last week.

The 37-year-old captain of the Montreal Impact and the 16-year-old prodigy from the Vancouver Whitecaps were caught up in what Bernier called a “culture clash, a clash of ages.”

“He likes to sleep-in in the morning, I’m used to getting up early because I have kids,” said Bernier. “But I see a lot of myself when I was that age in him.”

For Davies, a Ghana-born talent who was added to the squad when he got his Canadian citizenship last week, it may have been the perfect roommate. Bernier said Davies might have missed breakfast or been late to practice a few times if he didn’t wake him up. But Bernier also fed off Davies’ youthful enthusiasm.

“He’s a very energetic guy in the morning,” said Davies. “I don’t know where he gets it from, but in the morning he’s very hyperactive. But he’s a really good roommate and I enjoyed my time with him.”

Now coach Octavio Zambrano hopes they will take their symbiotic relationship onto the field when Canada faces Curacao on Tuesday night at Saputo Stadium in a preparation match for the Gold Cup in July. It will be Davies first senior national team match.

Curacao, a former Dutch colony, has fewer than 160,000 people, but is ranked by 70th in the world by FIFA, 39 places higher than Canada. Most of Curacao’s squad plays for European clubs, especially in the Netherlands.

They are facing a Canadian side on which 12 of 23 players are 23 or younger.

Zambrano, hired three months ago, will coach Canada on home soil for the first time. The Ecuador native is charged with building a team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Canada has played in the World Cup tournament only once, in 1986.

He wants to build with youth, including Davies, Orlando striker Cyle Larin, midfielders Rakeem Edwards of Toronto FC and Junior Hoilett of Cardiff City and others.

So he’s excited having Davies on the squad.

“It has nothing to do with just giving him minutes because he’s a young guy,” Zambrano said. “He is a player that makes a difference.

“You’ll see when he comes on the field, he is immediately an impact player. I see a bright future for this young man.”

Zambrano will use the match to help decide who among 40 players on the preliminary roster will play in the Gold Cup, contested between countries in the CONCACAF region.

“Hopefully, we are an attacking team but I want us to be just as committed defensively,” said Zambrano.”We feel confident that we will have a team that is at least clicking in some areas, perhaps not in all.

“You can argue about the rankings, but the fact is that they are ranked much higher than we are. We need to show by winning this match that we belong in a much better ranking. You have to come out and make a statement that Canada in soccer is superior to Curacao, but we have to do it on the field. We can’t do it just by words.”

It was surprising that he reached out for Bernier, who announced ahead of the Major League Soccer season that this would be his last campaign before taking a coaching job in the Impact’s academy. Bernier has earned 53 caps for Canada, but has not been named to the team since its disastrous 2018 World Cup qualifying matches.

“If I can help in the short term and he wants to use me, then I’ll be available,” said Bernier. “My door never shut for the national team.

“I could have easily said no and let this new generation of players play. Also, it’s a nice opportunity to play at home for the national team. I’m happy I’ll be able to wear the jersey again and finish off on a good note because the last few games, back in World Cup qualifying, I’m not so fond of.”

Another delighted to play in front of home fans is Samuel Piette, a 22-year-old Repentigny, Que., native who plays for Spanish second division side CD Izarra. He bought 391 tickets for family and friends.

“I’m excited — it’ll be my first match here,” said Piette. “I’ve been in Europe for seven years, so it’s a long time since I’ve played in Montreal.”

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press


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