The 2017 Gold Cup opener for Canada tonight in New York (4 p.m., TSN4) presents an uncannily similar situation against a French Guiana side, that has never before qualified for the Gold Cup, and which is also a French colony and so not in FIFA.
“This first game is crucial for us,” said Straith, who will be looking to earn his 44th cap today.
“We want to get off to a positive start, which is something we haven’t done in the past few tournaments,” added the Bays United and Lower Island Metro product.
“If we can get some success in New York, it will provide us a good platform to get as many points out of the last two group games as possible.”
Those will be much tougher matches as Canada closes pool play on July 11 against Costa Rica in Houston and July 14 against Honduras in Dallas.
“We haven’t been able to get a huge amount of footage on French Guiana, but we do have an idea of how they play,” said Straith, who plays pro for FC Edmonton.
“They do have some talented players who can be dangerous if we aren’t sharp and ready to play. We have mostly focused this week on how we want to try and dictate the game.”
With 14 Gold Cup debutants on Canada’s squad, the veteran Straith envisions himself as a kind of gear shift between generations.
“I see myself as being a good link between the younger players on the team and the older, more experienced, players,” said the Islander.
“I have been around the national team for a number of years now, so I have the experience to help out some of the younger players if they feel they need it.”
People tend to forget Straith is only 26, which he sees as an advantage.
“Sometimes young players feel somewhat intimidated by the older players in a group. So at my age, I feel like I can bridge the gap and make it more comfortable for these guys,” he said, from New York.
“In most cases, young players perform best when they don’t have anything else to worry about.”
Straith is among nine players on the 23-man Canadian roster who have previous experience in the biennial Gold Cup, which decides the championship of the CONCACAF region that includes North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Marcel de Jong of the Vancouver Whitecaps is playing in his fifth Gold Cup and Patrice Bernier of the Montreal Impact and Tosaint Ricketts of Toronto FC are in their fourth each. Milan Borjan, Jonathan Osorio, Dejan Jakovic, Samuel Piette, Russell Teibert and Straith are each appearing in their third Gold Cup.
“My best Gold Cup memory is of the game at BMO Field in Toronto against Costa Rica two years ago,” said Straith.
“To play in Canada’s first-ever Gold Cup home game, and against a strong team and get a result, was something that was very exciting for me. To have my family there [from Victoria] and able to watch it live made it that much more special.”
Canada’s youth brigade, led by 16-year-old Whitecaps sensation Alphonso Davies, hopes to begin forging its own memories today.
“I want to see guys that are daring, aggressive, and play with abandon, and want to put their stamp on the tournament,” said Octavio Zambrano, the new Canadian head coach.
“I will ask these guys to let it all out and go for it.”
Canada last won the Gold Cup in 2000 with Martin Nash of Victoria helping lead the way.