The past 12 months or so have been undeniably difficult for almost everybody, for reasons we need not rehash.
Thankfully, the world of Canadian soccer has been a bright spot: in the earlier days of the pandemic, Alphonso Davies treated us to some real heroics at Bayern Munich. Later that summer, the CPL’s Island Games were a smash hit. In the year 2020, with matches hard to come by for quite a while, the ones we did get were very special. The Canadian game has been growing at a remarkable clip the past few years, with players – both at home and abroad – making a name for themselves wherever they go.
The 2020-21 European football season has been a completely new level, though. In fact, on the whole, one thing has become clear in the past week: this current campaign is the best ever for Canadian men’s players in Europe.
Davies’ 2019-20, on its own, might’ve held that title before. But add his continued brilliance, including yet another Bundesliga title, to the pot with (inhale):
The ageless Atiba Hutchinson and a resurgent Cyle Larin winning the Turkish league with Besiktas
Scott Arfield helping Rangers FC to their first Scottish Premiership title in 10 years
Milan Borjan and Red Star Belgrade winning the Serbian Superliga for the fourth straight time
Theo Corbeanu finally making his English Premier League debut with Wolverhampton Wanderers… which happened Sunday
Oakville native (and CanMNT-eligible) Daniel Jebbison scoring for Sheffield United in his first-ever Premier League start… which also happened Sunday
Plus, of course, the big one: Jonathan David, in his first year with Lille OSC, has scored 12 goals – more than any other men’s national team player in a season in a top-five league– and he has a chance to lock up the French league championship next weekend against Angers (live on OneSoccer). It’s not a very serious stat, considering injuries and games played, but it’s still fun to say David has more Ligue 1 goals this season than Neymar.
We have to mention, as well, another strong year for Canadian women in Europe, led by Jessie Fleming’s Chelsea winning the Women’s Super League in England and going all the way to the UEFA Women’s Champions League final.
The point here is not necessarily to debate the merits of different eras of Canadian soccer, nor really is it to compare accomplishments. No, the point is this: Sit back and enjoy it.
Seriously, every single minute a Canadian plays in Europe this year has been a blessing, all part of a welcome feel-good story amid a frustrating year. We’re currently witnessing something that really hasn’t happened before – not just Canadians playing at a high level, but multiple Canadians playing for top clubs at those levels, winning trophies.
Right now, some of the biggest stories in world football cannot be told without mentioning a Canadian, and that’s remarkable.
Alphonso Davies might genuinely be the best left-back in the world, and Jonathan David will likely be one of the most sought-after transfer targets in Europe pretty soon. Atiba Hutchinson is already a living legend in Istanbul, but his recent connection with Larin (who’s gone from struggling for minutes to the Turkish champions’ leading scorer) has given the 38-year-old Canada captain new life.
All the young players – Corbeanu, Jebbison (fingers crossed he plays for Canada), and even Liam Millar – could well earn their way into more Premier League minutes in the next year as well.
Canadian players are very much on an upward trajectory at the club level, and it couldn’t come at a better time, with a nice runway for them all to start peaking around the 2026 World Cup.
It’s also not just the national teams who benefit from Canadians rising to prominence in Europe, either. Whenever we at CanPL.ca have asked international players what drew them to the CPL, many of them have replied something along the lines of “I see Canada as an up-and-coming football nation.”
That impression of our country is directly related to seeing top players come out of Canada and excel on levels that the whole world is watching. Next year, at least six Canadians will likely play in the UEFA Champions League, meaning millions of people will be exposed to some of our country’s top talent.
Seriously: every goal Jonathan David or Cyle Larin scores, and every Barcelona defender Alphonso Davies burns contributes to Canada’s legitimacy as a producer of men’s soccer talent. The fact that players like that came out of this country even before we had a top-flight domestic league (which we do now, CanPL.ca reader) is further evidence of Canada’s potential. More and more Canadian kids can be seen wearing Davies’ name on a Bayern jersey: more than ever, there’s a real sense that soccer stardom is an achievable dream for a youngster growing up here.
Success for Canadian players, whether at home or overseas, helps the game in this country as a whole.
We still dare not call this a golden age for Canadian men’s soccer yet. The national team still has to prove itself in World Cup qualifying, or against top opposition. But nonetheless, it is at our own peril that we take what’s currently happening for granted.
We’ve never seen a year quite like this for Canadian men’s players – certainly we can hope to see it again, or better, as these young players continue to improve, but this is the beginning of something special.