It seems like out of nowhere, Canada went from a middling CONCACAF team to now competing at the World Cup, and now at the start of what could be a golden generation. There are many high profile players spearheading this current generation of Canadians, most notably Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, French Ligue 1 champion Jonathan David and current CMNT top goal scorer of all time – Cyle Larin. But as talented as they are, there is another Canadian who I would argue plays the keystone role in John Herdman’s side…midfielder Stephen Eustáquio!
Stephen Antunes Eustáquio was born in December 1996 in the small southern Ontario town of Leamington, but although was born in Canada, he would develop his soccer skills in Portugal – the birth country of his parents. Eustáquio moved to Portugal when he was still a child and made himself a career as a soccer player in his ancestral home. In 2012, whilst playing for União de Leiria, the fifteen year old gained international recognition for the first time when he was called up for the Canada U17’s squad.
But the midfielders international future was far from secure. Eustáquio was also eligible to play for Portugal, and in 2017 – he was called up to the Portuguese U21’s side, and he made his Portugal debut in a 1-1 draw with Romania. Eustáquio would go onto make seven appearances for Portugal from 2017-2018, around this time there was rumours that Barcelona and Man City were interested in him, but soon afterwards he would have to deal with a huge setback. In January 2019, Eustáquio made the move to Mexican giants Cruz Azul, and his debut couldn’t have gone any worse. Firstly he was sent off just minutes into his debut – but fortunately VAR overturned the decision, and then he suffered a Ruptured knee ligament which forced him to be stretchered off and not kick a ball for nine months!
It was during this time out though that Canadian soccer fans everywhere for the news they were hoping for. In February 2019, Canada Soccer and John Herdman were able to convince the then twenty-two year-old to commit to Canada and in October 2019, Canadian soccer fans for their wish. Eustáquio was called up to Canada in October 2019 and was in the squad that defeated the U.S.A 3-1, the first time Canada had defeated the Americans since 1985! His first appearance for Les Rouges came a month later in a rematch with the States, when he came on in the 62nd sixty-second in relief for Mark Anthony-Kaye, although Canada lost the game 4-1, the fact that the game was a CONCACAF Nations League fixture meant that Eustáquio was now internationally tied to Canada!
Now over his injury and a full international, the defensive midfielder went from strength to strength! With his move to Mexico not having worked out, Eustáquio moved back to Portugal with Paços de Ferreira on loan before eventually signing for €2.5M. Eustáquio made seventy-four appearances for the Porto based side, scoring three times, assisting twice and playing a crucial role in 2020/21 season, where Paços qualified for the Europa Conference League.
Playing in UEFA competition for the first time, Eustáquio scored in the first round against Northern Irish side Larne, and then Paços were drawn against English giants Tottenham Hotspur! Eustáquio played the whole ninety minutes in the first league which Paços won 1-0, and although they lost the second leg 3-0, Eustáquio’s performances for Paços we’re gathering attention by some bigger teams. In January 2022, Eustáquio got a dream move to Portuguese giants, FC Porto!
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Eustáquio’s upturn in fortunes at club level also coincided with him cementing himself as a Canada international. In the summer of 2021, he was called up for Canada’s squad for the 2021 GOLD Cup – where he was arguably the breakout player of the entire tournament!
Eustáquio played in four matches in the 2021 GOLD Cup, and in that tournament he scored twice in the group stages against Martinique and Haiti, before stealing the show against Costa Rica in the quarterfinal. Eustáquio made his mark early with a pin point pass from his own half perfectly into the path of Junior Hoillet in the Costa Rican box who finished to make it 1-0 Canada! Then in the second half, he found himself in the right place at the time in the box to pounce on a loose ball and calmly finish to make it Canada 2 – Costa Rica 0! Despite not having Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Atiba Hutchinson or Milan Borjan in the side – Canada had reached the GOLD Cup semi final for the first time since 2007.
Although they lost to Mexico in the semi’s, Canada has shown that they belonged with the CONCACAF elite, and has great belief going into the World Cup qualifiers. Eustáquio played in all of Canada’s first eight games in the final qualifying round of CONCACAF, including away to Mexico, which after his spell in LIGA MX didn’t work out, would’ve been personally satisfying for Eustáquio as he played a key role in a 1-1 draw at the Azteca. His finest hour in that block of eight fixtures would come against Mexico in Edmonton. Playing in his preferred number six role, Eustáquio made five tackles, won eight of eleven duels, had an interception and clearance and the best was still to come!
From outside on the left, Eustáquio played in an outstanding free kick that Cyle Larin got on the end of, making it 2-0 and helping secure a famous 2-1 win for Canada! COVID held Eustáquio back for Canada’s next couple qualifiers, but he was quickly reinstated and started the game against Jamaica at home – a game in which Canada would secure a World Cup spot. Twelve minutes in, Eustáquio played an inch perfect pass to Cyle Larin in the box who made it 1-0 Canada! Just before halftime, a Eustáquio free kick into the box would eventually lead to Canada making it 2-0, Canada would eventually win the game 4-0! Canada was going to the World Cup, and Stephen Eustáquio played a massive part by playing in seventeen of Canada’s twenty World Cup qualification games.
By the time Canada had qualified for the World Cup, a lot had changed on the pitch for Eustáquio back in Portugal. His performances for Paços had bigger clubs paying attention, and in January 2021 – he got a dream move to Portuguese giants, FC Porto on a loan deal with an option to buy.
Porto was a machine in 2021-22, finishing the domestic season with an incredible twenty-nine wins in thirty-four games, beating out the previous champions Sporting Lisbon by six points. It’s understandable that given that Eustáquio was joining such a juggernaut, the midfielder struggled to break into the team but was still able to get game time for the Dragons. Eustáquio made an appearance for Porto in the Europa League against Lyon, and played a total of 84 minutes for Porto in what were mostly cameo appearances. Eustáquio’s won a Primeira Liga title and Taça de Portugal double with Porto, the first two major honours of his career! His performances for Porto were impressive enough that rhe Portuguese champions decided to make the loan deal permanent, signing Eustáquio to a five year contract.
Now, in the current 2022/23 season, Stephen Eustáquio is playing his best football. After playing just sixty-nine minutes in Porto’s first four league games, Eustáquio got his first start of the season Rio Ave and hasn’t looked back since! Eustáquio registered two assists and was awarded with a place in the Primeira Liga team of the week. His performance was enough to convince Porto boss Sérgio Conceição to start him in the champions league. In what was the biggest club game of his career – Eustáquio was outstanding in midfield against the likes of Koke, Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente and he has been a mainstay ever since.
Eustáquio has started in each of Porto’s last seven games, including three champions league games. He has continue to show undroppable form for the Dragons – even earning himself a second Primeira Liga team of the week reward after his one goal and one assist performance against high-flying Braga. Meanwhile in the champions league, Eustáquio was immense in midfield against Bayer Leverkusen, helping to secure Porto’s first champions league win of the season. His form has also translated to the national side, Eustáquio shone against Qatar and Uruguay, earning Man Of The Match accolades against Uruguay and being rewarded as the CMNT player of the month for September.
So here we are, it’s October – the World Cup is next month, and barring injury (pray to every Fod you know he doesn’t get injured), Eustáquio will play a key role in Canada’s midfield when the team takes the field in Qatar. This time three years ago, Eustáquio had only just been called into the Canadian National and wasn’t even fit to play yet. Now, he is simply undroppable. His ability to play all across the midfield, whether it’s as a six or an eight allows him to dictate play all across the pitch and is crucial for keeping things ticking for John Herdman’s side. Davies may be highlight reel player, and David and Larin may be the ones who score the goals…but I would argue that Eustáquio is just as important – if not THEE most important player for Canada heading into the World Cup! But no matter what happens against Belgium, Croatia and Moroccan, it’s been a privilege to watch the young man from Leamington Ontario represent his country.
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