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 2 local clubs. From 1876 on, the game grew and spread across the country.
SoccerSoccer (Association Football) is a sport played by 2 teams of 11 players each, using a round ball, usually on a grass field called the "pitch." Only the 2 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 US the game is usually referred to as soccer to distinguish it from other forms of FOOTBALL.
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 2 local clubs. From 1876 on, the game grew and spread across the country. 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 of Ontario was formed in January 1880 in Berlin [Kitchener] and had 19 clubs in membership by April of that year. Its formation led to the first international soccer match in North America, with Canada defeating the US 1-0 in November 1885 in Newark, NJ; 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 9 games, tied 5 and lost 9 against some of the finest opposition of the day. A similar tour took place in 1891; the touring party this time was made up of both Canadian and American players, with disastrous results.
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, Mo. Faced with 2 American teams in a competition abbreviated because of travel problems, 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. The most successful national champions have been the New Westminster Royals, who have appeared in 10 finals, winning 8 times. 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.
The influx of immigrants from around the world following WWII 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 the 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 has regularly fielded teams in World Cup (world professional championship), Olympic, Pan-American, youth and women's competition as well as in the Francophone Games.
Canada first entered 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. Similarly, in 1982, only one goal prevented the team from reaching the objective that was finally achieved in 1986. 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 Canada has failed to do well in qualifying for the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups.
In Olympic competition Canada 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 Canadian record crowd of 71 619 in Montréal's Olympic Stadium. Canada went one step farther in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, reaching the quarter-finals 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 Canada has failed to qualify for the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics. In February 2000, however, Canada made soccer history with a stunning title win at the Gold Cup. In what has been dubbed "The Miracle in Los Angeles," the team claimed its first major international title. Ranked eighty-fifth in the world, Canada upset tenth-ranked Mexico 2-1 in the quarter-finals, and went on to defeat Colombia 2-0 in the final.
Having qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Canada performed remarkably well in its semifinal match against a favoured US team which the US won 4-3 in overtime despite a vey strong showing that saw captain Christine Sinclair score three goals. The US 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. Managing to put aside their disappointment, Sinclair and her players defeated the French team three days later in a 1-0 win to take the Bronze.
Canada's national youth team qualifed for the world finals in 1979, 1985, 1987 and 1997 but failed to advance beyond the first round until 1997 in Malaysia when the team reached the quarter-finals. Canada staged the FIFA Under 16 World Tournament in 1987 in Toronto, Saint John and St John's but failed to progress beyond the first round. The team also qualified for the finals of the FIFA Under 16 World Championship in 1989 and 1993 and the Under 17 competition in 1995, failing to progress beyond the first round on each occasion.
Women in Soccer
The women's game across the country has burgeoned in recent years and Canada qualified for the second Women's World Cup in Sweden in 1995 and the third in the United States in 1999, but the women, just like their male counterparts, have not progressed beyond the first round.
The increasing involvement in international competition has produced a number of outstanding Canadian men players, among them fullback Bruce Wilson, who 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 this area of the world. 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 Samuels, 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 North American Soccer League. The NASL, which folded early in 1985, at one time had 5 Canadian teams: the Calgary Boomers, Edmonton Drillers, Montreal Manic, Toronto Blizzard and Vancouver Whitecaps. The Blizzard were the fourth NASL franchise in Toronto following the Falcons, Metros and the Metros-Croatia. The Metros-Croatia won the NASL championship in 1976, a feat duplicated by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 1979, while the Blizzard were beaten finalists in 1983 and 1984.
Following the collapse of the NASL, the Canadian Soccer Association formed the first truly national league. This league, known as the Canadian Soccer League, began play in the spring of 1987 with teams in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and North York. Its successor, Canada Soccer, is the national governing body.
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, 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. On the female side Charmaine Hooper has 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 2011 Pan-American gold medal win, and anchoring the Canadians at the London Olympics in 2012.
In contrast to Canadian and American football, soccer has spread to every nation in the world, and over 200 nations are now members of FIFA. The Gold Cup victory in 2000 has strengthened what has always been uncertain ground for pro soccer in Canada; as a recreational sport, the game continues to grow in popularity for both men and women, and is now the country's number one participation sport.
R. Henshaw, The Encyclopedia of World Soccer (1979); Colin Jose and B. Rannie, The Story of Soccer in Canada (1982); Desmond Morris, The Soccer Tribe (1981); Colin Jose, NASL, A Complete Record of the North American Soccer League (1989), Keeping Score, The Canadian Encyclopedia of Soccer (1998).