If Team Canada wins on Wednesday night, their progress in the World Cup of soccer qualifying tournament could improve grassroots soccer programs across the country, say local coaches and officials.
Richard MacLellan has seen this before. After the women’s national team won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he noticed an uptake in women participating in his club’s programs.
MacLellan, president of Halifax County United Soccer Club, said that now, “55 percent of our club is women.”
The success of the men’s national team gives hope to Canadians who dream of going into the professional game, he said.
“It’s not just a pipe dream (now), it’s a pathway,” MacLellan said. “If you work hard you can be a national soccer team player.”
Canada is favoured to win Wednesday’s match against El Salvador, which is the next step on their road to the World Cup. The Canadians beat the United States 2-0 in a big match on Sunday.
Canada is playing in a group of eight Central and North American teams known as CONCACAF, competing for four slots in the World Cup of soccer later this year in Qatar. After 10 games Canada is in first place.
The top three teams at the end of the tournament automatically qualify for the World Cup. The fourth place club must then play a qualifier against a team from Oceania in order to advance.
After El Salvador, Canada has games in March against Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Panama.
Kieran Collins, director of soccer development at the Halifax City Soccer Club, says part of the sport’s appeal is its accessibility.
“It’s quite an easy sport to get into. It doesn’t require a lot of equipment or a lot of resources to go and play the game. You really just need a ball.”
Many clubs across the province offer programs for people of all ages and abilities. Youth soccer, adult recreational games and walking soccer for seniors are offered. Collins said Canada’s success could provide a trickle-down effect to these programs, with additional resources and facilities available for the grassroots of the game.
Qualifying for this tournament could inspire millions of people back home, said longtime youth soccer coach Ben Girvan.
Girvan, a coach for the Suburban Football Club U-15 boys’ team for almost a decade, said national team success attracts more kids to soccer programs and that allows coaches and scouts to identify the country’s young talent.
He said that national team success is “foundational to the next steps of soccer in Canada. It opens up a lot of possibilities.”
Canada has not been to the World Cup since 1986.
The question is: what changed? Why is the team successful now after so many years of losing?
Girvan says the national men’s team has changed in that they now believe in each other. He says that coach Jon Herdman believes in the players and brings them together.
Canada is a talented, young, and hungry team who want to do well, Girvan said.
Herdman helped lead the women’s national team to where they are today and his new challenge is doing the same for the men’s team.
“I think it’s big for the grassroots most of all,” Girvan said. “Maybe not necessarily what soccer is today … but what it’s becoming.”