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Canadian Soccer Takes Step Forward This Year, Looking for Strong 2016

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Both national teams made headlines this year for various reasons, but a lot of what they are working towards is still to come in the new year.

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

This year began in a typical way for the Canadian men's national team, with a loss to a less than full strength Iceland squad on a neutral ground. They managed to follow that up by drawing that same Iceland squad three days later. It was a day in which Dwayne De Rosario, Canada's all-time leading scorer for the men's side, make his final appearance while adding another goal to his record in the process.

Then something somewhat unusual happened. The Canucks went on a winning streak. Mind you, the wins were against weaker opposition, but progress is progress right? Four games in a row, which we saw the Canadians beat the likes of Guatemala (at another neutral site), Puerto Rice, then capping it off with two wins over Dominica in World Cup Qualifying in June.

June 11 was a special day for most Canadian supporters though. Not only did the Canucks progress in World Cup qualifying after beating Dominica, but they added a new face to the ranks, Tesho Akindele. For those that don't know, Akindele was born in Calgary but raised in Colorado, meaning he had two options on who he could represent internationally. With interest from the United States, although a lot would argue that he wouldn't have much of a chance with the U.S. squad, the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year chose Canada.

Riding this four game winning streak into the Gold Cup, there was a small amount of optimism within the Canadian supporter's ranks. After a 0-0 draw with El Salvador (Cyle Larin's miss still haunts me), Canada's 1-0 loss to Jamaica put them in a hard position. A win against Costa Rica in their final game at BMO Field would see them through to the knock out stages. It was not to be, after having a goal called back Canada had to settle for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, which would have been a decent result in any other setting.

After beating Belize 4-1 on aggregate to advance in World Cup Qualifying (I'm still waiting for the CSA to hire Mad Dog and Maestro as play by play announcers) Canada was set to take on Ghana in a friendly in DC. Then something incredible happened. The day many Canadian supporters were waiting for finally happened. David "Junior" Hoilett, the dynamic winger for Queen's Park Rangers in England, had committed himself to Canada. Then Fraser Aird, the Glasgow Rangers right back/right winger who was eligible for Scotland, made the decision to represent Canada.

Somewhat lost in all this excitement was the return of Lucas Cavallini (who scores for fun in Uruguay) and the debuts of Marco Bustos (eligible for Chile), Charlie Trafford (outstanding for KuPS in Finland, recently signed for Korona Kielce in Poland), Kianz Froese (the young Cuban-Canadian from the Whitecaps) and Wandrille Lefèvre (recently acquired citizenship). I can honestly say, I had never been more excited to be a Canadian soccer fan in my life.

A month later, the squad met up for a crucial World Cup qualifying against Honduras in Vancouver. Canada played a (mostly) composed game where they squeaked out a 1-0 win on the back of Cyle Larin, with the help of the 20,000+ in attendance at BC Place in Vancouver. They then ended the year with a 0-0 draw in El Salvador which gives them 4 points in two games in the fourth round of qualifying.

With a friendly coming up against Michael Bradley and the United States national team in February, Canada then plays Mexico in Vancouver, and again four days later in Mexico City for more qualifying matches. The match at BC Place could turn out to be one of the most important matches for Canada, because any points against El Tri would possibly put less stress on the importance of away points in Honduras in September.

The Women's National Team's World Cup Run, and Looking Ahead to the Olympics

I would be the first to admit that I don't follow the women's national team as much as the men's, but I feel like a mention of the women here is only fitting after the wonderful year they had. Now people may say they were disappointed by the quarter final exit at the World Cup, but I look at it a different way. The 2015 edition of the Women's World Cup set attendance records, and our women played in front of raucous crowds of around 50,000 fans. That to me is incredibly exciting and it shows that Canadians do love the beautiful game.

2015 was a year where a young lady by the name of Kadeisha Buchanan won best young player at the Women's World Cup and "de-throned" Christine Sinclair as Canada's best female soccer player. It was also the year that the popular FIFA video game added women's national sides to the game, and our very own Christine Sinclair graced the cover in Canada. Sinclair and Buchanan also were on a Canadian postage stamp as a tribute to the successes of the Women's World Cup. 2015 was a year of growth for the women's game in Canada and around the world.

2016 should be an interesting year for Canadian fans. The women continue their Olympic qualifying against Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Guatemala, competing for a place in the women's football tournament in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. While the men continue their quest for a berth in the elusive hex, the final stage of CONCACAF Qualifying.

More help on the way?

There have also been rumours of 2 or 3 new faces to be added to the men's contingent in February or March. A lot of fingers have been pointed at Scott Arfield, the Scottish born midfielder for Burnley in England's Championship, whose father is from Toronto. Arfield himself has said he is close to joining the Canadian team after repeatedly not getting called up by Scotland. I think he would be a welcome addition, and only makes me more excited to watch the national team in the new year.

I've been optimistic about the men's side and been let down before, but this time feels different. Here's to the men and women continuing to move forward and having successful 2016 campaigns.