As I watch Apoel take a 2-1 aggregate lead over Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League the camera cuts to one of Canada’s strongest international players. Atiba Hutchinson has just been booked. Alright I didn’t say he was put on the screen for the right reasons, regardless, it’s outstanding to see the product of Brampton, Ontario plying his trade with Copenhagen and also taking part in the world’s greatest club competition. He’s been with the club since 2006 and now made well over 100 appearances scoring 19 goals. It’s unfortunate we do not get to see more of this talented midfielder. It was a treat to watch him this past summer at the Gold Cup alongside Julian DeGuzman. Any country in CONCACAF would be pressed to match the talent in the midfield of these two players. Atiba played a crucial role in Canada’s run to the semi-final of the 2007 Gold Cup and even appeared to score the equalizer against the United States, but a horrible call went the Americans way and the rest is history. Still, in 2009 I saw a different Hutchinson. He’s improved on the ball a great deal. His confidence in moving forward and not being afraid of taking on defenders himself instead of passing off has shown how he’s matured. It’s probably something the fans would agree with at Copenhagen and tell you it’s no surprise either.
Not many Canadians have had the fortune of playing in the Champions League. I remember when first saw “Bend it Like Beckham” (yes I am admitting that) and in one of the opening scenes Becks scores in the Champions League against Anderlecht and sure enough there’s Canadian International Tomasz Radzinski. I made sure I gave him the gears about it when we ran into each other after Canada played a World Cup Qualifying match in Kingston, ON. He was just mad he didn’t receive a penny for the cameo. Shortly thereafter not only did another Canadian born player have the opportunity to play in the Champions League, he actually won and did again his first year at Manchester United. Yes it’s everybody’s favourite Canadian Owen Hargreaves. Owen was with Bayern Munich for his first Champions League title and although many would argue he’s turned his back on his country, you cannot argue the success he’s enjoyed as a player. Two Champions League titles, two FIFA World Cup appearances and one European Championship appearance is not too shabby. Paul Stalteri has quietly become one of Canada’s most successful players at the club level and has also appeared in the UEFA Champions League. Werder Bremen won the double in 2004, Cup and League titles, and the first Canadian to play in the Bundesliga would get a taste of the Champions League. Even Canadian Keeper Lars Hirschfeld has some pretty good Champions League memories! He was in goal when Rosenborg beat Valencia twice in the UEFA Champions League 2007-08 group stage, recording two clean sheets in home-and-away 2-0 wins, and made a number of saves in his side's 1-1 draw away to Chelsea, the last match in charge of Chelsea for manager José Mourinho.
It’s not much, a handful of Canadians, but something to be proud of at the very least. Watching Canadians who really have beaten the odds for a chance to play with the world’s best. For Atiba Hutchinson it looks like his Champions League dreams will end before the group stage as Apoel go away the winners, 3-1 on the night, 3-2 on aggregate. A dramatic match, but still a bummer!
Lee Godfrey brings an extensive amount of soccer broadcast experience to GolTV where he is the host of the station’s original Canadian news program Extra Time.