What a year for Soccer in Canada! In the men’s game, Les Rouge have been trending upwards for a while now, but in 2021, they made the world take notice. The Women’s team, not to be outdone, also made plenty of history for their own this year. For Canada’s national sides, 2021 will live long in the memory, there is also plenty of excitement for the teams in MLS and the Canadian Premier League also continued to grow and establish itself as an exciting league with plenty of upside. So before we head in another soccer-packed year, let’s first take a look back at 2021, a memorable year in Canadian Soccer, starting with the first six months of the year.
The biggest news in Canadian football in January wasn’t on the field, after almost 30 years of being the Impact, Montreal made the highly controversial decision to rebrand as CF Montreal to the dismay of many of their fans. Ownership claimed that the name change was needed to make (ironically) an impact and to reflect the club’s position in the community. But nearly 12 months later, large segments of the Montreal support, including the ultras have still not forgiven ownership for the name change, creating a tense situation between ownership and fans. Elsewhere, Toronto FC appointed a new manager ahead of the new MLS season, former New York Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas was appointment the 10th head coach in TFC history on January 13th. Toronto had disappointed in 2020 and was hoping to put in a much better showing in the upcoming season.
February saw the Canadian Woman’s team make their first appearance in the SheBelieves Cup down in Orlando Florida. They opened their campaign in the round-robin competition with a match against their North American rivals U.S.A. After a tightly contested game, the U.S eventually broke the deadlock with just over 10 minutes to go thanks to midfielder Rose Lavelle. The Canadians picked themselves up though for game number two against Argentina.
Canada huffed and puffed and piled the pressure on the Argentinians throughout the second half and they finally got their reward thanks to a 92nd-minute winner from Sarah Stratagakis. To close out their campaign, the WNT took on Brazil in what was all likelihood to decide second place in the tournament. Brazil came off the victors this time with a 2-0 over Canada. Canada would finish their first SheBelieves Cup campaign in third, attention would now turn towards Tokyo in the summer.
As we headed into the spring, the Canadian Men’s National Team began their qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 with two CONCACAF first-round qualifying matches against Bermuda and The Cayman Islands. Because of the COVID pandemic, both of these games were played in the U.S State of Florida. While fair to say Canada was heavy favourites in both games, head coach John Herdman would’ve been looking for his side to put in encouraging performances ahead of tougher games down the line. He wouldn’t be disappointed, Canada put five past Bermuda in a 5-1 win, thanks to a Cyle Larin hattrick and goals from Richie Laryea and a debut goal from teenager Theo Corbeanu. They would then put in an even more dominating performance against The Cayman Islands, Lucas Cavallini lead the goalscoring charge with three goals on the day as Canada romped to an 11-0 victory, the largest margin of victory in Canadian MNT history, setting them up perfectly for a more challenging schedule to come.
The schedule was starting to heat up as Toronto FC, CF Montreal and Vancouver Whitecaps all began their MLS campaigns in April. Just like the 2020 season, the three teams were at the unfortunate disadvantage of playing all their home games in the States for the time being. Montreal defeated Toronto 4-2 in the Canadian Classique to start the season before drawing 2-2 with Nashville. Vancouver would also make a good start against a rival with a 1-0 win against Portland that they followed up with a 2-2 draw of their own against Toronto FC. Toronto also had CONCACAF champions league action to contend with, they dispatched Mexican side León 3-2 to reach the quarter-finals but a 3-1 home defeat against Cruz Azul left them with an uphill battle in the second leg next month.
Meanwhile, the Woman’s national team was in action again with 2 away games against United Kingdom opposition. Wales was the opposition in the first game, a comfortable performance with goals from Deanne Rose, Évelyne Viens and Jessie Fleming secured a 3-0 win leading into a game against woman’s soccer powerhouse, England. In a de facto warm-up game for when Canada played Great Britain at the Olympics, Canada won the game 2-0 thanks to goals from Viens and Nichelle Prince to give Bev Priestman’s side a confidence-boosting result as the Olympics loomed ever closer.
After a somewhat decent start going unbeaten in April, Vancouver had a much more troubling month in May. The Whitecaps scored just three goals in a run that saw them lose four out of five games. They would at least win that outlining game, a Cristian Dájome brace helped the Whitecaps get three points against fellow Canadian side CF Montreal. The Quebec side had a better month than Vancouver but that wasn’t saying much, two wins in the month, three defeats and a draw, leaving new head coach Wilfred Nancys looking to find consistency for his team going forward. Meanwhile, Toronto FC was unable to recover from their 3-1 deficit in the champions league and a 1-0 defeat to Cruz Azul at the Estadio Azteca confirmed Toronto’s elimination from the competition at the quarter-final stage. Things wouldn’t get much better in the league, despite a 2-0 win over Columbus, Toronto would lose three games in May in the league and record one draw, leaving them with just one win in their first seven games.
June was when the calendar year started to really fill up. The men’s national team rounded off their qualifying first-round campaign with two more comprehensive wins. First up was a straightforward 7-0 win over Aruba. They then made it four wins out of four against Suriname with Jonathan David taking centre stage scoring a hattrick in a 4-0 win. Canada was now in the second round where they faced a two-game knockout format game against Haiti. Haiti had a history of giving Canada trouble, most notably knocking them out of the 2019 GOLD Cup at the quarter-final stage. Canada won a close first tie in Port-au-Prince 1-0 thanks to Cyle Larin, and they would ensure themselves safe passage to the third round octagonal with a 3-0 win in the ’home tie’ back in Illinois.
Elsewhere, the woman’s side was also in action as they continued their preparation for the Olympics. In the southeast Spanish city of Cartagena, Les Rouges played against Czechia and for the second time this year, Brazil. Both games would finish 0-0, extending the WNT unbeaten run to four games ahead of them flying off to Tokyo next month.
Back in the domestic setup, the Canadian Premier League (CPL) was starting back up. The CPL began with a bubble situation that the league dubbed “The Kickoff”, each team would play eight games at the single venue bubble site of IG Field in Winnipeg Manitoba and Forge FC went into the season hoping to win their third consecutive CPL championship and become the first Canadian side to win three successive championships since the Edmonton Elks won five successive Grey Cups from 1978-1982.
In the MLS, Canada’s three teams struggled as a collective in the month of June. CF Montreal would have the best record in June with just two draws, and it didn’t get any better for the Whitecaps, who conceded three goals in stoppage time that cost them points against Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy, before a 2-2 draw with Seattle left them with just one point out of nine in June. But without a doubt, Toronto was the biggest disappointment of the month, TFC would lose all three games in the month of June, including a 2-0 defeat to the eventual bottom-placed FC Cincinnati, piling the pressure on head coach Chris Armas.
Part Two to Come
Part two and part three are to come, stay tuned!