CHIVAS USA: Jazic's call is to lead Canada
CARSON -- Ante Jazic hadn't played for Canada's national team in well over a year, and he's 35. It doesn't take much to see the landscape.
But Chivas USA's left back, enjoying a career season in Robin Fraser's attack-minded system, is in Toronto to help the Canucks start their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign Friday against St. Lucia.
He never expected the call-up, but he's happy to get it.
“It's an honor anytime you get to represent your country,” said Jazic, who is from Nova Scotia. “And I appreciate it more because I'm 35 years old, you know? I thought my national team days were behind me.”
Jazic, who has a team-best six assists this season for Chivas, has been summoned by Canada coach Stephen Hart, he says, for “veteran leadership.”
“Basically, it's a when-they-need-me-they'll-call-me-in kind of thing,” Jazic said. “They're preparing for Brazil 2014. That's a stretch for me, at my age, but when they need me, when guys are missing and they need veteran leadership in the locker room, then I'm just honored to be there and just help out, pass on some wisdom if I can.”
Jazic, who has 24 caps, made his international debut in May 1998 and he was a regular for Canada from late 2003 through the semifinal run at the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup. He's suited up just twice since, the last time in January 2010, in a loss to Jamaica in a Kingston friendly.
But his form for Chivas, which he joined in 2009 following a trade from the Galaxy, has been exemplary. He's among Major League Soccer's best attacking outside backs, and his six assists would be significantly more if the Goats did a better job of finishing chances.
“Everything is backward right now, I guess, in my career,” Jazic said. “I feel fitter now than I did three years ago. Go figure. And I have six assists, which is, like, a career-high for me. To be fair, it's the system we're playing, what they've implemented. Where the backs can really get forward.
“It's something I've really enjoyed, and the players, we're looking to play [good] soccer, so it's really easy for a fullback to get forward when the space is there and we're really possessing the ball. ... All in all, I've just enjoyed this year tremendously and hope to keep it going.”
Jazic, who played in his family's native Croatia and in Russia before joining the Galaxy in 2006, says there's confidence in the Canadian camp that the team can contend for a berth in Brazil. The Canucks have played in only one World Cup, losing all three of their games in 1986, and must win a four-team, second-round group to reach the semifinal stage, when the region's top six teams -- including the U.S. and Mexico -- join in. It's a tall task.
“We've been talking about it a lot for a long time,” Jazic said. “We have a talented group. Now's the time to execute, to take a step forward. It's now or never with the generation we have. There's a lot of talented kids playing in Europe, and they're at a good age, so it's now or never.”
Canada follows the St. Lucia opener in Group D with a game Tuesday at Puerto Rico. St. Kitts & Nevis is the other team in the group, which will play through mid-November. CONCACAF's semifinal round begins next June.
“We weren't at our best [in June's CONCACAF Gold Cup]. That was disappointing,” he said. “But I think this could be a good thing, playing these early qualifiers against the smaller nations to kind of get our confidence and get a team in competing and get the chemistry going. ... This is the push, this is the time, and I'm just honored to be part of it in any way.”