Canada’s soccer mission turns to 2026

There hasn’t been a post-World Cup period harbouring greater promise for Canadian soccer than the current one.

As soon as France put away Croatia on Sunday, thoughts across the country turned to big things upcoming for the sport in Canada. Most notably, that includes the coming of the professional Canadian Premier League next year, to supplement Canada co-hosting the 2026 World Cup with the U.S. and Mexico.

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The CPL will fulfil the long-held dream of a stand-alone pan-Canadian professional soccer league. The Vancouver Island franchise in the CPL will be officially announced during an unveiling Friday at 3:30 p.m. in the E&N Roundhouse, to which the public is invited.

“The timing could not be better for the launch of the CPL as the love for the game will only grow as we build toward 2026. These are very exciting times for football in Canada,” said Josh Simpson, the former European pro and Canadian national team player from Victoria, who will serve as president of the Island franchise in the CPL.

The team will play at an expanded Westhills Stadium in Langford. All those details, including team name and colours, will be announced during Friday’s unveiling.

“[The 2026 World Cup decision] was such a boost for us and the momentum building now for soccer in Canada is really exciting,” Simpson said, from Moscow, after the 2026 hosting announcement was made last month.

The repercussions will be felt all through Canadian soccer, say those involved in the sport.

“Absolutely, 2026 will have an impact,” said Thomas Niendorf, who coaches the Victoria Highlanders of the Premier Development League and operates a Victoria youth soccer academy.

“Look at what hosting the 1994 World Cup did for football in the United States. It’s going to be the generation of [Canadian] kids who are now 12 to 15 who will be the greatest impacted, especially if we can provide them with good coaching, to go along with the added interest there should be in football leading to 2026.”

Highlanders co-owner Mark deFrias cuts right to it when asked what the 2026 World Cup will mean for Canadian soccer.

“It’s a game-changer,” he said.

For a nation weary of hearing stories about 1986 — when Island players George Pakos, Ian Bridge and Jamie Lowery were part of the only Canadian team ever to play in a World Cup — there could be new soccer heroes on the horizon under new national team head coach John Herdman.

Former Victoria Croatia and Athletics goalkeeper Garth Downs said he was proud to play on teams in the Vancouver Island Soccer League that featured Pakos and Bridge. That is the heritage to build on as Canadian soccer now looks forward.

“Soccer is definitely going to get more exposure and grow in Canada because of 2026,” predicted Downs.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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