Skip to main content

To understand the country’s final reach for the top rung of world soccer, you need to look back on the challenges it faced over the past 35 years, Cathal Kelly writes

If we want to get technical about it, Canada’s senior national men’s soccer team has had one major highlight – a gold medal at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis. We didn’t let in a goal en route to the gold medal.

But there were only three teams in that tournament and the other two were from the United States. So it’s hard to call it a great victory on the world stage.

Since then, the men’s program hasn’t been so much up and down, as it has been continuously dropped on its head. Here are some of the more memorable blows.


Canada's Paul James, left, fights for the ball while France's Jean Tigana keeps him away during the second half of the 1986 Canada vs. France World Cup soccer match.Charles Platiau/Reuters

1986: Not just the highest peak, but the only time in the modern era Canada got to go mountain climbing – it qualified for its first World Cup at Mexico ‘86. People remember the Canadians didn’t score a goal. They forget they lost only 1-0 to an eventual semi-finalist, France.

1989: The long descent began. In the follow-up to their first appearance on the big stage, Canada fell at the first hurdle to Guatemala. Guatemala has never qualified for a World Cup.

July, 1993: Canada was doing okay at the second Gold Cup, until it met Mexico in Mexico City. In front of 100,000 shrieking home fans, Canada got pantsed on the world stage. It was 5-0 at halftime. The Mexicans decelerated in the second half, and it still ended 8-0. The emergency klaxons started going off, but nobody was listening.

August, 1993: Canada faced Australia in a play-in for the 1994 World Cup. The home-and-away tilt ended with penalties. Facing Australia’s third-string goalkeeper, Canada missed two and lost. “The further [the Australians] go, the better it makes us look,” Canadian coach Bob Lenarduzzi said afterward. Australia promptly lost its next game and missed qualification.

1997: Sixteen-year-old Calgarian Owen Hargreaves was cut from a Canadian junior team because the coaches thought he was too small. That snub will later be credited in part for Hargreaves’s decision to choose England over his home country. He went on to play for Bayern Munich and Manchester United. In 2006, he was chosen England’s player of the year.

Owen Hargreaves of Bayern Munich lifts the European Cup after the match against Valencia in the UEFA Champions League final at the San Siro, Milan, Italy in May 2001.ALEX LIVESEY/ALLSPORT

March, 2008: After what seemed like the first hour of a romcom played out over the span of years, Jonathan de Guzman chose to go steady with the Netherlands instead of Canada. Born and raised in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, de Guzman was at that moment the most fancied Canadian player in the world. In the way of these things, de Guzman’s international career never went anywhere.

Canada's Dwayne De Rosario during a 2008 World Cup CONCACAF qualifying match in Montreal.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

May, 2008: Ahead of the beginning of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, Canada’s two biggest (only?) stars – Dwayne De Rosario and (Jonathan’s brother) Julian de Guzman – called out the national program for its cheapness. “If we don’t get the proper funding we need in order to be successful, hopefully [our talent] be enough,” De Rosario said. In the first knockout round-robin, Canada failed to win a game.

2012: The program’s nadir. Needing only a draw against Honduras to advance to the next round of World Cup qualifying, Canada came completely apart in an 8-1 loss. “I know [the fans] will never forgive me,” manager Stephen Hart said afterward. “But on behalf of my players, forgive them.”

2013: After clipping Hart, Canada couldn’t find a new coach for love nor (a very little bit of) money. Colin Miller was the interim coach to start the year. Tony Fonseca succeeded him in March. Miller was back in May. By September, Canada had finally nailed someone down – former Real Madrid manager Benito Floro.

October, 2012 to May, 2014: Canada went on a 16-game winless streak. That included a 14-month stretch during which Canada scored only one goal. After a couple of draws at the tail end of this dismal run, Floro said, “For us, it isn’t important to be looking at the results right now. That will take time.”

2015: Canada bombed out of the Gold Cup without scoring a goal. Floro was anxious to talk up how well the defence played in goalless draws with Costa Rica and El Salvador. When someone countered that Canada’s offence was DOA, Floro changed tack, heaping praise on the quality of his team’s opponents: “They didn’t score either.”

2016: For the eighth time in a row, Canada failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Canada's Doneil Henry, left, and El Salvador's Nelson Bonilla vie for the ball during the first half of a FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer match in Vancouver, B.C., on Sept. 6, 2016.The Canadian Press

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles