Tomorrow, a Canadian soccer dream will be realized as the men’s national team steps back onto the world’s biggest stage for the first time in 36 years.
Getting there has taken an incredible team, whose “brotherhood” has been well-documented, as well as a coaching staff who has truly given them belief that they can compete with the very best. But it has also taken incredible fan support, which grew the closer the team came to the tournament, and an ever-improving Canadian soccer infrastructure, headlined by a domestic league at long last.
The Canadian Premier League is only four years into its existence, and the impact it will have on the sport in this country will only grow in future years. But the league, its players, and its staff, certainly played an important role in helping Canada during its journey.
Below is a look at some key contributions that Canadian Premier League staff and players have made, or are still making as Canada opens their World Cup.
August 2015 — Tommy Wheeldon Jr. coaches Davies, David at the Torneo Internacional U-15
The incredible on-field connection between Canadian men’s national team stars Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies has been several years in the making. But it started with the Canadian U-15 team, one which included Cavalry FC boss Tommy Wheeldon Jr. as an assistant coach.
The camp pictured above saw Canada play four matches in Mexico in August 2015. Camps like these were critical to getting players like Davies and David integrated and committed to the national team setup. Davies could have also played for Liberia and Ghana, while David, who was born in Brooklyn, was even called up by the United States U-20 team (he declined). Both opted for Canada instead, and these early roots were undoubtedly important in that decision.
That Mexico tournament squad also included a few familiar CPL faces, including Pacific’s Kunle Dada-Luke and FC Edmonton’s Terique Mohammed, both of whom scored during the competition, as well as former CPLers Julian Dunn and Yohan Le Bourhis (Valour) plus Jordan Faria and Gianluca Catalano (York United).
It is worth also noting the development role that CPL coaches like Wheeldon Jr. played for many other national team players. Not only in his role with Cavalry where he helped Joel Waterman (more on him later) develop from a CPL draft pick into an MLS player, but also worked with players like Sam Adekugbe as a young player in Calgary.
Other examples include Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, who helped to develop Cyle Larin and Richie Laryea with Sigma academy and FC Edmonton head coach Alan Koch who helped to develop Davies with the Whitecaps 2 team in the USL.
March 2018 — John Herdman’s first camp as CanMNT manager
In March of 2018, a year before the Canadian Premier League kicked off, John Herdman oversaw his first camp as manager of the Canadian men’s national team. Based out of Murcia, Spain, the camp included a friendly against New Zealand, which Canada would win 1-0 and represented a starting point for the new culture Herdman would ultimately implement within the national team that was crucial to reaching Qatar.
Four players in that camp would end up playing in the Canadian Premier League, and two continue to do so to this day, as Michael Petrasso (York United) and Ashtone Morgan (Forge FC) both appeared in the win over New Zealand. Defender Dejan Jaković, who played for Forge in 2021, captained the side during that match, while current Forge assistant coach David Edgar came off the bench at centre-back.
August 2019 — Marco Carducci earns first CanMNT call-up by a CPL player
Several players who would, and currently do, play in the Canadian Premier League have spent significant time with the Canadian men’s national team. But in August 2019, midway through the league’s inaugural season, Cavalry FC goalkeeper Marco Carducci became the first active CPL player to get the call.
“What the CPL is certainly creating for our domestic players, and particularly our young players like Marco… are those opportunities to play regularly, and to grow and develop,” Herdman told media at the time.
Carducci was called up for a pair of Concacaf Nations League matches against Cuba, and into a squad that included several players now on Canada’s World Cup roster including Milan Borjan, David, Davies, Junior Hoilett and Jonathan Osorio. He would also be called up for the following camp, which saw Canada secure a now-famous 2-0 victory over the United States at BMO Field on October 15, 2019.
January 2020 — Amer Didić becomes the first CPL player to score for Canada
Just over a year after Carducci became the first active CPL player to earn a call-up, then-FC Edmonton defender Amer Didić made further history in January 2020.
Didić was called into camp for a trio of international friendlies, two against Barbados and one against Iceland. At the time, these matches were critical for the men’s national team as they desperately clawed for FIFA rankings points — which under the pre-Covid Concacaf qualifying format would have significantly improved their World Cup qualifying path.
The central defender played a key role for Canada during that camp, earning starts in both the second match against Barbados and against Iceland. His biggest contribution, and moment of history, however, came in the 63rd minute against Barbados as he headed home a Liam Fraser corner kick to become the first active CPL player to score for Canada.
63’ Didic scores from a header by a perfectly placed corner kick from Liam Fraser
Didić was one of three CPLers called into that squad, including Carducci and Forge FC’s Tristan Borges. Future CPLers Morgan (Forge) and Shamit Shome (FC Edmonton) also made appearances.
November 2022 — Joel Waterman, James Pantemis become first players who appeared in the CPL to make a World Cup roster
When the last World Cup kicked off, back in June 2018, James Pantemis was more than a year away from making his first-ever senior appearance for CF Montréal. Joel Waterman, meanwhile, was playing for Calgary Foothills in the PDL, before returning to Trinity Western University.
Waterman would be drafted into the CPL by Cavalry FC in 2019, and played 25 matches in all competitions before joining CF Montréal. His Montreal teammate Pantemis, meanwhile, played the 2020 Island Games with Valour FC before returning to MLS and finally earning significant game time in 2021.
On November 13, Waterman and Pantemis made history for the league as they became the first-ever former CPL players to make a World Cup roster, being named to John Herdman’s 26-man Canada squad.
“It sends a huge message to young Canadians that the pathway to the World Cup is non-linear, it’s a dynamic approach, you have to keep believing,” Herdman told media last week. “The Canadian Premier League has created a foundation for players in this country to keep believing, to keep pushing.
“I think we all hope that our Premier League becomes a top, top league in years to come and decades to come, and that’s been started by a group of pioneers now that are celebrating one player whose pushed in through that pathway. In five, ten, twenty years time, we’ll be celebrating a lot more.”
While Pantemis is Canada’s third goalkeeper and incredibly unlikely to see match action, Waterman played — including a start against Bahrain — in both of Canada’s pre-World Cup friendlies. There is a possibility he could see action off the bench in Qatar, which would represent yet another monumental moment for the young league.