First of all, I will like state that by football I mean the sport governed by FIFA. I prefer the use of the word football, even though soccer is correct.
Canada has always been a hockey country; millions of people follow the sport with passion and love. There is a reason for this, Canada’s Hockey Team is a winner. They have won 9 Gold Medals as well as 26 World Championships. Their success has also transpired to their city teams; Montreal Canadiens are the most successful team in National Hockey League (NHL) with 23 Stanley Cups, followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs with 13 trophies. Canadians feel proud about these achievements, and rightfully so, since becoming the best at a sport is not easy. It requires a physical and mental strength, willingness to sacrifice time, and a desire to be better, to become someone.
Recently, the country has also found success in basketball, particularly in the NBA. During the 2019-2020 season, 16 Canadians are part of an NBA team, being Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Kelly Olynyk, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the rookie RJ Barrett are some of the most distinctive players. Also, the current champions of the league are the Toronto Raptors, the only team representing Canada. At a national level, the North has not won any Gold Medals or World Championships, yet the talent and appreciation of the sport is there, so it would not be a surprise if they obtain any trophy in the near future.
When talking about football, things are different, especially men football. Although the team is no stranger at the international stage, winning the CONCACAF Championship in 1985 and the Gold Cup in 2000, their inconsistency and failed programs have brought disappointments for football fans across the country. Canada has not won anything or even qualify to any of the last five World Cups. Their only appearance at the biggest sporting stage of the world was on México 1986.
In 2019, Canada Soccer developed the Canada Soccer Nation: 2019-2021 Strategic Plan in order to “develop, govern and grow the sport” as they prepare to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. For this plan to work, constant attention and investment (money/time) is needed. Likewise, the support of Canadians is crucial for the development of football for the long term; but for this to work, the national team has to win, either at home or away, to get the people excited for the future. The coach, John Herdman, believes that the team is not far from this, and that qualifying to the next World Cup will change the landscape of football in the country, uniting everyone for the same goal.
Qualifications for Qatar 2022 will hopefully start in September of this year, but with the new format, Canada will have a tougher path to qualify since they are ranked as the seventh best CONCACAF team (Nº77 overall). Alphonso Davies will be one of their only stars, playing at Bayern Munich, showing great potential.
In the Major League Soccer, which bundles city teams of the United States and Canada, Toronto FC is the only Canadian team to win the tournament. It was in 2017, beating the Seattle Sounders FC by 2 – 0. Toronto had a good team, deserving the victory. Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were among the best players there.
Women football is different. Women have found more recognition due to their great level on the pitch, bringing fans together. Canada even hosted the 2015 FIFA World Cup, and are always a threat to any country, playing in seven consecutive World Cups (finishing fourth in 2003); winning two Olympic bronze medals (2012 and 2016); and two regional tournaments, the first one being the 1998 CONCACAF Championship and the second the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. They are currently ranked eighth overall (second in COCACAF Nations).
Women’s team have their EXCEL Program, in which they unite the best national youth players, delivering “an aligned talent structure that progresses players from the youth levels to the Women’s National Team”.
Football has become more important in Canada during the years, unfortunately more support is required. For this to happen, the Men National team needs to start winning, and show everyone that they are ready to fight at a world stage, especially if there are co-hosting the World Cup in 2026. It is also essential to develop players and for Canada Soccer to be consistent on it, inspiring fans. I am aware that the country will always be a hockey nation, nothing will change that, but a bigger appreciation for football is necessary.