When Amer Didic joined FC Edmonton at the top of the year, he had one thing on his mind.
“It was my mission to get on this radar and to get selected into the Canada program,” the newly-minted Canadian international told CanPL.ca, moments after being named to John Herdman’s latest squad.
Indeed, Didic is one of four centre-backs in Herdman’s ranks for an upcoming CONCACAF Nations League bout with the United States (Oct. 16, 7:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. MT, at BMO Field in Toronto, available on OneSoccer). With Vancouver Whitecaps stalwart Doneil Henry suspended from this match, but also in the team camp, that leaves fellow Whitecaps defender Derek Cornelius and Moreirense defender Steven Vitoria as Didic’s direct competition for one of two places in Canada’s backline.
Didic is the second CPL star to earn the nod, with Cavalry FC goalkeeper Marco Carducci making the earlier roster for a pair of tilts against Cuba. The 24-year-old Didic isn’t a stranger to the national team picture, though; he had previously earned a camp call-up under Octavio Zambrano in 2017.
But, as the Eddies’ defensive leader puts it, this latest call feels significantly more validating.
“Trying to get myself onto the national team was a big factor in my decision to come back and home and play for FC Edmonton in this league,” Didic revealed. “So, this is definitely validating, especially with the last couple of years and how it’s gone for me; it’s very rewarding. Then again, with how sports work, and with how I work, there’s always more that you want to accomplish. That’s my goal now; accomplishing more.”
His head coach Jeff Paulus added: “He takes the game of football seriously, even when he’s training. He always wants the best of everything. He gets upset on a bad touch. He always wants to improve his performance, and he doesn’t accept mediocrity on the training pitch from anybody, mostly himself. He always demands more. He has a hunger for excellence, and for getting better.”
It’s why his call-up was provided Didic with a nice moment of reflection, as well as much-deserved celebrations. He revealed that he first heard of his call-up before a training session with the Eddies, when Paulus pulled him aside and told him he’d been selected.
“He gave me a little hug there, on the spot. It was an exciting moment,” Didic said.
For Paulus, who first met Didic at 15 at the Eddies’ Academy team, a call-up for the 6-foot-4 centre-back isn’t exactly surprising; he’s been touting Didic’s defensive prowess all season.
“I see a kid – he’s still a relatively young player for that position – who has a burning desire to make it to the national team, but to also get better every day,” Paulus told CanPL.ca. “He has a passion for the game. He’s dedicated to his trade, and he’s an honest player who will do whatever it takes. He puts the work in and he’s open to feedback.
“It’s all that, plus his ability on the ball. If you look across our league, there’s not a defender who can ping a ball like he can on that long diagonal. He’s a quality, modern centre-back.”
It’s the sort of confidence Paulus has always had in Didic. This reporter remembers distinctly a conversation in pre-season where Paulus affirmed that Didic would be in the national team fold with a solid season under his belt, after all. Having that confidence has to feel great as a player, right?
“Oh, 100 per cent,” Didic answered, in reply. “You need that from your coach. You feel that. You feel those vibes, that confidence, which expressed back to you and your play. That transpires into training sessions and on game day. He and the coaching staff have all been a huge help in providing me with the platform to be able to get me to this point.”
“The constant feedback every day in training and after games, what I can do better, what I did that affected the team positively; it’s that confidence that Jeff expels on a daily basis that I use as a motivating factor, which ultimately helps.”
Paulus added: “He knows he has my full faith and trust. I want to see him succeed so badly. I give him that shoulder to lean on when he needs it, and advice when he needs it, but, to be honest, I’m privileged to be able to work with him. That’s how I see it.”
Now? Didic is hyper-focused on applying the tactics Herdman requires from his defenders. He wants to impress in training, and earn playing time against the U.S., a team he knows well enough from his time at Sporting Kansas City.
“The U.S. have grown tremendously in terms of the production of soccer in their country,” Didic noted. “They’ve got some quality players coming through their system, young guys coming through. It’s definitely a great test, personally, and for our squad in general. It’s also definitely going to be a battle.
“I’m hoping to get a lot of things out of it; getting those relationships with the coaching staff and the other players on the team, those new bonds, and working hard in training to become as good as I can at adopting the system and tactics. I want to learn as much as I can.”