When I was a kid, the World Cup never seemed like a thing for Canada

When I was a kid, the World Cup never seemed like a competition for Canada.

Every time the international football competition happened – er, football – flags from around the world appeared on porches and tied to car windows, and classrooms were filled with the jerseys of the latest stars from the countries from which our families had immigrated.

In many ways, it felt like a time of celebration for where we came from, not where we were. To a child’s eyes, sport often seems larger than life, and the World Cup seemed to come from another planet.

For us, the World Cup was a game that we played at recess. Each of us chose a country, and we played an elimination tournament until the best country was crowned.

Nobody ever chose Canada.

That’s why I so clearly remember looking at Randy Ragan in disbelief the first time I found out he started in Canada’s midfield at the 1986 World Cup.

When you’re a 10-year-old growing up in Canada watching the best soccer nations compete on the world stage every four years, the idea of ​​a Canadian team on this ground seemed almost unbelievable.

It was a place for the great footballing nations of Europe and South America. Canada was hockey country, and soccer was a side story, a game we played for fun without really dreaming of breaking into the world stage.

In the early 2000s, the 1980s seemed like a distant past, and Ragan’s sparse curly hair and modest demeanor seemed to have nothing to do with the historic 1986 run that saw Canada’s national team win its only place in the international tournament.

Ragan was the coach of our Guelph team, and while we could reach out and touch him, his pedigree didn’t make us think that one day we could be on that stage wearing a Canadian jersey. We were born in the wrong country to have a real chance of succeeding.

Toronto FC hadn’t even joined Major League Soccer yet – that wouldn’t come until 2007 – and the idea that our Rockwood manager had played in the same tournament where Diego Maradona scored the ‘Hand of God” and won his second title in Argentina. seemed a little too far-fetched to make us understand.

Ragan’s playing days were far behind him by this time, and he hadn’t been inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame until 2002. He wasn’t flashy in our practices and he preached the simplicity of the game .

No one on our team went overboard. Wesley Cain got a scholarship in the United States and played in some semi-pro leagues around the world, which seemed like a pretty good result for a rep team in Guelph.

And then something started to change in Canada over the past five years.

For the women’s team, a decade of near-breakthroughs culminated in gold at the 2021 Olympics, when they established themselves among the best in the world.

In men’s soccer, Vancouver’s Alphonso Davies jumped onto the scene and quickly became one of the best players in the world playing on Bayern Munich’s biggest stage. Ottawa’s Jonathan David joined Lille and became their go-to forward in a team that won France’s Ligue 1 last year. And seemingly out of nowhere, stories of other Canadians joining European clubs began to crop up, with many more starting out in MLS teams.

The men’s national team quietly started winning games and, in one of the great stories of international football in recent memory, won CONCACAF against rival powers Mexico and the United States and clinched their ticket to the Qatar.

For many of us, it’s a complicated story to live through, with Qatar’s human rights record and FIFA’s serious political misdeeds exposed over the years. The calls to boycott the games are loud and, in many ways, deserved.

But I can’t help but get back into the body of that kid who loved kicking a ball through some posts, and I can’t help but remember thinking about Ragan and the dream that seemed so far from being achieved. .

For an entire generation of Canadian kids, Wednesday’s opener against Belgium will ignite real dreams.

More than one million kids are registered to play soccer this year in Canada — more than hockey, more than lacrosse, more than any other sport.

Head to schools this week, and among the Brazilian, English and Spanish jerseys there will be Canadian jerseys, with Davies, David and Jonathan Osorio at the back.

It is no longer a fantasy that a Canadian child can participate in the biggest sporting event in the world.

It’s happening tomorrow.

Comments are closed.