It took a while, but the Canadian men’s and women’s soccer teams finally landed on the same page in 2021.
For a very long time, the two programs were poorly synchronized. When one team won, the other didn’t. When one prospered, the other faltered.
But now they are living a golden period in unison. Make no mistake, 2021 has been a defining year for Canadian soccer, with the women’s team winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics and the men’s team asserting themselves as a rising power in the CONCACAF region.
Canadian women’s team coach Bev Priestman wasted no time on her first day on the job. The England coach inherited a team that had won two consecutive Olympic bronze medals under John Herdman and were in the top 10 of the FIFA world rankings when they took over from Kenneth Heiner-Møller in October 2019.
WATCH | The 5 best moments of Canadian soccer in 2021:
A third consecutive podium in Tokyo would have been an unprecedented achievement for Canada. But collecting another bronze medal was of no interest to Priestman, who saw making the most of the team an important part of his tenure.
“A team like Canada should be on this podium. I think we need to change the color of the medal. Two bronzes, it’s amazing and it’s a fantastic achievement, and all the credit goes to John. [Herdman] and the staff and players who made it. [But] to keep moving forward, we need to aim higher than that, ”Priestman said in his introductory press conference.
The Canadians didn’t just aim higher, they achieved Priestman’s goal by winning gold in Tokyo following a magical run that culminated in a spectacular penalty shootout victory over Sweden.
Julia Grosso’s penalty that sealed the victory was the defining moment, but the young midfielder was not the only one to make a big game for Canada in Tokyo.
Iconic captain Christine Sinclair provided inspiration and leadership throughout the tournament. Midfielder Jessie Fleming was masterful in organizing the midfield. Guardian Stéphanie Labbé received the nickname “Minister of Defense”. Ashley Lawrence has demonstrated why she is considered one of the best full-backs in women’s football. Vanessa Gilles and Kadeisha Buchanan combined brilliantly in the middle of the back row for Canada.
WATCH | Canada wins first Olympic gold in women’s soccer:
The women’s squad has grown stronger with every game in Japan, bringing a captive audience home for a thrilling race. Over 4.4 million viewers watched the Canada-Sweden game on CBC, making it the most watched event by Canadians at the Olympics and underscoring how important this team has become to the country.
Their male counterparts also had an important year.
World Cup boost
The Canadian men’s team’s only World Cup appearance was in 1986 in Mexico when it retired from the first round after three shutout losses. Since then, disappointments have followed one another, with the 2000 Gold Cup victory turning out to be just a small incident on the radar.
But the men’s team came of age in 2021 under Herdman and established themselves as one of CONCACAF’s top nations. It all started when Canada took the preliminary steps to advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying for the first time since preparing for the 1998 tournament in France. The Reds went on to advance to the final four of the Gold Cup over the summer, dropping a heartbreak to Mexico in the semifinals.
Building on the performance, Canada went undefeated in their opening eight games of the CONCACAF World Cup playoff final round, including road draws against Mexico and the United States and topped by memorable wins over Costa Rica and Mexicans last month in Edmonton.
In the past, Canada relied on strong goalies and defense to beat their opponents. But there is something very different about this current Canadian side. Overflowing with talented players who ply their trade at the best clubs in Europe, Canada plays with a level of confidence and offensive verve that it has always lacked.
Leading the way are 21-year-old Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies, who are considered among the best youngsters in the world. It was Davies’ main home goal against Panama in October that not only secured an important victory for Canada, but also went viral and caught the attention of Canadian rapper Drake, who sought and received an audience. post-game with Davies and his teammates. .
WATCH | Davies’ remarkable solo effort seals victory over Panama:
The men’s team struck a chord with the Canadiens in 2021, with more than 1.1 million listeners to watch Canada’s win over Mexico, nearly double the TV audience than the Toronto Maple Leafs. collected the same evening. Tickets for Canada’s game against the United States next month at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton sold out in less than a day.
The Canadians’ victory over Mexico – their first in 21 years – saw them climb to the top of the qualifying table ahead of 2022, taking pole position to advance to next year’s World Cup in Qatar. It also helped Canada, which rose 32 places to place 40th in the FIFA year-end rankings, change the narrative from being known as an underachiever to a team that is now a force in the league. region.
“We are a top team in CONCACAF,” forward Cyle Larin said after Mexico’s victory. “I believe it, the team believe it. And we think we can make the World Cup.”