First, a personal story to put this entire thing into context. I was born into a society where hockey is the first love, and therefore came naturally to me as a youngster. Soccer, on the other hand, was quite different. Growing up, I was never interested in soccer because nobody else in my world seemed to care. Recess and gym class were the only levels of the sport I played, and both of those brands resembled the unruliness and disorganization of an early years Toronto FC side.
Then it all changed dramatically in 2007, when I visited the very birthplace of the sport itself: a Blockbuster (remember those things?) discount video game bin. What I was really looking for was an NBA game, but there must have been some kind of buy one, get one half off as my eyes caught Mexican and Chivas Guadalajara keeper Oswaldo Sanchez on the cover of FIFA 2005.
That video game is how I came to love the beautiful game, as its simulation of the sport taught me everything I needed to know in order to embrace a sport to which I had little previous exposure. Maybe my soccer knowledge was a little outdated, especially considering the fact that this was a 2005 game purchased in 2007, but it ignited a passion that has only grown stronger.
This is not a unique story, especially among Canadian kids who grow up in hockey households. The EA Sports FIFA video game series is a way for them to discover the sport. As a game itself it is the best sports game on the planet, and therefore an incredibly attractive option.
That is why it is so important that the Canadian men's national team be included in the game going forward. It's only a small gesture, and something that would be completely insignificant to several other nations. But for Canada, this small inclusion amid a string of exclusions and disappointments could make a world of difference.
To begin with, it creates a sort of familiarity that is incredibly hard to generate otherwise. Team recognition is huge as a result of the FIFA video game. The different modes are perfect for giving soccer fans exposure to teams that they have not heard of previously. This is the same case with players. The game allows fans to not only see but use players that they would not ordinarily see and access their different qualities and abilities.
While serving as a promotional tool for both the brand and the players involved with the national team setup, it would also help give the program some legitimacy. Any small bit of this that Canadian Soccer can acquire is huge, as people are incredible quick to dismiss it as a joke. This will at least be something for Canadian supporters to point to as a sign that Canada does have a recognized national team.
EA Sports could also take this one step further by putting a Canadian on the cover of the domestic version of the game for 2015. In the aforementioned FIFA 2005, it was the first time the Mexican league was included in the game. Therefore, Osvaldo Sanchez was the poster boy. It would do wonders for Canadian soccer if Sanchez because Russell Tiebert, Jonathan Osorio or Doneil Henry.
Speaking of those young Canadian players, they are all already in the game. A Canadian national team could be easily made without much extra effort for the EA staff. In term of new features it would be one of the easiest to deliver. In fact even the stadium BC Place is included in the game, making all elements available.
Canada can currently sell out a Women's national team game in a number of hours, but often fails to even half fill the stadium for men's national team matches. When they do, a good portion of the stadium is usually filled with opposition supporters. The reason the Women's team is able to sell out is as much about recognition as it is results. After their run at the 2012 Olympics, the public know the names of the majority of the team, which makes them far easier to follow. Very few could tell you even a single player on the men's edition. But once there are some familiar faces, there will be more people in the seats.
It's also not illogical whatsoever. The game is created in Vancouver and that on its own gives reason for the Canadian developers to pay some homage to their home and native land. Canada is also a market in which the game is incredibly popular and profitable for EA Sports.
Canada may be ranked a disappointing 110th in the world but that isn't out of place with the bizarre selection process for international teams in the FIFA video games. Number 154 India have somehow found a way into the game, and yet another sub-100 team, the Chinese, were in the game for several years.
While this article is unique in some senses, the premise is not. Last year, Martin MacMahon wrote this piece that has a very similar message, even making some of the same points. But the reason it continues to be written and reproduced in several different forms, is the fact that it actually could actually be an important step in Canadian soccer development.
Hopefully at some point, someone of significance within EA Sports, or within the Canadian Soccer Association reads this article and does something about this issue. The more the pressure continues, the less likely EA will be to ignore a simplistic, yet important, upgrade to the game.
So that the next time some kid discovers a box in the bargain bin it's Doneil Henry staring back at them. From there Canada will grow its team, one rapid thumb movement at a time.