July 12, 2015

Canada’s World Cup legacy

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

A lot of talk coming out of this year’s Women’s World Cup was the legacy that hosting the game in Canada would create.

While it was good that Team Canada went further than it ever had before – even if it lost a game that it had an honest chance at winning and should rightfully be disappointed at that – and that many attendance and TV records were set along the way, it is the legacy of the event that will matter most.

Without a doubt, the women’s game should continue to do well and qualify for future World Cups. We saw some great performances from some of the younger members of the team that could step up when veterans like Christine Sinclair do retire.

It’s safe to say that the women’s game is looking set for the future – even if the rest of the world is catching up – especially in Europe.

The real place that the legacy of this past event will rest on the other side of the field – with the men’s team.

It’s no secret that the Canadian Men’s National team has struggled recently.

After a nice run towards qualifying for Brazil 2014 was stopped dead in its tracks by a humiliating defeat in Honduras, the Men’s team seriously struggled. It went nearly a year without scoring a goal despite playing teams that weren’t exactly quality opponents. Most players that had the option to play elsewhere used that opportunity.

It was a dark time for soccer in this country and we’re not out of the woods yet.

There are more than 100 countries in the world ranked better than Canada, including some you likely haven’t even heard of.

It’s the reason why Canada had to play two legs against tiny Dominica to even advance to the third round of qualifying for Russia 2018 – something that used to be a formality.

How does a first-world country that has a fully developed sports program get so bad at the world’s No. 1 sport? That’s a question for a different time, but hopefully we won’t be asking about it for long.

While the TV numbers for the Women’s World Cup were record-breaking and attendance marks fell for soccer in this country as well, we have to remember one thing: It wasn’t just women watching.

We have to use the Women’s World Cup as somewhat of a reboot for our men’s team.

We have to translate the massive exposure for the world’s sport into a golden generation of players.

We have to see the men’s team reach the World Cup again. Heck, maybe they’ll even score a goal this time.

While it would be foolhardy to expect this team to qualify for Russia 2018 – and maybe even “Qatar” 2022 – beyond that, we could see the beginning of some real change.

Canada has three teams in MLS, including a club with one of the biggest budgets in the league that is making international headlines. But most importantly, these clubs have burgeoning academies to train youth players.

Combine this growth with the influence of hosting the World Cup and we should be on to something.

In less than a generation’s time, hopefully we will see kids actually struggling to make a choice between ice hockey and soccer. Maybe in 10 years, the next Connor McDavid will use his skills to be the greatest No. 10 this country has ever seen.

That’s a future that is now longer laughable. And if it happens, the legacy of the Women’s World Cup won’t be in question.

But, in 10 years’ time, if the Canadian men’s team is still ranked outside of the Top 80, maybe we it was all for naught.

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