Rob Notenboom lives in the vast prairies of central Saskatchewan, Canada, a large region with a topography not unlike that of the American Midwest. There is a common joke in Saskatchewan that you can see your dogs run away for two days.
And in the provincial capital of Regina, where Notenboom lives, winter lows are often below zero.
Not exactly ideal football conditions.
Yet it is the sport to which Notenboom has devoted much of his life, despite what he has called a “lone fandom” in the Great White North. He doesn’t care much about hockey, Canada’s national sport. The soccer field is his favorite spot, where he even became a member of a loosely organized group of supporters of the Canadian national team, The Voyageurs – Canadian spelling of the word and all.
There was a time in particular for Notenboom – the 1986 World Cup, the last that Canada’s National Men’s Team qualified – where he knew that despite his location in isolated western Canada, he would become addict.
Canada finished last with zero points in Group C of this tournament, not even scoring a goal, but the impact for Notenboom and others of his generation has been groundbreaking.
âI’ve always been a fan, which is strange, because I grew up in a lot of small towns on the Prairies,â Notenboom said. âThere wasn’t really anything about football, but I was drawn to it. I remember watching Canada when they went to Mexico in 1986 and I was pretty excited, then in the late 80s and early 90s I was taking whatever I could find on TV because (the football) was rather rare.
âI didn’t know anyone else who was so interested in soccer. â¦ Fandom has always been (in Canada). It was just late, I guess, because there was nothing to watch.
Canada, who will face the United States as the final Group B opponent of the Concacaf Gold Cup at 4 p.m. Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, appear to be on the verge of entering a new era. for soccer in the country.
Having not made the final round of the Concacaf World Cup playoffs since 1997, Canada beat Haiti 4-0 in a home and away match last month to advance to the octagonal phase, where they will play 14 games (at home against the other seven teams in the squad) over the next few months to decide who will advance to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. If Canada finishes in the top three of the group (or finishes fourth and wins an interconfederation playoff), let’s go.
This sudden increase can be largely attributed to the talent of one man, 20-year-old winger / defender Alphonso Davies, who grew up in Edmonton, Alta., And who holds and wins the Champions League with German superclub Bayern. Munich. While having one of the brightest young stars in the world helps, Canada isn’t just about Davies. Forward Jonathan David scored 13 goals in all competitions for French champions Lille last season, while compatriot Cyle Larin was the top scorer in 2020-21 for Turkish Super Lig winners Besiktas.
With the momentum growing in the sport across Canada – although Canadians interviewed said that even though it is growing up it is still a niche sport – a return to the World Cup would be monumental for the Canadian soccer, especially as a co-organizing rights (with the United States and Mexico) the 2026 World Cup awaits you. Still, there are caveats: Voyageurs member Alex Ho from Ottawa, Ont., Is optimistic, but he also remembers how excitement can suddenly turn into angst.
âWe’re probably on an upswing right now,â said Ho. âThe problem with Canada is we weren’t having any success in World Cup qualifying. There was a buzz (in 2012), when we were lucky enough to get to the last lap, and there was a lot of hype around that. It was on national television, on our version of ESPN, and we went to Honduras and lost 8-1.
âI would say he has only recovered in recent years. â¦ I think that momentum (came from) seeing some of our players playing in the Champions League, being champions of France, Germany, Turkey, Scotland, that sort of thing, and the people who are aware of that. know it.
Davies and David are out of Kansas City for the Gold Cup as they recover from injuries ahead of their club seasons, but Canada still have a strong squad. Canada and the United States advanced to the round of 16 with victories over Haiti and Martinique, setting up a clash on Sunday where the winner takes first place in the group.
Travelers will not be there to see it, and not by choice.
Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the Canada-U.S. Border has been mostly closed for non-essential travel, with the Canadian government saying it wanted 75% of eligible citizens to be fully vaccinated before easing restrictions. Canadians can travel to the United States with a negative COVID-19 test, but obstacles to overcome upon return, which could involve quarantine dependent on vaccination and various other factors, still remain an issue.
Earlier this year, some Canadian supporters were hoping a trip to Kansas City would be possible as vaccination rates soared, but the Canadian government has not completely relaxed tourist restrictions.
Notenboom said there has been a reluctance among Canadians to travel, anyway.
âCOVID has really thrown a wrench into all of this,â Notenboom said. âPeople are not really inclined to travel, they want to stay safe. â¦ I have about a dozen friends who could come and watch a game at our local football club.
Meanwhile, Children’s Mercy Park will host a sold-out crowd of around 18,467 for Sunday’s game.
While the Gold Cup, although still a major tournament, pales in comparison to the World Cup qualifiers, some – like Voyageurs member Aubrey Lustig of Toronto – see the footage of crowds packed into the stadiums. Americans and become envious.
“I don’t even know if we will be able to host qualifying in September,” Lustig said.
In a way, it’s almost as if Notenboom is once again isolated in his Canadian football fandom, unable to share his love with his compatriots as he wishes, as pandemic restrictions limit travel and gatherings. But steam is gaining ground in sports in Canada now, and coverage has evolved to meet that need immediately.
It remains to be seen whether the team will reward this unwavering support with a Gold Cup race (or better yet, a World Cup berth).
â(This group doesn’t) have that hangover of failure,â Notenboom said of Canada’s current squad. âThey don’t have that, it’s like this culture isn’t even in their DNA. Some of these guys, they go out and do it. And it’s so refreshing as an old guard.
ââ¦ And I know several people of my generation with whom I speak regularly, we are also very careful. â¦ However, there are so many things that point in a positive direction. These guys are young, they are very hungry, but they are also winners.