'Iceman' Jonathan David on fire in leading Canada to Gold Cup quarters
HOUSTON -- When the Canadian and Haitian national anthems sound out in NRG Stadium on Saturday ahead of the Gold Cup quarterfinal between the two nations, you could forgive Jonathan David for feeling that little bit more emotion than usual.
David speaks French and Haitian Creole at home, grew up in Haiti until age 6 -- he was actually born in the United States, moved to Haiti as a baby and then to Ottawa when he was six -- and maintains strong links to the Caribbean country.
"It is [extra special] because it's not everyday you get to face the country where you grew up," David told ESPN FC.
The 19-year-old Genk forward has been the best young player at the Gold Cup so far, racking up a goal every 42.6 minutes to top the scoring charts with five goals after the group stage. That makes it nine goals from his first seven international games for Canada. To put that in perspective, he's not far from half the total of Canada's highest-ever goal scorer Dwayne de Rosario, with 22.
Canada coach John Herdman has described him as an "iceman" in front of goal, and the forward certainly doesn't seem like the type to get carried away by the uptick in attention ahead of the game against his parents' birth country, even if there is a debate going on with his relatives and Haitian friends about the outcome.
"My mind is already set," David said. "It doesn't matter who you play, I have to go play and do a job for the team and that's where my mind is at."
David has shown that kind of coolness on the field this tournament. When presented with chances he's so relaxed he almost looks lethargic, but the softly hit, delicately placed shots that help define his style are finely honed, in a way not dissimilar to Thierry Henry.
David is one goal ahead of Canada teammate Lucas Cavallini and Mexico winger Uriel Antuna in the Gold Cup goal-scoring charts, but asked whether finishing top of that particular race is important to him, David doesn't waver.
"No," said the player included in the Gold Cup Best XI for the group stage. "The goal for us is to win the Gold Cup. Whatever happens after that doesn't really matter."
Herdman hasn't pulled David aside for a specific talk about what is to come, as he seeks to balance an exciting Canadian front line in which Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies has been in the shadows so far this Gold Cup.
"The critical part for him is just that he is clear on his task, clear on his role and where he can hurt the opponents and then to remove that emotion if it seems to come up," said Herdman in a conference call on Thursday. "It hasn't been something that has been raised in the environment or culture at this point. I'm sure when game day comes, Jonathan will be absolutely focused on enjoying the game and more importantly getting goals.
"He's just laser focused in that space. Maybe the emotion comes when the anthem is on for his naturalized country, but I think there's a reality there: he's very clear why he's here and what he's going to help this team do."
Saturday's match is huge for a Canada team that has left a positive impression so far at the Gold Cup, but whatever the outcome, David has shown himself to be a player likely to strike fear in CONCACAF defenses for years to come.