Soccer (Association Football) is a sport played by two teams of 11 players each, using a round ball, usually on a grass field called the "pitch." Only the two goalkeepers may intentionally handle the ball, which is moved from player to player by kicking; and a goal may be scored by kicking or heading the ball into the opponent's goal. Association Football, the traditional name of the game, has now been shortened to "football," while the term "soccer" is derived from the second syllable of the word "association." In Canada and the United States the game is usually referred to as soccer to distinguish it from other forms of football.

In contrast to Canadian and American football, soccer has spread to almost every nation in the world, and over 200 nations are now members of FIFA. The game continues to grow in popularity for both men and women, and is now the country's number one participation sport for children and youth. In 2014, 824,181 players were registered in soccer at all levels (over 41 per cent of those players were women or girls).

Early History

Soccer in Canada was played under a variety of rules from the early years of the 19th century. The first game played as we would play it today seems to have taken place in Toronto in October 1876 between two local clubs. From 1876 on, the game grew and spread across the country, although it was not considered an appropriate activity for women for many years.

The Dominion Football Association was organized in Montréal in 1877 and operated a loosely arranged cup competition largely involving college teams from southern Ontario. The Western Football Association (WFA) of Ontario was formed in January 1880 in Berlin (now Kitchener) and had 19 member clubs by April of that year. Its formation led to the first international soccer match in North America, with Canada defeating the United States 1–0 in November 1885 in Newark, New Jersey; the following year, Canada lost 3–2.

On the Canadian side in both games was David Forsyth, a teacher at Berlin High School, who was instrumental in founding the WFA, playing the first internationals and organizing a tour to Britain in 1888. In Britain the Canadian touring team won nine games, tied five and lost nine against some of the finest teams of the day. A similar tour took place in 1891; the touring party this time was made up of both Canadian and American players.

Represented by the Galt Football Club, Canada entered Olympic competition for the first time in 1904 and came away with the gold medal at the Olympic Games in St Louis, Missouri. Faced with only two American teams in the competition, Canada won its first game 7–0 and the second 4–0.

By 1912, when the Dominion of Canada Football Association (forerunner of today's national governing body, the Canadian Soccer Association) was formed, there were leagues and associations across the country. In 1914, Canada gained full membership in the Fédération internationale de football association (FIFA), the governing body of world soccer.

A national championship came into being in 1913 when the Connaught Cup (presented by the duke of Connaught) was offered for competition. The first winners were the Norwood Wanderers of Winnipeg. In 1926 the Connaught Cup was succeeded by a new trophy, donated by the Football Association of England and still played for today (known as the Challenge Trophy). The most successful national champions have been the Westminster Royals, who have appeared in 10 finals, winning eight times (1928, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1953, 1955, 1958, 1960).

A Canadian national team toured Australia in 1924 and New Zealand in 1927, while in the 1920s and 1930s numerous teams from Britain toured Canada. One member of the Canadian team in New Zealand was Dave Turner; another notable player of this era, Joe Kennaway, played for Canada and Scotland, and in his day was one of the finest goalkeepers in the world.

International Competition (Men)

The influx of immigrants from around the world following the Second World War changed the face of Canadian soccer. In the prewar years the influence had been largely British, but it rapidly became international, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. As immigrants were assimilated into Canadian life, the emphasis began to shift to the development of Canadian players. As a result, Canada's status as a soccer power steadily improved throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, but a series of poor results in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s set the game back. Even so, Canada fielded teams regularly in World Cup (world professional championship), Olympic, Pan American and Francophone Games.

Canada first entered a men’s team for the World Cup in 1957, but did not pass beyond the first preliminary round until 1978, when the team narrowly missed qualifying for the final rounds. In 1982, the team missed the finals by only one goal. In 1985, Canada won its first title at the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) championship, securing a place at the World Cup the following year. Canada reached the finals of the World Cup in 1986, under coach Tony Waiters, and despite losing to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union, all long-established world-class powers, the team distinguished itself by the quality of its play. However, since that time the Canadian senior men’s team has not qualified for the World Cup.

In Olympic competition, the men’s national team qualified for the final rounds of the Montréal Olympics in 1976, as the host nation, losing narrowly to the Soviet Union and North Korea. In the final of this competition East Germany defeated Poland 3–1 before a crowd of 71,619 in Montréal's Olympic Stadium — a Canadian attendance record for a soccer match. Canada went one step farther in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, reaching the quarterfinals before being beaten by Brazil. In this game, the score was tied 1–1 after 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of overtime. Canada lost its bid for a place in the semi-final in the subsequent penalty shoot-out. Since then the Canadian men’s team has failed to qualify for the Olympic Summer Games.

In February 2000, however, the Canadian men’s team made soccer history with a stunning title win at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, in what has been dubbed "The Miracle in Los Angeles." Ranked 85th in the world, Canada upset 10th-ranked Mexico 2–1 in the quarterfinals, and went on to defeat Colombia 2–0 in the final.

Women’s Soccer

When the Dominion Football Association was first organized in 1877, soccer was not considered a suitable activity for women in Canada. Athletic opportunities were limited for women, as only genteel activities such as skating, horseback riding and boating were acceptable to Victorian society. Towards the end of the 19th century, tennis, badminton and golf became more popular among women, but even cycling was suspect; “manly” sports (sports that required running and the chance of physical contact) were clearly unacceptable. By the 1920s, women in Canada were playing team sports such as basketball, baseball/softball and ice hockey. However, few were playing soccer, which seems to have been considered a men’s sport by most Canadians.

In 1922, a touring team from England — the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club — arrived in Québec for a North American tour, expecting to find some women’s teams to play. However, the Dominion Football Association publicly announced their opposition to the idea of women playing soccer, and even forbade any of their (men’s) clubs from competing against the Dick, Kerr Ladies. In this they were following the lead of the Football Association in England, which had banned the club from playing on its pitches. The touring team was therefore forced to compete against men’s teams in the United States.

Yet some women did play soccer in Canada in the early 20th century, despite the disapproval of the Dominion Football Association. During the First World War, for example, The Globe reported that a “ladies’ football [soccer] match” had taken place on 5 August 1918 in support of the War Auxiliary. In 1922, under the headline “Amazons Stage Terrific Battle,” The Lethbridge Daily Herald in southern Alberta reported on a game between two rival women’s teams, the single and married ladies, “all [of whom] showed a remarkable knowledge of the game.” According to historian M. Ann Hall, women also played soccer in Hamilton in the 1920s — a real “shame,” according to an Ontario member of the Dominion Football Association.

In 1936, an article in The Free Press (London, Ontario) reported that, “soccer has become an important fall sport for women undergraduates at the University of Western Ontario;” girls were also playing soccer at Central Collegiate, a high school in the city. In 1950, McGill University formed a women’s soccer team, which played against teams from McDonald College, Bishop’s University and a number of local high schools. Overall, though, few women played soccer in the first half of the 20th century, and there was still resistance to the idea of women playing soccer.

In the 1960s the situation changed, as soccer became very popular among Canadian youth of both sexes. By 1972, Scarborough, Ontario, could boast 14 girls’ teams — far fewer than the boys’ teams, but still a significant number. By 1976, there were 60 girls’ teams in the Calgary Minor Soccer Association; and by 1980, there were 317 teams in the British Columbia Girls Soccer Association.

Since then, soccer has become one of the most popular sports among girls and women. Moreover, the ratio between male and female players has steadily fallen. In 1980, females accounted for less than 10 per cent of all registered soccer players in Canada — in 2013, this number had risen to over 40 per cent.

International Competition (Women)

Canadian women began competing internationally in the late 1970s. In 1977, a team from the Greater Vancouver Women’s Soccer League travelled to Hawaii on a two-week tour. The next year, they competed in the World Women’s Invitational Soccer Tournament in Taiwan. The team — the Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire (IODE) Roadrunners — represented their club rather than Canada. They defeated several of the 13 teams in the world tournament.

The first national women’s team was formed in 1986, but did not qualify for the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991. The team competed in the 1995 World Cup, but did not place high enough to secure a spot at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, the first time women’s soccer was included in the Olympic program (the top eight teams from the World Cup automatically qualified for the 1996 Olympics because there was not enough time for a qualifying tournament). Canada played in all subsequent World Cup tournaments, placing fourth at the 2003 World Cup. In 2008, the team qualified for the Olympic Games in Beijing, China, where they reached the quarter-finals.

Canada qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and performed remarkably well during the tournament. Millions watched its semi-final match against a favoured American team. Despite a very strong showing that saw captain Christine Sinclair score three goals, the United States won 4–3 in overtime. The American win came after a couple of controversial penalties against Canada that allowed them to tie the match in the last seconds of the fourth quarter. Putting aside their disappointment, the Canadians defeated the French team three days later in a 1–0 win to take the bronze medal.

The women’s national team has twice (1998 and 2010) won the title at the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) tournament and has also medalled at the Pan American Games, including a gold medal in 2011.

Professional Soccer

Professional opportunities for Canadian soccer players have changed over the decades. In the 1920s, a professional men’s league, the National Soccer League, was formed in Canada (it lasted until 1997). During the 1960s, the Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League (ECPSL) enjoyed considerable popularity, with some games drawing crowds of around 10,000. Toronto City, one of the ECPSL clubs, featured prominent British soccer stars such as Stanley Matthews, Danny Blanchflower, Johnny Haynes, Jackie Mudie and Tommy Younger.

From 1968 to 1984, Canadian men could also play in the North American Soccer League (NASL), a top-tier professional league. At its inception, the league included two Canadian teams (the Toronto Falcons and Vancouver Royals), and by the time it folded early in 1985, it included five Canadian teams: the Calgary Boomers, Edmonton Drillers, Montréal Manic, Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto Blizzard (formerly known as Toronto Metros and Toronto Metros-Croatia). The Metros-Croatia won the NASL championship in 1976, a feat duplicated by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 1979, while the Blizzard made it to the finals in 1983 and 1984.

Following the collapse of the NASL, the Canadian Soccer Association formed the Canadian Soccer League (CSL). The league began play in the spring of 1987 with teams in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and North York. It collapsed in 1992.

As of 2015, there are Canadian franchises in three North American professional leagues for men. Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montréal Impact play in the top-tier Major League Soccer (MLS). FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury play in the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL), which was reincarnated in 2009. Three Canadian franchises also play in the third-tier United Soccer League (USL) in 2015.

While there are no top-tier professional women’s teams in Canada, several Canadian franchises have played in the semi-professional W-League (e.g. Laval Comets, Toronto Lady Lynx, Vancouver Whitecaps Women and the Ottawa Fury); however, four Canadian teams pulled out of the league for the 2015 season due to low attendance. Canadian women have also played in the short-lived Women’s United Soccer Association (2001–03) and Women’s Professional Soccer (2009–12) league, as well as the National Women’s Soccer League (2013–present).

Players

The increasing involvement in international competition has produced a number of outstanding Canadian men players, among them fullback Bruce Wilson, who played in the North American Soccer League (NASL), and captained the Canadian team in the 1984 Olympics and the 1986 World Cup. Early in 1999, Wilson was voted one of the players of the century in the Americas. Playing alongside Wilson in many international games was Bobby Lenarduzzi, who also had a notable career with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the NASL, and then went on to coach the national team. Others who distinguished themselves during the late 1970s and early 1980s were Randy Samuel, Sam Lenarduzzi (older brother of Bob), Buzz Parsons, Randy Ragan, Gerry Gray, Jimmy Douglas and Robert Iarusci, who also played for the world-famous New York Cosmos. Most of the players who represented Canada during that time played in the NASL.

Many Canadian players have had international success as Canadian team members or on teams in other countries. Goalkeeper Craig Forrest distinguished himself with Ipswich Town and West Ham United; forward Paul Peschisolido with Birmingham City, Stoke City and Fulham; defender Jim Brennan with Bristol City and Notts Forest; and Jason de Vos with Dundee United, Wigan Athletic and Ipswich Town —all English clubs. Colin Miller, a midfielder, went to Scotland to play for Rangers, Hearts and Dunfermline Athletic, while forward Alex Bunbury played in Portugal for Maritimo.

Midfielder Dwayne De Rosario played with Germany’s FSV Zwickau at the beginning of his senior career, before returning to North America to play in the MLS (including two stints with Toronto FC). Four-time Canadian Player of the Year, he was also MLS Cup Champion four times, and was voted Most Valuable Player in the MLS in 2011. In 2012, De Rosario was named part of the all-time Canada XI men’s team. Fellow midfielder Julian de Guzman played professional football in France, Germany, Spain and Greece, as well as for Toronto FC and Ottawa Fury FC in the MLS. In 2007, de Guzman was named Most Valuable Player at the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.

On the female side, Carrie Serwetnyk was the first Canadian woman to play soccer professionally, when she signed to a Japanese club in 1992. Charmaine Hooper, who played professionally overseas as well as in the Women’s United Soccer Association, established herself as one of the finest woman players in the world. Christine Sinclair has also become one of Canada's premier female soccer players, leading the Canadian team to its 2010 CONCACAF title and 2011 Pan-American gold medal win, and anchoring the Canadians at the London Olympics in 2012. Sinclair and many of her national teammates (e.g., Diana Matheson, Erin McLeod, Karina LeBlanc, Melissa Tancredi, Rhian Wilkinson) have played in professional leagues in North America and Europe.


All-Time Canada XI (Canadian Soccer Association, 2012)

Men

Craig Forrest

Bruce Wilson

Jason de Vos

Randy Samuel

Robert Iarusci

Atiba Hutchinson

Mike Sweeney

Dwayne De Rosario

Alex Bunbury

John Catliff

Dale Mitchell

Women

Erin McLeod

Janine Helland

Martina Franko

Candace Chapman

Rhian Wilkinson

Diana Matheson

Geraldine Donnelly

Andrea Neil

Kara Lang

Charmaine Hooper

Christine Sinclair