Eye on Voyageurs Cup, C. Gutierrez calls for hunger: 'We have to win something'
TORONTO – There's a trophy on the line at BC Place on Tuesday evening, but Cristian Gutierrez won't be on the field to battle for it.
Usually the starting left-back for the Vancouver Whitecaps, the 25-year-old Canadian international will instead sit on the bench for the 2022 Canadian Championship final vs. Toronto FC, as he recovers from a calf injury that has had him sidelined since early June.
It's a fairly typical occurance, on paper; athletes get injured, and sometimes, they miss big moments as a result. It's part of the job. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Unless you've met Cristian.
Born in Montreal and raised in Santiago, Chile alongside twin brother Diego of Valour FC, Cristian has become quite familiar with the sweet taste of victory in the form of silverware.
It's a natural result of coming through the youth ranks of the infamous Colo Colo, Chile's most successful club, winners of the 1991 Copa Libertadores and 32 domestic Primera Division titles.
With the weight of that history on your shoulders, and four titles to his name already, it's not hard to understand why Gutierrez had to quickly develop an instinct for trophy-hunting ... doubly so at Vancouver, where he has yet to experience similar glories.
It makes it easy to see why Gutierrez is craving victory on Tuesday night, even if he can't play for it himself.
"I need to win something," Gutierrez told OneSoccer, ahead of the match. "The Voyageurs Cup is a great opportunity. Coming from Colo Colo, we won everything. We have to win something.
"Whether that's the league, or the domestic cup, to be champion is a must."
The promise of Vancouver
When Gutierrez first joined the Whitecaps, he wasn't quite sure what he would find, even if what he was looking for was a shot at more silverware.
The club needed more dynamic options out wide, but the team had already invested Designated Player funds for Iraq international Ali Adnan, a high-flying left wing-back, playing in a similar position.
Joining the Whitecaps meant Gutierrez would have to leave Colo Colo, while also playing as a back-up to Adnan.
But after being loaned out by the Chilean club in 2017 and 2018, Gutierrez also knew he had to try and secure a better future for himself, too.
After an appeal from then-head coach Marc Dos Santos and assistant Phillip Dos Santos – Marc's brother, now coaching Cristian's own brother Diego at Valour FC – Gutierrez decided to try his hand at Major League Soccer.
"They gave me a lot of confidence, like nobody has ever done so before," Gutierrez said, while reflecting on his move to Vancouver. "Now, Philip, he's doing the same with my brother."
Gutierrez has since logged 44 appearances in the white-and-blue of Vancouver, and Adnan moved on in 2021, opening up a more permanent role at left-back. When healthy, Gutierrez expects to help his team reach its full potential, as the club's rebuild under new head coach Vanni Sartini has shown signs of promise.
On the field, he's looking for more consistency out of himself, though injuries this year and last have proven to be roadblocks toward that goal.
"In my rookie year, I played a lot, more than I thought I would because of Adnan," Gutierrez admitted.
"I learned a lot from him, and never felt pressured. Competition is fundamental. You demand more from yourself.
"This year is a bit unlucky once again, but there's a lot left this season. Good things are coming."
A win on Tuesday would be a massive turnaround for a club that fell to Canadian Premier League opposition in their previous two attempts.
Failure in last year's Canadian Championship saw Dos Santos fired, and with six months left on his current contract, Gutierrez is hoping he'll have enough time to see how far this club can really go.
"Vancouver changed my life," Gutierrez said. "The quality of life compared to what I was used to back in Chile is much different. It's a beautiful city, even if houses are expensive!
"Here you can live safely. Back home you cannot. It's very difficult. You never know if an offer from Europe or something along those lines comes along, what one can expect. You've got to be paying attention. But Vancouver, I like a lot."
Canada, Chile, and an international dream
In the hunt for silverware, Gutierrez also has his eyes on the biggest prize of all – the FIFA World Cup.
After displaying enough to merit his role in Vancouver during his inaugural MLS season, as well as having represented Chile at the youth international level, there were reports in late 2020 that Chile were interested in calling up Gutierrez for South America's World Cup Qualifiers under then-manager Reinaldo Rueda.
However, with no official invite made, and another team eager for his arrival, Cristian's mind was made up. It was Canada.
"When i was at Colo Colo, John Herdman on many occasions contacted me," Gutierrez reflected. "I hadn't decided anything yet. I was still waiting on the Chilean national team.
"But once I arrived in Vancouver, I got closer to Canada. Having Lucas Cavallini and Cristian Dajome as well as Fredy Montero at that time, they told me the career of a professional footballer is short. You've got to make decisions fast, and if someone wants you, take it, because time flies.
"That's what I did. I told Herdman that I would be doing the one-time FIFA switch."
While he has yet to make his debut for the senior side, Gutierrez did take part in Camp Poutine in 2021, two months before Canada's World Cup Qualifying campaign kicked off.
He was also an emergency call-up for the latest Gold Cup roster, replacing Alphonso Davies, but would be staying in Vancouver unless needed.
"It was really strange because I was on the official list, but not physically there," Gutierrez said, with a laugh.
While left-back Is a position of depth for Canada, not only because of Davies and Samuel Adekugbe, but Raheem Edwards as well, Gutierrez is still setting clear goals for himself.
He shows respect and admiration for both Davies and Adekugbe, both former Whitecaps stars in their own right.
The road they helped pave could see Gutierrez one day figure for Canada, potentially for the 2026 FIFA World Cup at home.
But, those dreams are tempered. He'll let his hunger for more guide his path. Wherever he ends up is up to fate.
"Sam has a lot of physical strength. I love how he plays. He has so much awareness. And Davies? What more can I say?" Gutierrez offered.
"They are damn good players in my position, and I know I am below them. I have to do a lot of work. But I have no regrets about choosing Canada."