On Monday, Canada announced its intention to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup as part of a joint bid with the United States and Mexico that would potentially bring the biggest and best sporting event on the planet to this continent for the first time since the 1994 tournament staged on American soil.
Organizers said Canada and Mexico would host 10 games each, while the U.S. would stage the remaining 60 matches, including all contests from the quarterfinal round to the final.
The Canadian men’s team has only ever qualified for one World Cup — 1986 in Mexico. Canada has fallen on hard times since then, the nadir reached five years ago when it was humbled in an 8–1 loss to Honduras that ended the Reds’ dream of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Currently ranked 109th in the world, sandwiched between El Salvador and Jordan, Canada has already been eliminated from qualifying for next year’s tournament in Russia, and Octavio Zambrano — the team’s ninth coach in a decade — was recently hired to help turn their fortunes around. Needless to say, he has a lot of work to do if Canada is going to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Even if this joint bid is successful, there is still no guarantee that Canada would receive an automatic berth for the 2026 competition as a co-host — FIFA has yet to rule on that matter. And wouldn’t that just be the ultimate kick in the pants? Canada would finally be at the grown-up’s table but wouldn’t be offered a chair to sit down.
Regardless, if this joint bid is successful, and even with only 10 games taking place in Canada, it would be a massive shot in the arm for soccer in this country.
Cast your mind back to the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup held in Canada. A Canadian team featuring Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod, Kara Lang and Candace Chapman captured the attention and the hearts of the nation that summer, playing in front of big crowds, and taking the silver medal after losing a heartbreaker to the U.S. in the final before 47,784 fans at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
Sinclair led the World Cup in scoring with 10 goals, and she won the Golden Ball as MVP. It was at this tournament that the country was introduced to Sinclair and where she first shot to international fame.
In reaching the final, Sinclair and her teammates inspired a new generation of girls to take up the sport — former Canadian midfielder Kaylyn Kyle often told of how watching the final from the stands in Edmonton moved her to play soccer. Her story was hardly unique, as other young Canadian girls followed a similar path toward eventually playing for the national team, and the end result was the Reds winning a pair of back-to-back Olympic bronze medals in 2012 and 2016, and reaching the quarterfinals of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup stage in Canada.
Jason de Vos’s experience was similar to Kyle’s.
Growing up in London, Ont., the former captain of the Canadian men’s team watched the 1986 World Cup on TV. That experience of watching Canada play on the biggest stage inspired him to dedicate himself to soccer full-time with the long-term goal and dream of representing his country — not playing for a big club in Europe.
“Watching the Canadian players, most of whom I had never heard of, do battle against the Soviet Union, Hungary and the legendary French team was an experience that shaped my career,” de Vos told this correspondent in a 2010 interview.
“It motivated me to put in long hours of travelling and training, to forego the usual teenage life in favour of the more single-minded lifestyle of an athlete. I didn’t care about playing professionally — I didn’t even know you could do that back then. All I wanted to do was play for Canada and represent my country at a World Cup.”
Kids need idols. They need someone to emulate, someone to inspire them. For Wayne Gretzky, it was Gordie Howe. For Sidney Crosby, it was Steve Yzerman. For Connor McDavid, it was Crosby. Gretzky, Crosby and McDavid all picked up a hockey stick in large part because they watched their heroes and they wanted to be like them. One generation inspires the next.
That’s why Canada potentially co-hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup would be huge for soccer in this country. The possibility of playing a World Cup on home soil would give the current crop of youngsters in this country something to shoot for, and it would serve as the ultimate recruiting drive for the future.