RHODES: Continue to support Canadian football, the effort thus far has paid dividends

It had been nearly four decades since the Canadian men’s national team had experienced a moment quite like this.

Canada secured a spot in this winter’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, clinching against Jamaica on Sunday afternoon at BMO Field. It came just over a year after this qualification journey began against Bermuda, in one of the qualifying rounds for the octagonal competition that Canada finds itself leading now.

There was a chance to do it a few days prior in Costa Rica, but results didn’t go their way. After years and years of waiting for this historic moment, what was a few more days? Secretly, celebrating at home instead of thousands of miles away was probably the preferred option, even if they wanted to wrap it up in front of a hostile Costa Rican crowd that was doing everything it could to push their own team closer to glory.

BMO Field was packed full on Sunday, as every home match has been during this qualifying window. There were seas of red all over the stadium, with flags waving and smiles adorning the faces of fans as a spot in the world’s biggest sporting event was confirmed.

And tears. Lots of them.

Success and Canada have not always gone hand in hand in international soccer, but if the last few years are anything to go by, the national teams are doing just fine. An upwards trajectory, led by the maestros that are John Herdman and Bev Priestman, has seen domino after domino fall.

The Canadian women’s national team won Olympic gold last summer, and the men have finally returned to the World Cup after nearly four decades of waiting for another crack at it. And they didn’t just qualify, they went most of the campaign unbeaten, and picked up results in places that haven’t always treated them well — to say at the least.

Longtime Canada fans have watched years of heartbreak, and are being rewarded for their loyalty. They are joined by a new influx of fans, passionately supporting Canada every step of the way.

Canada fans at Tim Hortons Field for a World Cup Qualifier against the United States (Photo: Canada Soccer by Beau Chevalier)
Canada fans at Tim Hortons Field for a World Cup Qualifier against the United States (Photo: Canada Soccer by Beau Chevalier)

A mixture of old and new is a good representation of the current national teams in this country.

Young superstars like Alphonso Davies and Jessie Fleming are following in the footsteps of Atiba Hutchinson and Christine Sinclair — bringing their teams to new heights with the crucial support of those veteran leaders. Generations of talent are being woven together, joining forces to continue to push their teams to levels previously unreached.

Hutchinson, 39, is the only men’s national team player old enough to have even been alive the last time the men’s team qualified for the World Cup. He’s been on the pitch for some dark moments in the national team’s history, but is still a key contributor nearly 20 years after making his debut. The player who won Canadian Men’s Player of the Year six times in eight years from 2010 to 2017 is finally getting a shot at competing on the sport’s biggest stage.

Several members of the squad, including its crown jewels Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, weren’t born the last time Canada even reached this stage of qualifying for the men’s tournament. Many of Canada’s followers, including myself, can say the same.

This is a totally new experience for so many, and an almost entirely positive one. The players and staff have welcomed us along with them every step of the way. Alphonso Davies and his dad celebrating live on Twitch as Canada beat the United States in January, and the CPL’s Beyond The Pitch series — where fans could hear from players on a more personal level — are two key examples of that.

So continue to support all levels of Canadian football. As we’ve seen, the effort thus far has paid dividends. The manifestation of a new soccer identity in this country — one that demands and expects excellence at all levels — has, and will, keep pushing the sport forward.

Get on board if you aren’t already, Canada, and bring some friends — continue to enjoy this historic journey.

The next stop is Qatar.