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2026 World Cup a rallying point for Canadian men’s program

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There is finally a common goal to work towards.

Canada Soccer

It’s somewhat ironic that Canada has likely found its way back into the men’s World Cup as part of a “United” bid with the USA and Mexico. Unity, or a lack thereof, after all, has long been an issue that has plagued the sport in this country.

There has been infighting among member associations, leagues that have been created only to subsequently fail and numerous national team coaches with various agendas and visions shepherded in and out.

It has all added up in Canada’s failure to qualify for a World Cup since their lone inclusion in 1986. Now, it looks as if, barring some bizarre decision not to give the hosts automatic qualifying spots, Canada will be back at the World’s biggest tournament in eight years time.

Suddenly, the men’s program has something clear and obvious to build towards. The pathway towards success has already taken steps forward in the past few years, but the 2026 World Cup provides a destination.

Soccer: 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup-Jamaica at Canada Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Critical to the paving of that path is the Canadian Premier League, which will be launching next year. This league will aim to finally provide Canadian talent with a league large enough and national enough to truly improve the talent pool.

Even if the United bid had not been awarded the World Cup, the CanPL would have been a positive byproduct of this entire process. But now this gives the league a clear purpose in its first few years: develop players who can help Canada at a home World Cup.

The same can be said for Canada’s three MLS academies. They haven’t quite been the feeder program for the national team that many were hoping, which is why the CanPL is so necessary.

But they are still fairly new, and it seems are just starting to hit their stride. National team allegiances aside, the Montreal Impact did sell an academy product to Barcelona earlier this year. Toronto FC are more consistently developing players capable of playing at the MLS level. Now they have an extra carrot to dangle at the end of the development pathway.

The poster boy for academy development in Canada, however, is Vancouver’s Alphonso Davies. In many ways, that‘s why Davies was on stage, as part of the United bid’s 2026 presentation, delivering an impassioned speech.

Hearing Davies talk about how Canada had taken in his family from a refugee camp in Ghana, and how North America would similarly welcome visitors in 2026, was the highlight of the presentation. It was also a reminder of the best parts of both this country and its soccer team: it brings together people from all different origins and walks of life.

Betting on who is going to play in a World Cup eight years from now is a fools errand at best. But Davies is probably the safest bet to represent Canada in 2026, when he will be 25 and ideally in the prime of his career. Just 17 now, Davies is already a potential role model for Canadian kids looking to live out their dreams.

That dream, of pulling on a red shirt at a World Cup for Canada, has never been more attainable than now. It gives youth players in this country a realistic and specific goal to work towards in their careers, and they now have a lot more tools than before to get there.

Important as well is that the program now looks like they have a leader in place capable of carrying out that vision. John Herdman still has a ways to go to prove he was a good hire by the CSA, but there is little so far to suggest he wasn’t.

Herdman is also in the unique position of knowing what it is like to lead a Canadian team into a home World Cup, doing so with the women’s side on 2015. The lessons he will have taken out of that will be invaluable.

Let’s be clear, hosting a World Cup won’t instantly fix Canadian soccer. It can’t just be expect that this tournament has a similar effect on the sport in this country that the 1994 edition did in the United States. There is going to be a lot of work, both logistically and on the field, that needs to be done to make sure this is a success.

But having a common goal across the entire country is something that Canada Soccer has historically been missing. The opportunity being a co-host at the 2026 World Cup is perhaps the biggest reason why yesterday was a potential turning point for the sport in this country.