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Julian de Guzman Was a Trailblazer for Canadian Soccer

He'll be remembered differently by many, but anyone emboldened by Canadian soccer's ongoing ascent owes de Guzman at least a small debt of gratitude.
Screengrab via Canada Soccer Twitter

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

How you'll remember Julian de Guzman likely depends on what jersey you can see him wearing in your mind's eye.

Toronto FC fans may call to mind his heralded but ultimately contentious tenure as the team's first-ever Designated Player, from 2009 to 2012.

Ottawa Fury fans will remember his late-career surge, where he led the team all the way to the North American Soccer League championship final in 2015.


Canadian national team fans won't ever forget the 14 years he put in with Les Rouges, during which he became the team's all-time leader in appearances with 89.

General sports fans, however, may have trouble recalling him at all, thanks to domestic soccer's relatively lowly position in the Canadian pecking order.

But however and by whomever he is remembered, the 35-year-old midfielder from Scarborough, Ontario—who announced his retirement earlier this week—quietly blazed plenty of trails in the game he loved.

He became the first Canadian to play in Spain's La Liga when he signed with Deportivo la Coruna in the mid 2000s. His star turn came in the 2007-08 season, when Deportivo beat both Barcelona and Real Madrid twice, and JDG was named club MVP.

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In 2009, he became the first Canadian Designated Player in Major League Soccer history when he signed with his hometown TFC. He was never able to replicate the success he'd had in Spain, however, possibly because TFC's roster in those days was a constant revolving door of borderline professionals.

But for Canada he was a presence for nearly two decades, from his debut with the under-20 team in 1999 to his final national-team game in the summer 2016.

"I've dedicated my entire career to Canada," he said earlier this week. "This is the love of my life."

That sentiment is especially poignant given that his younger brother, Jonathan, declined to represent their birth nation in favour of the Netherlands, where he began playing as a teenager.

Jonathan, though derided as a traitor by many in Canada, got to play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Julian, despite his loyalty, will retire without having that chance.

But despite it all, the elder de Guzman is nonetheless proud of the legacy he'll leave in the sport.

"I'm very honoured and thankful for such a great career and I'm proud to be Canadian," he said. "I've went through a lot, had to sacrifice everything to do what I love, but I don't regret anything."

Nor should he, since anyone emboldened by Canadian soccer's ongoing ascent does indeed owe Julian de Guzman at least a small debt of gratitude.