Against the US, Canada had some dominant performances from the midfield, including from Samuel Piette, who continues to be a rock for both club and country.
While the attackers usually hog the spotlights on this Canadian Men’s National Team, the midfield got a lot of due praise against the US last week, as they rode to a 2-0 performance thanks to a strong showing from their unique 4 man midfield unit. After rolling primarily with a 3 or 2 man midfield setup for most of his tenure as coach, John Herdman came out with a 4 man assembly, as he rightly anticipated that an overload there would win him the game.
“Well, we actually played with a box,” Herdman said. “That’s what we worked on all week.”
“Yeah, I thought the game would be won and lost in that midfield area,” he later added. “I felt we needed to add one more player in there, and we did, and it worked out for periods.”
With Mark Anthony Kaye, Samuel Piette, Scott Arfield, Jonathan Osorio, and later Liam Fraser, who replaced Kaye early on for an injury, Canada imposed themselves in the midfield against an American side that loves to attack through that area of the pitch. Not afforded much time to breathe, they struggled to play their game, allowing Canada to run rampant at home against their longtime rivals.
For a Canadian side that has become known more for their strong attacking play as of late, as their collection and wingers and strikers have put CONCACAF on notice all year, it was a breakout performance from the men in the middle of the park. With some quality players playing in both MLS and abroad, it was no surprise to see them shine, but it was nice to see them get their due praise from those less familiar with the team.
One player that was a noticeable standout on that evening was Samuel Piette, the defensive midfielder playing for the Montreal Impact in MLS, who at only 24 has already picked up nearly 50 caps for his country. With a 96% pass rate (46/48), 3 tackles and countless other interceptions and defensive recoveries against the Americans, he put in a tireless shift for Canada, giving their defensive line a much-needed rampart to fortify things at the back. After doing the same against Cuba a month prior at BMO Field, it was no surprise to see him shine in Canada’s midfield, as he has done so countlessly at all levels he’s played at.
As he explained to us back after that Cuba game, it’s just what he enjoys doing, and he’s happy to ensure his team gets the balance that he brings each and every game.
“My role is always quite similar, be it with Canada or with the Impact,” explained Piette in French to BTSVancity last month. “It’s to stabilize the defence by adding balance to the midfield and the defenders. I know a lot of questions have been asked of our defence, but we didn’t concede against Cuba, which is good, because at the end goal difference will be huge.”
“So yeah, I like to help keep the team balanced, and no matter what I got a little bit more of a defensive mentality than offensively, so I can find myself staying back a lot more than pushing up.”
It’s part of the reason he has become such a rock for both Canada and the Impact, as his tireless work rate has endeared him to coaches wherever he goes. Despite missing a few matches with an injury this year, an anomaly considering that at one point he held an absurd streak of over 50 consecutive starts for Montreal, he has continued to remain one of the best at his position in MLS.
A glance at the stats gives a good idea of what he can do, as he averages an 85% pass rate on over 50 passes a game, also adding 0.5 key passes a game, while putting in 1.8 tackles and 1.5 interceptions a game defensively. He disrupts other team’s offensive forrays with pleasure, while helping jumpstart attacks for his team when going the other way, making him a two-way force for the Canadian and Impact midfield.
While his influence on the field is quite prevalent, he’s made a name for himself off of it as well, becoming a big leader for both his teams. In Montreal, he often wears the armband for the Impact, as he has become a fan-favourite in La Belle Province. Born and raised in Quebec, he has given many fans a player to relate with on the field, representing the fans well with his feisty nature on the field, while maintaining good charisma off of it. As seen by his several charitable efforts, and countless endorsements he does for brands around the province, he’s endeared himself well to the Impact faithful.
That leadership has extended over to the National Team with Canada, as despite his still ripe age of 24, he enters his 8th year with the program, having made his debut at 17. Having been through a lot of up and downs, he’s seen a lot come and go through the Canadian fold, and he offers a unique perspective on all that’s gone on these past few years.
“It’s been great, the coaching staff have given us tons of responsibility to us the players. I am part of the leadership groups, it helps that I’ve been here a while despite my young age,” he said. “Which is part of the beauty of things, since I’ve seen a lot of coaches and players come through the national team. I’ve got a natural connection with the younger players, so I am able to kind of integrate myself in all the groups we have on this team.”
“And since I’m here for the collective effort, if I can add my grain of salt of leadership to the team, I do it with immense pleasure.”
As alluded to by Herdman, that adds a lot to a still-young team, as Piette brings a steady head much needed in the room. After 8 years in Europe, along with 8 with the National Team, Piette’s been around the block, and it gives Herdman someone to lean on as one of the team’s veterans.
“We have a range of leaders in there, you don’t always want the big voices, you want people in there who can reflect and who’ve got a bit more emotional intelligence,” Herdman said ahead of the Cuba game. “That’s your Samuel Piettes and your Jonathan Osorios. Jonathan is about the details tactically, (whereas) Doneil (Henry) is all about making sure that someones putting a shift in, and that you’re not shorting that physical battle, and Sam Piette’s more about that culture, and making sure that the team’s connected, and that we’re living the values of the shirt.”
Heading into the next crucial slate of Canada’s games, as they continue their long and arduous chase towards the Hexagonal for the CONCACAF 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying stages, Piette is expected to stay front and centre for this team. After a tough year for the Impact, he finished strong, winning their first Voyageurs Cup in over 5 years while just missing the MLS playoffs, and that’s carried over to Canada, best exemplified by his performance versus the Americans.
After having made his debut with Canada over 7 years ago against those same Americans, it was poetic to see Piette put in a strong shift against them at BMO Field last week. With another date looming against them in a couple of weeks, this time in Orlando, he’ll want to be up to the task once more.
And expect him to be. Despite stiff competition for his position at the #6, as longtime Canadian star Atiba Hutchinson is set to return to the fold soon, while the younger Stephen Eustaquio continues his return from injury, Piette has given no reason to lose his place anytime soon.
Given his leadership role, and all he’s been through, expect him to help lead this team forward. Despite all he has under his belt, he sees bigger and brighter things to come, and he’s happy just to be a part of the growth that’s going to keep coming.
“I think we’ve come a long way with this team and this program as well.” Piette said to reporters ahead of the US game. “With John and his staff, and the players that we have now, we set up a structure that we’re we’re able to have success in, and we proved that in the past.”
“I think the growth has been fantastic, but I think we’re just getting started.”
Cover Image: Martin Bayzl/Canada Soccer