Heading into the second half of the year, the excitement in Canadian Soccer was showing no signs of slowing down. The summer months gave us Canadian soccer fans lots of memorable moments. Some that will indeed last for a very long time.
July would see the Canadian MNT begin their campaign in the 2021 Gold Cup. Despite a 1-0 defeat to the United States in game three, they would qualify comfortably to the quarter-finals thanks to two 4-1 wins against Martinique and then Haiti. The Canadians then found themselves in a last-eight matchup against Costa Rica, a powerhouse team in CONCACAF who had won all three of their games in the build-up to this tie. In a real showing of this team’s potential, goals from Junior Hoilett and Stephen Eustáquio sealed a famous 2-0 win for Canada, securing a place in their first Gold Cup Semi-Final in seven Gold Cup campaigns.
In their first Gold Cup Semi-Final since 2007, Canada faced off against the CONCACAF juggernaut, Mexico. Canada played well and the game looked set to go into extra time with the score being 1-1, but the game would end in heartache for Canada, as Mexico won the game in the eighth minute of added time. Despite the disappointment, Canada MNT could hold their head high.
Meanwhile, it was finally Olympics time for Canada’s women. After a warmup match against the Netherlands that finished 3-3, they began their campaign five points from the group stages, thanks to a win against Chile, and draws against the U.K. and Japan. This set up Canada with a quarter-final matchup against their familiar foe, Brazil. After a tense goalless score after extra time, Canada finally got one over Brazil this year with a 4-3 penalty shootout win to reach the Semi-Finals.
The CPL “Kick-off” event ended on July 24 and perhaps unsurprisingly it was the Winnipeg-based team Valour FC who lead the league standings after the first eight games. The 12 teams in the CPL could all look forward to playing home games in their home stadiums again in front of fans for the first time since 2019.
After a disappointing start to the MLS season, Toronto fired Chris Armas on July 4th, a day after a 7-1 defeat to D.C United. Interim head coach Javier Pérez managed to make an immediate impact on his squad as they went unbeaten in the rest of July picking up two wins and two draws, they also got the added bonus of being able to play in Toronto again in front of supporters at BMO Field. Montreal also made a long-overdue homecoming to their home stadium and started the month off well with three successive wins. Three tough away games in a row however took their toll as they followed that impressive winning streak with an equally unimpressive three defeats in a row to close out the month. Vancouver would be the odd man out as they still had to play home games in the States. While they would lose just once in July, they would also only win just one game drawing the subsequent four games to leave their playoff hopes less than optimistic.
For the third consecutive Olympics, Canada was in the Olympic Semi-Finals, where their opponent would be the United States in a rematch of the London 2012 Olympic Semi-Final. Against the two-time reigning world champions, the Canadians managed to pull off a legendary upset. Julie Fleming’s 75th-minute winner was enough to earn the Canadians their first win over the States in 20 years and make their first-ever Olympic gold medal game.
August 6th, Nissan Stadium in Yokohama. The Olympic Gold medal game between Canada and Sweden was about to commence. The Swedes took the lead thanks to Stina Blackstenius, but Julie Fleming once again stepped up to equalize for Canada, and the game went to a penalty shootout. It was a nervy and tense shootout, with both teams combing for seven unsuccessful spot-kicks, with the gold on the line, teenager Julia Grosso held her nerve to score the game-winning penalty and make Canadian soccer history. For the first time ever, Canada’s women were Olympic gold medalists, a momentous moment for the sport in Canada.
In the CPL, the teams were enjoying being able to play in front of their home support again. Most notably, Atletico Ottawa, who after over a season and a half of waiting finally played a home game in front of fans as over 12,000 supporters attended their game against HFX Wanderers on August 14th. In the race for the number one spot in the league, Vancouver Island outfit Pacific FC ended the month of August as the team to beat. The month would also be notable for Forge beginning their CONCACAF League campaign, they made a bright start to life in the competition, dispatching C.D. FAS of El Salvador 5-3 on aggregate to advance to the Round of 16.
Meanwhile in the MLS Montreal keep themselves in the playoff hunt with one defeat, three draws and two wins, including a 3-1 win over Toronto in the Canadian Classique. Toronto meanwhile had a nightmare of an August. Riding high from their form in July, Toronto would pick up just one point out of a possible eighteen to effectively end their season. Meanwhile, after having to wait a month longer than Montreal and Toronto, the Vancouver Whitecaps finally played a home game at their true home. The return to BC Place coincided with an uptake in form for the Whitecaps, after two draws they picked up three wins in a row to end the month with eleven points out of fifteen.
But the uptake of MLS form wouldn’t be enough to save Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos’ job. On August 26th, Vancouver faced Pacific in a British Columbia derby game to kick off their 2021 Canadian Championship campaign. In front of a sold-out crowd in Langford Vancouver Island, Pacific shocked Vancouver to win the game 4-3, the biggest result in Pacific’s young history. Dos Santos wouldn’t stay in the job much longer, being relieved of his duties just a day later.
After the CPL, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver had all made their return to home games in front of fans, it was now time for the Canadian MNT to play in front their home fans for the first time since October 15th 2019. The team walked out onto BMO Field to begin their CONCACAF third round qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 against Honduras, but the homecoming wouldn’t go to plan. Alexander López gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot, and Canada needed a penalty from Cyle Larin to earn a 1-1 going into a crucial game away to the U.S.
Canada would put in one of their better performances on American soil to claim a vital 1-1 draw thanks to Larin stepping up again to equalize. With the confidence of drawing with the U.S behind them, John Herdman’s side ended the month on a high to beat El Salvador 3-0 to open their campaign with five points out of nine.
Pacific, riding high from beating Vancouver ended the month of September in first place in the CPL, but two draws and a defeat meant that the chasing pack weren’t far behind. In this pack was Forge, who was again in CONCACAF League action, this time against CAI de La Chorrera of Panama. After a 0-0 draw in Hamilton, Forge recorded a great result in Panama to beat CAI 2-0 and make the quarter-finals stage.
The Canadian Championship was also well underway, and the tie of the round was the CPL’s HFX Wanderers vs Montreal in Halifax. HFX took an early lead before Montreal levelled shortly after. As the game was approaching its end, extra time looked certain before Montreal sucker-punched HFX with two late goals, much to the dejection of the Nova Scotian side.
In league business, Montreal, as they had been throughout the season was inconsistent throughout the month. They lost three games and won two but still remained in contention for postseason soccer. Toronto meanwhile, Toronto regained some form by Septembers end. After losing the first two games Toronto rallied to pick up seven points out of nine, giving their fans some much needed joy in what had been a challenging season. Vancouver was continuing their uptake in form and making a real playoff charge in September. Despite a 1-0 lose to Cascadia rivals Portland, Vancouver would win two and lost two games under their new interim manager Vanni Sartini and they were now on an unbeaten run that stretched back to July 7th. Vancouver had all the momentum in the world going into the final few months of the season.
Part Three to Come
Part three are to come, stay tuned!
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… Continue reading A Year in Review – Canadian Soccer 2021, Part 1