By Jim Wilkie
Special to ISN
VANCOUVER — Just as the Canadian men’s national soccer team’s stature has risen during the current round of World Cup qualifying, so has Adam Straith’s profile.
The Victoria native doesn’t get the notice of top players such as star midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, flashy winger Junior Hoilett or young goal-scorer Cyle Larin. But Straith has climbed from Bays United FC to become a poster boy for his country, or at least a co-poster boy with captain Julian de Guzman on Canada Soccer’s marketing of the game.
Adam Straith with captain Julian de Guzman
That’s because Straith played a big role, as a central defender, in the 1-0 WC qualifier victory over Honduras at BC Place. And he has the best chance at starting among the three B.C.-bred players on the roster.
Straith attracted a big contingent of family and friends for that Nov. 13 match. Now he’s playing a small part in driving up ticket sales for Friday’s match that will set a Canadian WC qualifying record with more than 50,000 in attendance.
“It was quite big in November, it was over 50, and I think it’s kind of close to double now,” he said of his personal rooting section. “I heard my club back on the Island, Bays, has 500 people coming over so it’s incredible. I’m sure B.C. Ferries will be busy for the weekend. But it’s going to be nice to play in front of everyone. I’m looking forward to it.”
He rose to the occasion in that opening match of the current round of Russia 2018 qualifying before 20,108 fans, and Straith doesn’t want to waste this latest opportunity. He recognizes how important it will be to reward the fans for their unprecedented support and to show that Canada can compete with the elite team in the CONCACAF region and FIFA’s 22nd-ranked team.
“We’re going to have a big crowd here and they’re going to want us to attack and obviously we’re going to want to feed off their energy,” Straith said. “So we’re going to look to get forward as much as we can but at the right times and play a smart game.”
Straith has four goals in 21 games for Fredrikstad FK of the Norwegian First Division, one step below the country’s elite-level Tippeligaen.
Whether he starts is yet to be determined, but Canada manager Benito Floro likes the 6-2 Straith’s versatility. Floro said Straith possesses captaincy material when current skipper de Guzman and star Hutchinson aren’t available.
“Adam is a new leader because he’s very kindly with all the teammates. He’s serious at the same time, he’s sympathetic, and a very good player,” Floro said. “He can play centre-back, fullback, midfield-centre, and physically he’s very good. So we consider he’s the new future captain when Atiba and Jules cannot be on the team.”
Sympathetic, in this case means nice or “simpático” in Spanish. Floro, a Spaniard who often has a translator to communicate with English-language media, was saying Straith is a good teammate and unifying character. At 25 and already with 33 caps for the national team, Straith should be counted on for more international appearances as Canada pursues its first World Cup Finals appearance since 1986.
Les Rouges, ranked No. 87 in the world, will move closer to that and the next round of qualifying by claiming as many of the possible six points available in back-to-back matches against Mexico. To turn back El Tri’s attack in Vancouver and Mexico City on Tuesday, Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan said he expects Straith to bring his best, “like always.”
“He brings a lot to the team. He’s a good player, he’s been to a lot of camps, he’s an experienced player,” Borjan said. “He’s been all over Europe and here too. “
NOTES: Canada’s other B.C. natives are FK Bodø/Glimt (Norway’s Tippeligaen) goalkeeper Simon Thomas, 25, who also played for Bays United in Victoria and Crewe Alexandra FC (England’s League One) forward Marcus Haber, 27, who played for Dunbar SA in Vancouver.