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Canada's Alphonso Davies eyes the ball against Panama during second half World Cup qualifying action in Toronto on Oct. 13, 2021.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

After Canada lost its final opening-round game in the 1986 World Cup, then men’s national team manager Tony Waiters reflected on what it all meant.

“I think we came away from this with a good, solid basis for the future,” he told reporters. “We know what we have to do to prepare ourselves for next time.”

Whatever that was, let’s hope Waiters wrote it down. Because it’s finally about to be useful.

Canada hasn’t qualified for the 2022 World Cup yet. But even after the Canadians repeatedly kicked themselves in the shins against Costa Rica and then lost, they still managed to show their quality.

If the goal of Thursday’s game had been hitting the post, this Canadian men’s team would be Brazil.

Against CONCACAF competition, these players can be semi-bottled-up for a random 90 minutes by a combination of determined opposition and bad luck. But they are not losing three in a row.

Are they in? No. Will they be in? Yes. This is the rare instance in Canadian sports where pre-emptive despair shouldn’t be the default standard.

There’s the small matter of doing it, celebrating it and then figuring out what happens in eight months time in Qatar.

We don’t know who Canada will play there, how its team will line up and, given the way things are going in the world currently, whether it will all come off as planned. Eight months is forever.

But it is nothing compared to the 36 years the men’s program has spent in soccer limbo.

Before we move on to the precelebrations, let’s agree on what went wrong before we got it right.

This country should always have been good at soccer. We have the money, the access to facilities and urban communities who treat the game like it’s a call to holy orders.

If Germany is great at soccer for a bunch of infrastructural and historical reasons, Canada should at least be good. We are at least two-thirds of a Germany.

Instead, Canada treated men’s soccer like a social-policy problem it could solve via committee. You know what we need here? ‘Players?’ No, more reports. Then do a report on the reports.

During the long period in which no serious people wanted to oversee the Canadian game, a lot of unserious ones did instead. A series of managers, many of whom plainly felt they were slumming it for a paycheque, made things worse. The players were treated like widgets and grew increasingly surly.

Every time some talented Canadian-born player decided he’d rather play for Luxembourg or wherever, a clear message was sent – only losers play for this country.

Whenever the senior team was humiliated again, some official would start yelling ‘grassroots!’, as though the solution were to put a bunch of 11-year-olds into indentured soccer servitude.

The real point of the whole operation: give us more money.

The real solution: immigration.

If you can’t do it right, outsource the job to foreign-born original thinkers who can. The key part of that description is ‘original thinkers,’ which means someone young and new to all this.

Canada’s primary soccer problem for 40 years wasn’t logistic, strategic or the aggregate amount of available talent.

It was the program’s inability to get all the best players together at once, without any of them wanting to kill each other or the people in charge. The real breakthrough had to be made in the arena of human resources.

The person who deserves the credit for that is the absent hero, Alphonso Davies.

Davies is already the most important soccer anything in the history of the Canadian men’s game. Obviously, his talents are enormous. His ability to use his innate charm to sell the game at home is just one of them.

But looking back on it now, Davies’s greatest contribution to Canadian soccer was agreeing to be part of it in the first place.

He was 16 when he became a Canadian citizen. That same day, he was chosen for the national team. He was cap-tied to this country a week later.

At the time, Davies was still a comer, but you could see where this was headed. Europe, for a certainty. He could have gone there and waited until he qualified to play for whatever country he ended up in. He could have played for his native Liberia. Just about any soccer power in the world would have figured out a way to make him a citizen.

But Davies picked Canada without reservation. He called playing for this country “one of my dreams.” At the time, it sounded like the punch line to a joke no one had told.

But if the best player of your cohort says he’s over the moon about playing for Canada, then how do you straight-facedly say you’re too good to do so? Embarrassment – it’s an effective recruitment tactic.

That’s how Canada got good – Davies invested in the project and manager John Herdman came in behind him and collected all the other signatures. Once all that mattered was the soccer, the soccer took care of itself. Amazing how that works.

It is a lovely reminder for a country that doesn’t need one that our strength is our openness.

When we have a stubborn problem, we don’t necessarily need to solve it for ourselves. We can wait a bit for someone who’d like to move to the neighbourhood to show up with a better idea.

Canadian bureaucracy didn’t solve the problem of Canadian men’s soccer. One new Canadian with a dream did.

And because of that we will soon be enjoying the fruits of all that mutual goodwill – getting on this bandwagon and seeing just how far it can take all the rest of us.

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