As the temperatures dropped and autumn set in, Canadian soccer braced itself for three months that would decide the fate of playoff ambitions, silverware, and chances of World Cup glory. Everything was on the line heading into October, but after producing arguably Canadian soccers finest hour, perhaps it’s only appropriate to begin part three of this review with a special homecoming.
For the first time since May 2019, the Canadian WNT played a game at home. A near-capacity crowd at Ottawa’s TD Place welcomed the newly crowned Olympic champions, who entered the field with the gold medals proudly around their necks. New Zealand was the opponent on the day, and Canada looked determined to put on a show. Goals from Julie Fleming, Christine Sinclair, Nichelle Prince and two from Adriana Leon allowed Canada to cruise past New Zealand with an emphatic 5-1 win.
Three days later, they would come up against the Kiwis again, this time at Montreal’s Saputo Stadium. In a much tighter affair, Leon would get her third goal in two games to secure a 1-0 win, and extend Canada’s unbeaten streak to thirteen games. The men’s side would also be in action in October, facing two daunting away games in Jamaica and first up, away to Mexico. Just over two months since the sides met at the Gold Cup semi-final, Canada put in arguably their greatest ever performance at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca.
Jonathan Osorio’s equalizer in the 42nd minute was enough to secure Canada a draw against Mexico in a match they could easily have won. They followed that up with a 0-0 draw in Jamaica before closing out the month with a home game against Panama. Inspired by an outstanding individual goal from Alphonso Davies, Canada defeated Panama 4-1 in a game that could prove decisive in the quest for a first World Cup berth since 1986.
Forge was continuing to make headlines in the CONCACAF League, a 3-2 first-leg defeat to Santos de Guápiles, was not the result they would’ve wanted, but two goals away from home proved that could go toe-to-toe with the Costa Rican side and they would fancy their chances back in Hamilton. On the domestic front, the race at the top was hotly contested, by the month’s end, Pacific held the top spot but Forge and Cavalry were right behind them ready to take advantage of a slip-up.
Forge and Pacific would find themselves in Canadian Championship semi-final action against MLS sides Montreal and Toronto respectively. Despite the difference in leagues, both games were tightly contested. Toronto got past Pacific 2-1 on the night, and Forge would give Montreal an even bigger fright taking them all the way to penalties before losing the shootout 7-8, setting us up with a Canadian Classique to decide who would take home the Voyageurs Cup.
Montreal did just enough in October to keep their playoff hopes alive picking up six points in five games including a 1-1 draw at Toronto’s BMO Field. Toronto themselves started the month positively with a win over Chicago but soon found themselves struggling, failing to win any of their next five MLS games in the month. Vancouver meanwhile continued their cinderella run to the playoffs. Despite a 4-1 defeat to Seattle, the Whitecaps won four of a possible six games in October, giving them a great chance to qualify for post-season soccer.
November will go down as the defining month of the year for the Canadian MNT. A pair of home games in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium against Costa Rica and Mexico would go a long way to seeing if this side has what it takes to make it to Qatar. A huge crowd of nearly 50,000 cheered on Canada against Costa Rica, after having the better of the ball all game. Canada’s play was awarded with a Jonathan David goal just before the hour mark to seal a 1-0 win over the Central American side. They followed this up with a truly monumental result.
Canada had failed to beat Mexico since 2000, but thanks to a Cyle Larin double, Canada defeated Mexico 2-1 in a thoroughly deserving win leaving them top of the CONCACAF Third round qualifying table after eight games. The men’s team’s form in 2021 was recognized by FIFA, on November 19th they reached 40th in the FIFA rankings, their joint-highest position ever.
The Women’s national side would round off their year with two matches in Mexico. Jordyn Huitema would get on the score sheet but it wasn’t enough as Mexico ended Canada’s unbeaten streak thanks to goals from Stephany Mayor and Alicia Cervantes. Despite creating plenty of chances, Canada would end their golden year with a 0-0 draw in Mexico City. After a historic year, the WNT will hope to build on their feel-good factor in next year’s CONCACAF Women’s Championship.
Forge began the month with their second-leg CONCACAF League quarter-final tie against Santos de Guápiles, looking to overturn a 3-2 first-leg defeat. Hamilton put on a great display of soccer to defeat the Costa-Rican side 3-0 on the night, and 4-3 on aggregate to secure a semi-final spot in the competition. Not only that, but the result confirmed that Forge would play in next season’s Champions League, becoming the first CPL side to do so. Their Semi-Final opponents would be against Honduran powerhouse and two-time CONCACAF League finalists, F.C. Motagua. Despite going 2-0 down, the CPL rallied with two goals in the last ten minutes, giving themselves a fighting chance in the following month’s return leg.
Forge also managed to pip Cavalry to first place in the CPL regular-season table on goal difference. Forge and Cavalry would be joined by York United and Pacific in the CPL playoffs. Extra time would be needed in the first tie between Pacific and Cavalry, a highly controversial goal would prove to make the difference as Pacific left Calgary with a 2-1 win and a place in December’s CPL final. Their opponents would be Forge who defeated their Southern Ontario rivals York United 3-1, giving them home-field advantage for December’s big game.
It was also playoff time in MLS. Toronto was already eliminated, but going into the final game of the regular season, Montreal needed a win to qualify, while Vancouver would get in with a draw. Vancouver recorded a 1-1 draw at a sold-out BC Place against Seattle to seal their place for post-season soccer. It was a different story for Montreal however. Montreal did score twice against Orlando City, but thanks to the linesman’s flag, both goals were ruled out for offside. Orlando would score two goals to put a dagger through Montreal’s playoff hopes, but there was still the Canadian Championship to play for against Toronto.
In a game in which Montreal dominated the proceedings, a Romell Quioto strike would be enough to separate the two teams at Saputo Stadium, and Montreal lifted the Voyageurs Cup for the fifth time in club history. Back in the MLS Playoffs, Vancouvers improbable run was brought to an end thanks to a 3-1 defeat to Sporting Kansas City. Despite the loss, it was an encouraging season for the Whitecaps who made their first post-season birth since 2017 and will be ready to go again next season.
After months of endless soccer, the fixture list was dramatically beginning to slow down. Forge was back in CONCACAF League action, hoping to make history as the first Canadian side to reach the CONCACAF League final, and the first Canadian team to reach a pan-continental final since Montreal in 2015. It was a spirited effort from Forge, but ultimately Motagua where the better team on the night and a 0-0 draw was enough for the Hondurans to advance on away goals, ending what had been an amazing run by Forge.
All eyes were now on Tim Horton’s Field for the Canadian Championship, the last game of the year involving a Canadian team. Forge, in front of their home crowd, was looking to win their third successive CPL crown. Pacific meanwhile, were in their first final, being underdogs wouldn’t faze them. They had already upset the odds multiple times this year, most notably against Vancouver and away to Cavalry in the CPL Semi-Final. In eight attempts, Pacific had never previously won a game against Forge, but if ever there was a time to end that streak, this was the time.
British Columbia native, Alessandro Hojabrpour scored the game-winning goal on the 59th minute to send the Vancouver Island side into celebration mode, closing the curtain on an exciting year in Canadian soccer.
Off the field, December was is also the time to recognize the players who stood out in 2021. Alphonso Davies was honoured as the Canadian MNT player of the year for the third time in four years. Davies is still just 21 and the sky is the limit for the Bayern Munich star. Meanwhile, Chelsea midfielder Jessie Fleming was recognized as the Canadian WNT player of the year, capping off a great year for the London Ontario native. December was also when the 2022 CONCACAF champions league last 16 ties were drawn. CF Montreal can look forward to a tie against Santos Laguna of Mexico in the CONCACAF champions league, whilst for their debut champions league campaign, Forge will also draw against Mexican opponents in the form of Cruz Azul, giving them a trip to the soccer Mecca itself, Estadio Azteca.
Great Year In Canadian Soccer
What a year! Without a doubt, the most memorable year in Canadian soccer in a long time and the exciting part is, it doesn’t slow down in 2022. We’ll pick back up again in January with the Canadian MNT set to play crucial World Cup qualifying games away to Honduras and El Salvador. Sandwiched in between those games is a box office clash against the United States at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say, let’s hope the start of 2022 is also very memorable.