At about 2:30pm EST on Tuesday Algeria scored their first goal since the 1986 World Cup.While that may have seemed like an eternity for Algerians, the North African team did manage to qualify for both World Cups this decade. In a heartbeat Canadians would take that goal scoring record at the World Cup if it meant a successful qualification run to get there. So why has it been so long since Canada met France in Mexico ’86?
There have been multiple bumbles and stumbles by the Canadian Soccer Association over the years, more than any article could catalogue, however the single biggest reason that Canada has failed to qualify for seven consecutive World Cups is the lack of a domestic league. Canada, without one, will not qualify for another finals tournament.
The game has evolved over the last 28 years that you can no longer rely solely on athleticism to win. While athleticism can be a difference maker between closely matched competitors, technical ability reigns supreme in today’s game. Every nation currently in Brazil has a professional league and every team also has at least one player from that league on their World Cup roster. The leagues are able to develop the players for their respective national programs. No matter how many Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) initiatives the governing body rolls out, as helpful as they will be, it will never be enough to propel Canada to elite status within CONCACAF. Due to the cost associated with developing players, the CSA will never be able to compete with the coaching that players receive at professional clubs, and thus the need for a pro league.
MLS’s venture north into Canada has shown that soccer in Canada is financially viable. The downside is that MLS isn’t slow to react and swiftly followed their initial foray into Toronto with moves into the second and third biggest markets in the country. NASL followed right up in two of the three next largest markets. That means there is a huge mountain to climb for any Canadian league.
There are leagues around the world to look to for inspiration to get things off of the ground. MLS would obviously be the best example but would also be the biggest competitor. Eyes could also turn across the Pacific, to Japan and Australia; both countries started their pro league and later found success on the international stage. Japan’s J-League began play in 1992 and six years later Japan was playing in their first World Cup. They've been at every one since. Australia had previously only appeared in the 1974 World Cup but since the start of the A-League in 2005 the Aussie’s have been to every World Cup.
A Canadian league wouldn’t have to be a large league, even eight to ten teams would be sufficient to get things off of the ground. Breaking into the markets where the American leagues already have a foothold would be the largest obstacle but a necessary one in order to succeed.
If a pro league opened up shop it would take the support of all Canadians for it to be deemed a success. From people with enough wealth to become owners willing to commit to the goal of getting Canada to the World Cup all the way to fans. Owners will only invest if they see that they won’t be losing money hand over fist. The only way that happens is if Canadians would buy tickets and if the media stations would pick up the games on one of their multitude of channels.
If a national league is the dream, what can be done now to achieve that? The simplest and easiest thing that anyone who wants to see Canada at the World Cup in their lifetime can do is to get out there and support your local club. Whether it is the your MLS club, NASL side or your local newly formed League 1 Ontario club, get out there and show the higher ups in this country that the beautiful game means something to you and that you want to see Canadian red at the World Cup.