'This level is possible': CanMNT's Stephen Eustaquio hopes to inspire at FC Porto
Stephen Eustaquio isn't just playing in the UEFA Champions League – he's paving a road for the next generation to walk, too.
On Tuesday, Eustaquio's FC Porto square off against Internazionale for Leg 2 of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash, having lost the first leg 1-0 via a Romelu Lukaku goal in the 86th minute of play.
And, while the Canadian international was an unused substitute for that first leg, the significance of the moment wasn't lost on him at the San Siro.
"It feels amazing, to be honest," Eustaquio told FC Porto's in-house media channel, when asked about participating on European club football's biggest stage. "As a kid, I always wanted to play for FC Porto, and to be able to play in the Champions League is a dream come true. When I hear the anthem of the Champions League before the games, it's a really nice feeling. I'm trying to grow my path and trying to inspire other Canadians who want to be on this level."
Eustaquio isn't the only Canadian international currently battling it out for the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League title. His compatriot Alphonso Davies is putting up personal-best numbers at Bayern Munich this season, having helped dispatch a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain 3-0 on aggregate to send Lionel Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and co. packing from the competition.
On the flip side, Tajon Buchanan's Club Brugge have just bowed out of the tournament in defeat, having lost 2-0 and 5-1 to SL Benfica over two legs, leading to the dismissal of manager Scott Parker. And, while the debate about Buchanan's own future will now begin anew as a new manager comes into the fold, the fact that more and more Canadians are calling Champions League football their stomping grounds is still a great sign of progress.
Sabrina D'Angelo's Arsenal takes on Bayern Munich in the UWCL, while Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan of Chelsea square off against Vanessa Gilles' Lyon. And, as usual, Ashley Lawrence's PSG remain in contention in the quarter-finals on the UWCL side, too.
"It's important because it brings the Concacaf level a bit higher, and when we play in World Cups and international tournaments, there's not as big a gap," Eustaquio said, of he and his compatriots playing in Europe. "We have to try to get more Canadians in the Champions League, and that will create more competition among ourselves, and soccer in Canada will continue to grow.
"We have Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Tajon (Buchanan), Cyle (Larin), and Atiba (Hutchinson) with a lot of games in the Champions League. It feels great to see them do well and succeed in this tournament... but at the end, I want Porto to win!"
Here's Stephen Eustáquio's assist from today (vs Steven Vitória's Chaves)— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 4, 2023
Great run into space, and a nice cutback to Otávio, who did the rest
As a reminder, Eustáquio now has 7G/6A in all competitions with Porto. Not bad for a midfielder 😳#CanMNTpic.twitter.com/VnxSHZE2JT
In many ways, Eustaquio's role at Porto isn't just dominating in midfield. There's an off-field responsibility he's embracing, too.
"I'm very proud to be Canadian, to be honest," Eustaquio offered. "The connection I feel with Canada is something I can't explain. It's beyond words. I have that pressure of representing Canada in the Champions League, yes, for sure, but what I really want to do is inspire all these kids growing up in Canada to believe that it's possible to make it to this level – or even higher."