Everyone in the soccer world is aware of Canada’s impressive world cup qualifying run. Topping the table over CONCACAF powerhouses in the likes of Mexico and the U.S.A., Canada finished first with 28 points and an 8-4-2 record, while only allowing seven goals against in the 14 games played.
Now being drawn into a group with Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco, Canada’s first world cup appurtenance since 1986 starts off with the odds not exactly in their favour. With a challenging group facing Canada in Qatar, some Canadian fans are questioning why is Canada playing in CONCACAF Nations League? Why are they playing teams like Curacao and Honduras, instead of teams from Europe and Africa to prepare for the ultimate challenge ahead? Well, quite frankly, the narrative of the nations league being a waste of time and unnecessary for Canada cannot be further from the truth.
Why Is Nations League Important For CONCACAF?
With success comes fame, and Canada’s recent success for the men’s national team has most definitely brought in new fans who may be new to the sport of soccer never mind the CONCACAF region. Nations League is an international-based tournament, and like Euros (UEFA European championship), only teams from their region can partake in the competition.
Unlike Euros, this tournament has a promotion and relegation system. The original purpose of the tournament was to give friendlies some more meaning, as well as guarantee some of the lower-end teams in the region matches. Teams like US Virgin Islands would only get two games a year, depending on the year.
For teams like Canada to get better they need to be in a completive setting all year round, and for the region to get better, they need to be playing games on the regular. It really goes hand in hand. We can look at Mexico as an example. Mexico has truly been the number one team in CONCACAF forever, but there has never been a real challenge in the region. You can look at teams like Costa Rica and El Salvador who, at times, shine in the region, but struggle to be a serious contender.
Over the last 32 years, the Americans have stepped up to the pedestal to challenge Mexico as the number one in the region, making every World Cup since 1990, but failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
It isn’t a coincidence that the best two soccer regions in the world are the only two nations to win the World Cup. Europe and South America constantly push themselves by playing the best countries in their region, or at least with teams that can give them a competitive match, whether it’s from friendlies or qualifiers.
Why Is Nations League Important for Canada?
Canada is set to play their first two games of the tournament during the international window in June, kicking it off against Curacao on the 10th, in Vancouver. But why? Shouldn’t Canada be playing the likes of Cameroon and Poland? Let’s not forget it was only three years ago when Canada blew a second-half lead and lost to Haiti in the Gold Cup.
Arguably, Canada’s biggest game in their history took place in Nations League. In the first-ever Nations League back in 2019, Canada was put into a group with Cuba and U.S.A., having to play both teams twice. Beating Cuba back to back 6-0 and 1-0, Canada was ready to take on the U.S.A. at home in Toronto and hope for the best. Canada came into this game thinking a draw would be great, as they hadn’t beaten the Americans in almost 30 years. And yet, they did it, Canada beat the Americans. Not only did they score two goals against these CONCACAF giants, but they also did it with a clean sheet.
This game put Canada on the map in the region, and it showed that they are now officially one of the top dogs as well, they are no longer a middle-tier team. This win drew real attention to the men’s team for the first time in Canada since their Gold Cup win in 2000, but that attention didn’t last. This is where the Canada team we all love and know now truly started.
Canada is not above CONCACAF. This is their region, and they are not the best in it either. CONCACAF is now a nation with a three-headed dragon. Mexico, the U.S.A., and Canada are the best in the region without a doubt. These are the three teams that the rest of the world looks at when looking at the region. Any time these three play each other, I can confidently say those games can go either way, and that is the best thing for Canada. But they need more teams like that. CONCACAF needs more teams like Canada pulling those 2-0 wins over the Americans, we need this region to grow from a three-headed dragon to a seven-headed dragon, and that’s not impossible.
Nations League can bring a lot of positives to the young Canadian squad. These couple of games are during a period when a lot of Canadian players won’t be active with their club due to their league’s offseason. This will give players like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David something to play with, and play for. I believe these games are just as good as international friendlies if not better. This is a competition where you can win a trophy and you can be relegated, this gives meaning to Canada and it gives them a time to win mentality, whereas a friendly may not have that pressure.
Nobody ever said Canada has to play their full World Cup squad in this window as well. This is a great opportunity for Herdman to try out new players and new formations and new everything. Canada has a bunch of players sitting on the outside looking in, and are eager to showcase their talent to be part of the World Cup team. Don’t be naïve, it’s unlikely that we will have the same team go to Qatar. Injuries will happen, and players will fall off and may not be up to Herdman’s standard. Canada needs to know who they can fall back on, and Nations league is the best place to find out who they are.
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Going to Qatar
The friendlies are coming. There are about five months between Nations League in June and the World Cup in November. There is plenty of time for Canada to link up with other Nations, one has been officially confirmed, Canada will play Iran in Vancouver. Before you conquer the world, you need to conquer your own home. This isn’t something Canada can say “we don’t want to play this year”. And they don’t dictate the schedule. Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.A. have to play during this period, and asking to postpone games for their own needs hinders the rest of CONCACAF, they need to look out for all their nations and not just the three, maybe four, teams heading to the World Cup.
We all want to succeed and get ready for Qatar, but we can’t ignore what’s happening at home. More games mean more chances for Canada to grow and learn more about their team. I believe this tournament will make them better for the World Cup. I would rather these games than meaningless friendlies. Canada playing Iran will be huge and give them a feel for how Morocco may come out, and don’t get me wrong, that’s important. Canada hasn’t exactly played a bunch of teams from Africa. They will learn from that game, but that doesn’t mean it brings them to where they need either.
I would expect a team from Europe to pop into Canada’s schedule soon and that is equally important. Nations League is a long tournament. World Cup would have come and gone by the time the winner of Nations League is rewarded. I think these friendlies may be better to be played in September, or October leading closer to the World Cup. Imaging a brisk October night, Canada beat a top 20 team in Europe and a top-five team in Africa, and to ride that momentum in December and come out flying in Qatar, knowing they can win all three games based on what they’ve done just a couple months ago. Having that in their minds can be a huge boost to their confidence. The most important friendlies Canada will play, are the ones they play close to Qatar, I’m talking bout regional not timing. Canada needs to get used to their playing conditions, and I would like to see those games come in, in the colder months for Canada, maybe do Iran a favour and do a home and home.
At the end of the day, Canada is going to the World Cup! It’s an exciting time in Canadian soccer. It’s an important time. For the next four years in Canada soccer is crucial. We now have our own domestic professional league, and we are going to be co-hosting the 2026 World Cup. The path has been made for soccer to be massive in this country. Let’s jump on this wagon, welcome new fans and show everyone this sport matters, not just every four years.
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