Soccer in Canada
Soccer in Canada is the most popular sport in terms of participation rate. According to FIFA's Big Count, over 2.6 million people played in Canada in 2006. Professional soccer in Canada is played in Major League Soccer, the Canadian Premier League and the United Soccer League. Canada also has many semi-professional and amateur soccer leagues. Canada's men's and women's national soccer teams are ranked 59th and 6th respectively in the FIFA World Rankings, as of September 1, 2021.
|Soccer in Canada|
|Governing body||Canadian Soccer Association|
|National team(s)||Men's team|
10,000 (FIFA Big Count)
|Single match||71,619 (1976) East Germany vs Poland (Olympic Stadium, Montreal)|
Soccer is played in Canada according to the rules of association football. What is called soccer in Canada today was generally known as football in Canada in the early days of the sport, as it is known in much of the rest of the world today.
The British Columbia Football Association was the first provincial football association formed in Canada in 1891. This was followed by the Manitoba Football Association in 1896, the Ontario Football Association in 1901, the Saskatchewan Football Association in 1906, the Alberta Football Association in 1909 and the Province of Quebec Football Association in 1911.
The Dominion of Canada Football Association was formed in 1912. The governing body of the game retained that name until it was changed to The Football Association of Canada on June 6, 1952. The Association later changed its name to the Canadian Soccer Football Association in 1958 and then to the Canadian Soccer Association in 1971.
One of the earliest soccer games was played in Toronto in 1859 between the St. George's Society and a team of Irishmen. Games were played in New Westminster in 1862 and in Victoria in 1865. The first game played under modern rules took place in Toronto in 1876, after which the Dominion Football Association, the first recorded football association outside the British Isles, was formed in Toronto in 1877 to foster competition between local sides.
In 1880, the Western Football Association was formed in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario and played a major role in the subsequent development of the sport throughout southern Ontario. In the time around 1900, the WFA had teams throughout Western Ontario in various municipalities including Seaforth, Mildmay, Listowel, Woodstock, Ingersoll, Brussels, Dundas, Aylmer, Ayr, Tavistock, Preston, Galt and Berlin.
In 1885 and 1886, the Western Football Association sent teams to New Jersey to play both indoor and outdoor matches against teams representing the American Football Association, then the unofficial governing body of soccer in the United States. In the first unofficial international between the two countries in 1885 Canada defeated the United States 1–0 in East Newark, New Jersey. A year later the American side won 3–2 on the same field. Teams from the two organizations played one another on both sides of the border regularly in the years that followed.
In 1901 the Ontario Football Association was formed in Toronto and competition for the Ontario Cup began. Galt F.C. won the first edition of the tournament that is still running. They represented the WFA at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri, winning the gold medal. Only two other teams participated, both American clubs.
In 1905, the Saskatchewan Football Association was formed in the province of Saskatchewan, and by 1911 the Province of Quebec Football Association was formed in Montreal with Frank Calder, first president of the National Hockey League, playing a leading role in the PQFA's formation. The Alberta Football Association was incorporated in the same year.
The first ever professional game was played in Vancouver between the Callies and Rovers in 1910. The "Dominion of Canada Football Association", today known as the "Canadian Soccer Association was founded in Winnipeg, Manitoba in July 1912. "At the meeting, the Manitoba Football Association joined with the provincial associations of Ontario, New Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta to form the national association." The organization became a member of FIFA December 31, 1912. In 1926, the National Soccer League was formed with teams in Ontario and Quebec. On June 21, 1926, the DCFA resigned from FIFA and remained outside the world governing body, following the example of British associations in a dispute over broken time payments to amateurs. Hamilton's Whitey McDonald was signed by Scottish club Rangers in the 1920s, who spotted him while on tour in North America.
The Great Depression of the 1930s meant that the DCFA struggled financially and could not afford to hold annual meetings in 1932 and 1933 and from 1935 to 1940. In those years, business was conducted by mail. At one point, president Len Peto of Montreal loaned the DFA a considerable sum of money to stave off bankruptcy. The money was later repaid in full. Despite the hard times, Montreal-born goalkeeper Joe Kennaway signed for Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic in 1931 and was an immediate success. Toronto Scottish won a North American club championship in 1933 by beating holders and US champions Stix, Baer and Fuller F.C. at Chicago's Soldier Field by a score of 2–1.
In July 1946, the Dominion of Canada Football Association held reorganizational meetings in Winnipeg, Manitoba. On July 24, 1948, the Association again became a member of FIFA. On June 6, 1952, the Association officially changed its name to the Football Association of Canada. In 1958, the Association again changed its name, this time to the Canadian Soccer Football Association. It would change its name one more time in 1971, at that time becoming the Canadian Soccer Association.
In 1957, Canada entered qualifying for the FIFA World Cup for the first time and met the United States and Mexico in qualifying for the finals in Sweden in 1958. Canada won its first World Cup qualifying game 5–1 against the U.S. in Toronto, but played Mexico twice in Mexico City and lost 2–0 and 3–0. In the final group game, Canada beat the U.S. 3–2 in St. Louis, but group winners Mexico advanced to the Finals.
From the 1940s through 1960s, Canada's four major leagues were the Pacific Coast League (re-established in 1939-40), the National League of Ontario/Quebec (re-established in 1947), the Eastern Canada Professional League (established in 1961), and the Western Canada League (established in 1963). Canadian teams also played in the American-based North American Soccer Football League in the late 1940s. The Western Canada League was the first-ever league to feature teams across three and then four provinces, although the league folded in 1971.
During the 1960s there was a concerted effort to push professional soccer in Canada. The Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League was formed in 1961 and featured teams in Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, and (for one season) Buffalo, New York. One club, Toronto City, even featured some very prominent British soccer stars during its inaugural season, including Northern Ireland international Danny Blanchflower, England internationals Stanley Matthews and Johnny Haynes and Scottish internationals Jackie Mudie and Tommy Younger. This is also notable as the last time that the England, Scotland and Northern Ireland captains all played on the same side together.
Following a rise in the popularity of the game after the global broadcasting of the 1966 World Cup, the North American Soccer League was formed in 1968. The league primarily based in the United States also had clubs in Canada and used many European professionals brought in to supplement domestic talent. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Canada was represented by professional teams playing in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver with short-lived teams in Calgary and Edmonton. The NASL had a stormy relationship with FIFA and the USSF and their clubs did not compete in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup.
The Olympic Summer Games were held in Montreal in 1976, but the soccer tournament featured only 13 teams instead of the normal 16 after the African nations boycotted the games in protest against South Africa's apartheid policies. Canada opened against the Soviet Union in the Olympic Stadium, losing 2–1. Canada lost its second game in Toronto against North Korea and was eliminated from the tournament. The same year, Toronto Metros-Croatia won the Soccer Bowl, the North American Soccer League championship. The final was held in Seattle, where the Toronto side defeated Minnesota 3–0 with a squad featuring Eusébio, striker Ivan Lukačević, Canadian defender Robert Iarusci and goaltender Željko Bilecki. Vancouver Whitecaps won the 1979 Soccer Bowl, beating Tampa Bay Rowdies 2–1 in the final at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
In 1983, Toronto Blizzard reached the final at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver but lost 2–0 to the Tulsa Roughnecks. Also in 1983 the Canadian Professional Soccer League played one shortened season after two years of aborted attempts to find enough clubs to play. Canada also lost the bid to host the 1986 World Cup in 1983 when Mexico was awarded the World Cup. Toronto Blizzard returned to the NASL Finals in 1984, but in losing to the Chicago Sting, came up short for the second consecutive year. The league folded prior to the 1985 season. Canada qualified for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics soccer tournament played throughout the United States. In the first round, they drew with Iraq, lost to Yugoslavia and beat Cameroon to qualify for the quarter finals. After taking an early lead against Brazil, Canada were defeated on penalty kicks.
The 1985 CONCACAF Championship was the fourth edition that doubled as qualification for the FIFA World Cup. Canada secured qualification for the 1986 World Cup after beating Honduras 2–1 in St John's, Newfoundland on September 14, 1985 at King George V Park in front of over 13,000 people. Canada had bid to host the final tournament, but their application was rejected in favour of Mexico, who qualified automatically as hosts, with Canada earning the remaining CONCACAF spot and winning the CONCACAF Championship (now the Gold Cup) for the first time. At the World Cup, Canada were drawn in group C and lost 1–0 to France and 2–0 to both Hungary and the Soviet Union.
Also in 1986, four Canadian national team players were guilty of taking bribes in a match-fixing scandal at the Merlion Cup in Singapore. The Canadian Soccer Association suspended Chris Cheuden, Hector Marinaro, David Norman and Igor Vrablic for one year each. Marinaro and Norman were reinstated and resumed play for Canada. In the wake of Canada's World Cup appearance, the Canadian Soccer League began operations in 1987 with teams in eight Canadian cities. In 1989 the Canadian Soccer Referees' Association was founded.
The Vancouver 86ers of the CSL won the 1990 North American Club Championship, beating Maryland Bays 3–2 in the final in Burnaby, British Columbia. The same year, Canada's national side took part in the North American Nations Cup, hosting the three-team tournament. Canada won the tournament after a 1–0 win over the United States on May 6 and a 2–1 win over Mexico on May 13, all three goals scored by John Catliff, the tournament's top scorer. In 1991, Canada took part in the championship for the second time as defending champions. Mexico won the 1991 North American Nations Cup with Canada finishing in third place.
After the 1992 season, the CSL was forced to end operations with Vancouver 86ers and Montreal Impact joining the United States' APSL. In January 1993, the Toronto Blizzard also joined the APSL. The Winnipeg Fury, not meeting USSF Division 1 market size standards, and North York Rockets joined the National Soccer League, which changed its name to the Canadian National Soccer League in 1993.
The Canadian women's national team benefited from a surge in youth participation throughout the 1980s, and in 1995 Canada qualified for the FIFA Women's World Cup for the first time. Canada lost to England and Norway and drew with Nigeria at the tournament played in Sweden. Canada again qualified for FIFA Women's World Cup 1999 played in the United States, again going winless after drawing with Japan and losing to Norway and Russia.
In 2000, Canada's men's team won the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup in February. Canada had finished in a tie in group play with the Republic of Korea, but won the tie-breaking coin toss to advance to the quarter-final, where they beat Mexico 2–1 on an extra-time golden goal. In the semi-final, Canada beat Trinidad and Tobago 1–0, and beat invited side Colombia 2–0 in the final. As a result of being named CONCACAF champions, Canada travelled to the Confederations Cup 2001 in Japan, earning a memorable 0–0 draw with Brazil thanks to a stellar performance from Gold Cup Most Valuable Player, goalkeeper Craig Forrest.
At the next Gold Cup in 2002, Canada reached the semi-final for the second time and lost to the United States on penalty kicks. Despite their success in the Gold Cup, Canada's senior men's side failed to qualify for either the 2002, 2006 or 2010 World Cup. The national team has never achieved a higher position than 40th in the FIFA World Rankings.
Also in 2002, Canada hosted the first ever FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship with games in Edmonton, Victoria, and Vancouver. The final between Canada and the United States was played at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, with the U.S. winning on a golden goal. Canadian Christine Sinclair received the tournament's Golden Ball as MVP and Golden Boot as leading goal-scorer. Rounding out 2002, Canada's senior women's team, with several players from the U-19 squad, met the United States in the 2002 CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup final, where the U.S. won on yet another golden goal. Still later that year, Sinclair led the U.S. NCAA Division I in goals scored as she helped the University of Portland win the national championship.
The senior women's side again qualified for the FIFA Women's World Cup 2003. In the group stages they lost to Germany before beating Japan and Argentina for their first wins in World Cup history (men or women). In the quarter-finals, Canada upset China 1–0 before losing to Sweden in the semifinal. They were again beat by old rivals the U.S. in the 3rd place game. The under-19 women's side qualified for the 2004 world championship in Thailand, losing in the quarterfinals to China. For the second straight tournament, a Canadian won the Golden Boot, with Brittany Timko the top-scorer. Sinclair set an NCAA Division I record in 2005 with 39 goals as she led Portland to another NCAA title and earned a second straight Hermann Trophy. In the wake of her record-setting season at Portland, Sinclair won the Honda-Broderick Cup in 2006 as the outstanding female athlete at a U.S. university. Also in 2006, long-serving CSA Chief Operating Officer Kevan Pipe was fired from his duties. The CPSL re-branded as the Canadian Soccer League.
In 2007, Toronto FC began play in Major League Soccer as its first franchise located outside the United States. Canada's national team reached the semi-final at the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Dale Mitchell was named coach of Canada's senior men's team, to begin duties after the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, held in Canada. The host went out without scoring a goal and losing all three matches. The final was held in front of 20,000 people at the National Soccer Stadium in Toronto, with Argentina beating the Czech Republic 2–1. Association President Colin Linford resigned after his pick for chief executive officer, Fred Nykamp, was turned down by the board of directors. In September, Canada participated in the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. In October, Vice-President Dr. Dominic Maestracci assumed Linford's duties as chairman of the board.
Beyond Canada's last-place finish, the tournament itself was a huge success. Led by National Event Director Peter Montopoli, the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 drew a tournament-record 1.2-million fans, was viewed by 469.5-million global television viewers, and generated $259-million in economic impact.
A new Canadian Soccer Association stepped forward in 2008. Of note, Peter Montopoli was hired as the General Secretary, Stephen Hart was hired as the Technical Director and Dr. Dominic Maestracci was voted President. In May, the Association inaugurated the Nutrilite Canadian Championship with the help of Canada's three top professional clubs - Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Impact won the inaugural season and qualified for the 2008–09 CONCACAF Champions League season. In women's soccer, Canada qualified for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament for the first time in Association history. The team came within an extra-time goal of knocking off number-one ranked USA in the quarter-final. At the youth level, Canada won its second CONCACAF Women's U-20 Championship.
In men's soccer, Canada drew more than 10,000 fans to four senior men's games for the first time in Association history. Unfortunately, Canada could not advance beyond the so-called CONCACAF Group of Death, a group that featured higher-ranked nations Mexico and Honduras.
In March 2011, it was announced Canada would host the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup for the first time, where they reached the quarterfinals. On May 6, 2017, the creation the Canadian Premier League was unanimously approved and sanctioned by the Canadian Soccer Association. On December 9, 2017, Toronto FC became the first MLS team to complete a domestic treble with their 2–0 win over the Seattle Sounders FC in the MLS Cup, as well as the first Canadian team to win the MLS Cup. On June 13, 2018, Canada, Mexico and United States joint bid was chosen to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup 69 votes ahead of Morocco 134–65 at the FIFA Congress in Moscow. Canada will host 10 matches in Montreal, Edmonton and Toronto. The first match of the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League took place between Forge FC and York9 FC at Tim Hortons Field on April 27, 2019, and resulted in a 1–1 draw.
As in other English-speaking nations outside the United Kingdom, association football (soccer) has been traditionally overshadowed by a rival code of the game with explicitly local roots. As in Australia, where Australian rules football took hold; and Ireland, where Gaelic football is played; while in New Zealand, rugby holds greater popularity; Canadian football usurped association football. In 1869, the founding of Hamilton Football Club, who played what would become Canadian football, helped make that sport the dominant football code in Canada by the dawn of the twentieth century.
Despite the difference in popularity of their respective professional leagues, association football overtook ice hockey in the 1980s and 1990s as the sport with the most registered players in the country. In 2008, there were 873,032 footballers, compared to 584,679 registered hockey players in Canada in 2008–09.
The following is a list of fully professional teams in Canada:
|Atlético Ottawa||CPL||1||TD Place Stadium||2020|
|Cavalry FC||CPL||1||ATCO Field||2019|
|FC Edmonton||CPL||1||Clarke Stadium||2019|
|Forge FC||CPL||1||Tim Hortons Field||2019|
|HFX Wanderers FC||CPL||1||Wanderers Grounds||2019|
|Pacific FC||CPL||1||Starlight Stadium||2019|
|Valour FC||CPL||1||IG Field||2019|
|York United FC||CPL||1||York Lions Stadium||2019|
|CF Montréal||MLS||1 (US)||Saputo Stadium||2012|
|Toronto FC||MLS||1 (US)||BMO Field||2007|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||MLS||1 (US)||BC Place||2011|
|Toronto FC II||USL1||3 (US)||BMO Training Ground||2015|
Canadian Premier LeagueEdit
The Canadian Premier League (CPL) is the highest level of professional soccer in Canada. The tier 1 soccer league began play in 2019 and includes eight Canadian teams, including Atlético Ottawa (Ottawa, Ontario), Cavalry FC (Calgary, Alberta), FC Edmonton (Edmonton, Alberta), Forge FC (Hamilton, Ontario), HFX Wanderers (Halifax, Nova Scotia), Pacific FC (Langford, British Columbia), Valour FC (Winnipeg, Manitoba), and York United FC (Toronto, Ontario). The stated goal of the league is to develop Canadian soccer talent, and as such will have a minimum number of Canadian players on each roster and an annual draft of U Sports players.
Major League SoccerEdit
Major League Soccer (MLS) is the highest level of professional soccer in the United States. There are three MLS teams located in Canada. Toronto FC became the first Canadian club in 2007. An MLS franchise was awarded to Vancouver in 2009 and began play in the 2011 season. An MLS franchise was awarded to Montreal in 2010 and began play in the 2012 season. Both the Vancouver and Montreal clubs were long-time organizations that had played in lower divisions.
United Soccer LeagueEdit
The United Soccer League (USL) operates second and third tiers leagues in the United States. Currently the only Canadian team in a USL professional league is Toronto FC II in USL League One (third tier). Until 2019, Ottawa Fury FC competed in the USL Championship (second tier). The North American Soccer League (second tier, unrelated to USL) featured the Canadian club FC Edmonton, until the league folded in 2017.
Canadian Division 3 leaguesEdit
Semi-professional leagues have been operated by provincial soccer associations since 2012 and have been designated as Division 3 by the CSA. Currently two such leagues exist; the Première Ligue de soccer du Québec (PLSQ) in Quebec and League1 Ontario (L1O) in Ontario – both operating men's and women's competitions. The champion of the two men's leagues are given berths to the Canadian Championship.
American non-professional leaguesEdit
There are four Canadian teams in the amateur fourth tier USL League Two: the TSS FC Rovers in British Columbia; Calgary Foothills FC in Alberta; FC Manitoba in Manitoba; and the Thunder Bay Chill in Ontario. Thunder Bay Chill won the Championship in 2008, Forest City London (since moved to L1O) in 2012, K–W United FC (now defunct) won in 2015, and Calgary Foothills won in 2018.
Canadian Soccer LeagueEdit
In May 2009, the southern Ontario based league was granted conditional approval by the Canadian Soccer Association as Canada's national Tier III pro soccer league. Toronto FC and Montreal Impact both previously had their academy clubs playing in the CSL. Toronto had the TFC Academy, in the First Division, and TFC Academy II in the Reserve Division. While Montreal had the Impact Academy in the First Division. The League's most recent clubs are Kingston FC, Niagara United, and SC Waterloo Region which joined the CSL in 2012, all moving up from the CSL Reserve Division.
On January 31, 2013, the Canadian Soccer Association announced they were withdrawing support of the league, ending its status as a sanctioned division 3 league with the 2013 season. The league was unable or unwilling to address alleged corruption and match-fixing problems; the CSL decided creating their own soccer federation unsanctioned by FIFA was the solution.
Canadian soccer cup competitionsEdit
- Canadian Championship (fully pro teams from Canadian Premier League, Major League Soccer; league champions from L1O and PLSQ)
- Challenge Trophy (amateur men's nationals)
- Jubilee Trophy (amateur women's nationals)
Many of the provincially sanctioned amateur leagues have league cup competitions. Some such as the ones in British Columbia have significant history.
- Vancouver Island Soccer League – Sir John Jackson Cup first contested 1914
- Fraser Valley Soccer League – Packenham Cup first contested 1909
- Vancouver Metro Soccer League – Imperial Cup first contested 1913
- British Columbia Provincial Soccer Championship – Province Cup (formerly McBride Shield and BCFA Challenge Cup) first contested 1892
- Pacific Coast Soccer League – Cambridge Cup
- Pacific Coast Soccer League – John F. Kennedy Cup (between top amateur teams in BC, Washington State, and Oregon)
The Canadian national soccer team has appeared in two senior FIFA tournaments: the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico and the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup in Japan. The women's senior national team has appeared in ten senior FIFA tournaments: seven FIFA Women's World Cups and three Women's Olympic Football Tournaments. There is also a recently formed Québec official soccer team which represents the province of Québec and the French Canadian population in non-FIFA tournaments.
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