Winning your first senior cap has to be one of the most memorable milestones in any pro footballer's career. However, for Adam Straith, who made his maiden appearance as a sub for Canada on 24 May 2010 against Argentina, the event itself was happier than the circumstances in which it took place - his side were trailing 5-0 at the time.
Despite that, the defender revelled in the moment. "Obviously, representing my country for the first time was an outstanding feeling," he told FIFA.com. "And I did it in front of a 66,000 crowd against Argentina, who aren’t just any old team. It's something I’ll never forget."
Straith is only 20, but he has already packed a lot into his brief career. He left his home country in 2008 to try his luck in the European game with Energie Cottbus, then plying their trade in the German top flight.
Discipline, punctuality and diligence
"It was a very big step. I’d spent a season with Vancouver Whitecaps, my first club as a pro. When I moved to Cottbus, we were still in the Bundesliga. Everything was bigger, more professional and more single-minded. It was all new to me. And I was astonished by the level of support from the fans."
The young Canadian earned his spurs in the Cottbus reserves and is now a regular in the first team, where he and his team-mates are still in with a shout of promotion back to the top flight. "I feel unbelievably settled. The country, the people and me, it’s a perfect fit. Discipline, punctuality and diligence are highly valued in Germany. I’ve learned to appreciate that in my two-and-a-half years here, and in any case, it's how I am by nature. The folk in Canada are generally more relaxed, but that’s just part of the way of life."
Straith has been anything but relaxed and happy-go-lucky in recent years, or he could never have made such rapid progress. He is currently the youngest member of the Canada senior squad and has appeared in the Canucks’ last six matches.
The portents for the future of Canadian football are good, the player believes. "For a long time, there just weren’t enough of us consistently playing our club football at the highest levels, but now there’s a group of us measuring ourselves with the best week after week, some in Europe. That's having a real impact on the quality in the national team,” he told FIFA.com.
However, the 20-year-old is well aware of a couple of fundamental problems. "Ice hockey obviously remains the nation’s favourite sport, although not a lot of people know that we have more young footballers than hockey players in Canada. However, a lot of them are only playing for a laugh, as we don’t have particularly professional structures yet."
Recent developments certainly provide grounds for optimism. A few days ago, Canada sealed a berth at the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time since 1995. And the U-20s, for whom Straith is still eligible to play, are a decent bet to earn a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia (29 July to 20 August this year) in qualifying a few weeks from now.
However, the defender’s current priorities lie elsewhere. Cottbus are in the thick of the promotion race, and a challenging period lies ahead for Canada, who lie 80th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. "Once the European season’s over, we have a major tournament in summer 2011, the Gold Cup. We’re aiming to give a good account of ourselves, and we have World Cup qualifiers before that too. We certainly have a chance of making the finals, which would obviously be a dream come true." Canada’s solitary appearance at the global showdown to date was in 1986.
Straith, who names Steve Gerrard and Jaime Carragher of his favourite club Liverpool as his idols, sees himself staying in Cottbus for the time being. "There haven’t been any enquiries recently, but I’m very happy in Cottbus anyway. Everything’s in place here for me to improve and develop. I have a nice long contract, and I’m not looking for a move."
But why the affinity with the Reds from the north-west of England? "When I was growing up in Canada, the football on TV was almost always from the English Premier League. We saw lots of Liverpool games, and I’m still really passionate about the team and the players."
These are still early days for the ambitious Straith, although he can be justifiably proud of what he has already achieved. "I still have a lot to learn, but I’m determined to work hard on my game. You can get a little bit better every day in training. That's my target, and that’s what I demand of myself."
The attitude is certainly right, and the 20-year-old appears set to provide Cottbus and Canada fans with plenty of special moments for a long time to come.