It just wasn’t meant to be it seems. After the debacle of arranging a friendly against Iran and then cancelling it, the game against rearranged opponents Panama has now also been cancelled due to a player’s strike. The players and the governing body, Canada Soccer Association (CSA) failed to reach an agreement regarding how World Cup prize money would be split, and after a whirlwind 24 hours of this coming to light, Canada Soccer once again has an egg on its face.
No one is quite sure what’s next, even if a deal can be agreed to, these last few weeks could have lasting impacts on Canadian soccer. Ahead of World Cup 2026, here are some possible thoughts/fears from myself, a fan, about what could be next. Keep in mind this is speculation, perhaps none of these potential outcomes could come to pass.
The 2022 World Cup campaign was a magical period in Canadian soccer, with memories being made in Toronto, Edmonton, and Hamilton that will last a lifetime. But what about Vancouver? Coming into June 2022, it had been over three years since the Men’s National Team had played a game at BC Place. That was against lowly French Guiana, the last time they played a strong team was in September 2016, when they played El Salvador in a World Cup qualification game.
For years, British Columbians and Vancouverites have been clamouring for a big national game in Vancouver, and after waiting over half a decade, they now have to wait longer. Many fans will have arranged to take time off work, driven long hours, or possibly flew to Vancouver for this game, only to find out the game has been cancelled in the manner it has it was.
Frankly, a slap in the face to thousands of fans who are now out of pocket, and they won’t forget this in a hurry. Next time they have a choice between a soccer game and a hockey game or some other leisure activity to spend their hard-earned cash on, don’t blame them for not picking soccer.
Outside of British Columbia, you now have thousand’s of new fans you attracted in the last few years who are now left scratching their heads. Despite the enormous strides lately, Canada is still a hockey country first, and soccer has to compete with other sports such as football, basketball, and baseball.
Most soccer associations can get away with making high-profile mistakes and negative headlines, because, in most countries, soccer is number one, not in Canada. If the CSA isn’t careful, potential fans will be put off entirely by this latest debacle, and with fewer meaningful games to play between World Cup 2022 and World Cup 2026, fan interest may not rise are quickly as once hoped back in March.
What Will Dual-Nationals Think of This?
Spearheaded by John Herdman, the CSA and CMNT have done a great job of getting dual-nationals such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, and Steven Vitória to commit to Canada when they all could have committed their international soccer allegiances to other countries. Its been a model of success for Canada, but that model has been reliant on Canada being able to attract players.
Two high profile dual nationals right now who haven’t fully committed their international futures are Stefan Mitrović and Luca Koleosho. Mitrović is a highly touted attacking midfielder who plays for FK Radnički Niš in Serbia – the country in which Mitrović is also eligible. The Hamilton native plays for Serbia’s under 21 side, and despite being approached by Canada, he has yet to give any indication he is committing his international future to Canada.
The recent events could be much more impactful for Koleosho, a highly rated seventeen-year-old winger who plays for RCD Espanyol in La Liga. Koleosho was born in the United States but thanks to his Canadian mother, he is eligible for Les Rouges and was called up for the June 2022 international window. So far his experience has been a divisive game against Iran that was cancelled and being involved in a player strike because of a pay dispute.
The U.S counterpart to the CSA has much more resources and would be able to pay Koleosho a higher World Cup bonus should he commit his future to the States. To make matters worse, Koleosho was only going to be involved for the Iran/Panama fixture, flying back to Espanyol before he could play against Curaçao and Honduras in the Nationa League. As an advert for Mitrović and Koleosho, the last two weeks can have potentially disastrous consequences in attracting those two, and will be something to consider for any future dual nationals.
Filling the Fixture Void
Over the last two weeks, many people will have become aware of the realities of arranging and hosting international friendlies. Host nations have to pay fees to visiting nations, and because of the already high volume of competitive international fixtures, organizing friendlies is more difficult than ever.
In the CONCACAF World Cup 2022 Octagonal, Canada played fourteen games, including tough games against the U.S, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras. With qualification to 2026 already guaranteed, the CSA will be under pressure to make up for those lost fourteen competitive games with friendlies against meaningful opposition. But after seeing what Iran and Panama have gone through, will teams want to fly to Canada?
S. 2 Ep. 17 – Can Canada Hold Herdman – FC13 Podcast
There are traditionally three international windows in the winter, November, January and March. There won’t be many teams wanting to fly to a notoriously cold country during those months for a friendly. What’s more is that for teams in Europe, Africa and Asia, Canada is a significant distance away, they could play teams just as good much closer to home.
South American sides like Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay are high-demand countries when it comes to friendlies, and if you look back, the last time Canada played a home friendly against a big team was against Ecuador in 2011. Since then, almost all their high-profile “home” friendlies have been in the United States. This is an issue the CSA will have to address and have to get right ahead of 2026, if they want to avoid the national team potentially stagnating because of a lack of game time together.
The Future of John Herdman
Herdman has been a miracle worker since he arrived in Canada over ten years ago. He transformed the fortunes of a broken Women’s team, and since taking on the role for the Men’s side in 2018, he has achieved what was seen as the impossible – take Canada to a World Cup.
Herdman’s achievements haven’t gone unnoticed, lately, he has been speculated to have been on the short list of a number of English Championship clubs who had managerial vacancies. The Championship is notoriously tough, with almost no managerial job ever safe for too long. If Herdman can keep doing what he’s doing for Canada, he’s bound to have club sides make him offers soon possibly even from the Premier League. The question is, will he listen?
There is no doubt that Herdman will be leading Canada out at Qatar, but the World Cup is sandwiched in the middle of the club season in Europe, meaning that clubs can make sackings and have a month to mull over a replacement. Herdman will be in the shop window in Qatar. Would you blame Herdman for walking away from the utter headache that has been the CSA lately if he’s given an offer after the World Cup?
He is English, after all. A chance to go back home and make life-changing money is tough for anyone to turn down. If the time comes for Herdman to think about his next move after Qatar, the controversy around this window will definitely be on his mind, and let’s hope it’s not the deciding factor!
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