MONTREAL — Samuel Piette had an earlier start to his season than most of his Montreal Impact teammates. In January, the midfielder flew to Irvine, Calif. to play three friendlies with the Canadian men’s national team.
In two of the three games, Piette had the honor of wearing the captain’s armband. This was a first for the native of Repentigny, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal.
“You don’t really realize it when you’re on the pitch because you’re the captain of 11 guys on the pitch and 23 on the roster,” Piette said. “But especially after the game when you think about it, you were the captain of millions of people, representing the country. That’s pretty massive.”
The Canadian men’s national team is still on the outside looking in to qualify for the Hexagonal stage in Concacaf’s road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. After a 1-0 loss to Iceland in their last friendly, Canada’s chances are slimmer, but Piette remains confident.
“I take this team very seriously,” he said. “I know it’s difficult to try to qualify for the Hex, but I’m one of those guys that will not give up until it’s mathematically impossible. I think they know that and they basically rewarded me with that captain’s armband and I was obviously very proud of that.”
Olympic Games: ‘If I get called, I’ll go for sure’
The Impact is rife with young Canadian players hopeful to represent their country in the upcoming men’s Olympic qualifiers in March. Montreal’s list includes Shamit Shome, Ballou Tabla, Zachary Brault-Guillard, James Pantemis and Clement Bayiha.
Piette remains skeptical Canada’s brightest young talents — Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David — will get called for the qualification tournament because their clubs are not required to release them. However, he is confident that his country has a chance at an Olympic berth. He also believes his younger teammates should take advantage of the opportunity.
“Obviously I would love to see my country qualify for the Olympics,” Piette said. “I had the chance to try to qualify for it twice, unfortunately it didn’t happen. But I think it’s an amazing opportunity for these young guys. They have to take it if they get called.”
Three players above the age of 23 are allowed to participate in the men’s Olympic soccer tournament. Asked whether he would accept an invite if Canada went to Tokyo, Piette answered: “Yes of course, 100 percent.”
“As an athlete, but as a person as well, the Olympic Games are something that you want to be part of,” he added. “I think you’re allowed three players over 23 years-old, I don’t know if I’m one of them that could get the call but if I get called I’ll go for sure.”
Henry’s influence: ‘We will be an intense team’
Piette noticed a difference between last season’s training camp under then head coach Remi Garde and this season’s camp run by Thierry Henry. He said there already is a good relationship between the new coaching staff and the players.
“Last year, the first half of training camp was based on the physical aspects — it still is — but we make more plays now and the ball is always present,” he said. “So that’s a big difference from last year. Thierry is a coach that communicates a lot with the group during drills or between drills.”
“He even takes us to the side to talk to us individually. I think that’s appreciated by everyone, there’s a good relationship between the players and the coaching staff.”
Under Henry, Piette said people will not see the Impact under the same eye anymore. The midfielder credited Henry’s shorter, more intense, drills throughout training and how he is infusing “a winner’s mentality” to the squad.
“I won’t say that the team will score a thousand goals like he did. But we worked a lot on ball possession,” Piette said. “Very often, people gave our team the counterattack tag. I think we need to improve the possession aspect of our play. We worked a lot on that, we will be an intense team from the first to the 90th minute.”
A more complete midfielder in 2020
Henry’s willingness to make fullbacks push forward will force Piette to be more conscious on the pitch.
“For me as a No. 6, it will be about balancing the team,” he said. “Because we know that if our fullbacks are high, we find ourselves with only two players on the back line. We need to protect our two center backs.”
Piette also said he is looking to play the ball forward more often this season. The 25 year-old is still in search of his first goal in an Impact uniform.
“I think that the aspect that I want to bring to the team this season is to be a little more attacking,” Piette said. “I won’t say that I’ll score — I hope so — but to be able to play the ball forward and to put myself in the best possible conditions to play it forward. Thierry already gives me a lot of tips for that.”