By Jim Wilkie
Special to ISN
VANCOUVER — Less than a week after Scott Arfield got the call to Canada’s national soccer team, the midfielder is getting a quick introduction to Canada.
His arrival in Vancouver before Friday’s World Cup qualifying match against Mexico is the first time he has set foot in Canada.
“It was a long journey,” Arfield, 27, told reporters Monday at BC Place after Canada’s first training of the week. “I made my decision about a year ago to come on this journey, and I’m delighted to be here.”
Arfield was born and raised in Scotland, but he was eligible to play for Canada because his father was born in Toronto. He has played for the Scots’ U-21 national team, but after committing to Canada it took awhile to get all the necessary paperwork approved by FIFA.
“I’m just as Canadian as you,” Arfield replied in his Scottish accent when asked how Canadian he felt.
Arfield said his decision made his dad, who had always reminded him to keep Canada as an option internationally, very proud and delighted. Thousands of Canadian soccer fans will be just as happy if he can help their team earn some points against CONCACAF’s perennial power on Friday and March 29 in Mexico City.
“I played youth level at Scotland, 19s and 21s. And at the (senior) national team nothing materialized, but there were no ill feelings towards it. I just think when I was getting on in my career I thought this was the best opportunity for me to play national football, and it’s one I’m delighted I took,” Arfield said.
He has seven goals in 38 matches to help Burnley sit atop the table of the Championship, a step below the English Premier League. Arfield’s offensive touch is much needed for a Canadian side that struggles to score internationally and is without a goal in its past two matches.
For years while Les Rouges struggled internationally, many talented players turned their backs on Canada in favour of other countries with better hopes of reaching the World Cup Finals. Arfield’s decision follows Junior Hoilett’s commitment to the country last year. That turned out to be pivotal as he helped set up Canada’s goal in its 1-0 WC qualifying victory over Honduras on Nov. 13 at BC Place.
Veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, the men’s 2015 Canadian Player of the Year, is pleased to see Arfield join Canada as it tries to reach the next, hexagonal stage of qualifying.
“It’s very good, it’s good to see it happening more and more now, first with Junior and now with Scott,” Hutchinson, 33, said. “It’s positive for the country. I think it helps the team to get a lot more depth and a good, quality player, so it’s only positive for us.”
Canada is in second with four points, two behind Mexico. The top two teams from the group, which includes Honduras and El Salvador, advance to the hex. After the Mexico matches, Canada’s remaining group games are at Honduras and at home against El Salvador in September.
“When you see the depth of the squad, and I’ve talked to the boys, they’re saying this is the best squad they’ve ever been in,” Arfield said. “So I think that people like Jules (captain Julian de Guzman) and Atiba (Hutchinson) saying that I think that it stands you in good stead to hopefully go through to the next qualifying.”
Besides getting dropped into his new country, Arfield has five days to get used to new teammates, manager Benito Floro’s system and a different Field Turf playing surface. But he has no expectations of entitlement.
“I’m up for selection, but it’s up to the manager to pick me,” he said. “I don’t think I’m just going to come in here and cement a place. I think I need to train well and hopefully get that starting jersey, and it’s one I’m looking forward to, and one that I’m hoping to do so.”