The 2022 FIFA World Cup has come and gone, and now Canada’s attention must be geared towards their home World Cup in 2026. Three is three and a half years to go, giving Canada plenty of time to put themselves in the best position possible come 2026 and beyond, and here are seven ways in which they can do that.
1- Resolve their issues with the CSA
First and foremost, this issue needs to be addressed very quickly. Since last summer, we’ve had player strikes, leaked information from both sides, and disputes with shirt sales, and yet still months on after the failure to reach a deal became public, we still have nothing signed.
The issue was put on the back burner for the World Cup, the players knew that every warm up game from September onwards was vital and that another strike was unfathomable. But now the World Cup is out of the way, Nick Bontis and the CSA no longer have the luxury of the World Cup to distract from the issue. There’s much less jeopardy now should the players once again play hard ball with negotiations. It’s vital going forward that the CSA are able to put forward a proposal that leaves the players (both men and women) happy and brings stability to Canadian soccer.
2- Go on a deep run in the GOLD Cup
In 2021 the GOLD Cup run was unexpected, now it has to be the norm. We don’t know how long Canada will be a legitimate powerhouse in CONCACAF, there is no guarantee that Canada will be as strong in ten years’ time when this core is aging out of the squad. Canada has to make this current generation’s talent count and win at least one GOLD Cup.
Canada will have two chances to win the GOLD Cup between now and 2026 – in 2023 and 2025. While still tough, Mexico isn’t the team they once were, and as of January 2023, the USA is an absolute tire fire off the pitch. Canada has a fantastic chance to win their first continental championship since 2000, and there is a genuine expectation for John Herdman to deliver at least GOLD Cup for Canada. Anything less than making at least one of the two finals will probably be seen as a failure.
3- Be competitive in Copa América
There been a lot of talk of Canada being invited to play at the 2024 Copa América and should that come to fruition, it’ll be the strongest test Canada will have in the build up to 2026. Copa América is the South American equivalent to the GOLD Cup, and features World Cup holders Argentina, Five time World Cup winners Brazil, two time World Cup winners Uruguay and a host of talented teams like Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
It’s widely reported that Copa América 2024 will be hosted in North America (Either Canada/USA or just USA). Meaning that this will feel like a warm up of the North America World Cup just two years later, this will prove to be a litmus test for Canada. If they can perform well against strong South American completion, it’ll give Canada a significant confidence boost in 2026. Should they crash out in humiliating fashion, it may spark panic across Canadian soccer as to if this team can compete at the World Cup?
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
4- Play as few CONCACAF teams as possible
Even though Canada won’t have World Cup qualification games to play, they’ll still have plenty of CONCACAF fixtures to fulfil thanks to the GOLD Cup and CONCACAF Nations League. It’s not controversial to say that CONCACAF isn’t a strong confederation, only ten CONCACAF teams crack the top one hundred of the FIFA World rankings, and just three make up the top fifty. Canada simply has to play more games against European, Asian, African and South American opposition.
It’s going to be difficult for Canada to arrange non CONCACAF fixtures, every team in the world bar Canada, the USA and Mexico have to play World Cup qualifiers, and the long distance between Canada and eastern hemisphere continents makes games in Canada logistically unappealing. Canada must be willing to play friendlies in Europe like they did last September, and be smart and proactive in arranging friendlies. For example, the US have fixtures arranged in January 2023 against Serbia and Columbia, and perhaps going forward, Canada can latch on to American fixtures? If teams are already on the continent facing the states, then it’s not unreasonable for those teams to take a flight a few hours north to play Canada before heading home. In the end it doesn’t matter how they play non-CONCACAF teams, just as long as they do.
5- Rotate home games across more Canadian cities
In the past eighteen months, Canada has played one game in Hamilton, one game in Vancouver (albeit was supposed to be two), two games in Edmonton and four games in Toronto. If we include Hamilton as part of the GTA, then that’s five games in the GTA out of a possible eight. That’s understandable as Canada like playing at BMO Field and home advantage is vital for World Cup qualification, but with qualification not an issue, Canada should take the opportunity to grow the sport in other cities, and let other people across the country feel apart of this team. The more excitement and growth for the sport in Canada, the better!
Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina and Montreal all have stadiums that are fully capable of hosting Canadian mens international games. Montreal in particular is a city that has been vastly underused by Canada soccer in recent times. Ottawa and Winnipeg are home to CPL teams, and with the right coordination – a Canada home game could be used to maximise attention on local CPL teams and hopefully give them an attendance boost. In the same vein, Canada games could be used to help showcase soccer and bring CPL to Saskatchewan and Quebec. Toronto and Vancouver are hosting world cup games in 2026, it would be nice and beneficial in the meantime for Canada to play games in other cities between now and then.
6- Transition out the players who won’t be involved in 2026
This is all dependent on player ambition. Elder statesmen like Milan Borjan, Steven Vitoria and Atiba Hutchinson will all be 36,36 and 40 this year and while it is assumed that some of them will will – none of them have officially retired from the national team.
Canada has players to fill the positions of those veterans. Milan Borjan can be replaced by Maxime Crépeau, Steven Vitoria by one of either Scott Kennedy, Joel Waterman, or Derek Cornelius and Atiba Hutchinson by Ismaël Koné. John Herdman is known to be loyal to his players, and we seen the perils of that loyalty against Croatia. It is more than likely that Vitoria and Hutchinson will retire soon, but should they not – Herdman and Canada have to focus on the future, and prioritise game time for the players who will almost certainly be involved in 2026, over the ones who careers are in their twilight.
7- Continue to aggressively peruse duel nationals
Canada has had a lot of success as of late in persuading dual nationals to commit to the national team. Alphonso Davies, Johnathan David, Stephen Eustáquio, David Wotherspoon and Jonathan Osorio are just some of the current members of the squad who could’ve played for other countries – a situation that has effected Canada negatively in the past with Owen Hargreaves, Jonathan Guzmán and Fikayo Tomori.
It’s important that Canada take advantage of having a guaranteed World Cup spot, there is no better sales pitch for a duel national than having a place secured on footballs biggest stage. Canada are already making efforts with midfielders Luca Koleosho and Justin Smith, and it seems inevitable that other prospects will emerge between now and June 2026. Canada has to be ready to pounce on talent, and make all efforts necessary to make the 2026 team as talented as possible.
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