New Canada Soccer president outlines vision for the future

Canada’s so-called Golden Generation of men’s soccer – led by Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich and Jonathan David of Lille – could still come through Westhills Stadium.

That was the original plan before two sold-out games against Trinidad and Tobago at the Langford facility, considered key for Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying, were abruptly cancelled in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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“That would have baptised the stadium in regards to international [soccer],” said newly-elected Canada Soccer president Dr. Nick Bontis.

“We do see further opportunities moving forward. We have great venues from Victoria to St. John’s.”

Those opportunities could come in qualifying play for the 2022 World Cup and men’s and women’s qualifying for the delayed 2020 Plus One Tokyo Olympics, all of which Bontis predicts will resume in 2021.

The incoming Canada Soccer president addressed the Canadian sports media Tuesday by Zoom.

Bontis said it is important to qualify for the 2022 World Cup “based on merit” ahead of the guaranteed berth in 2026 as co-host with the U.S. and Mexico.

Another big topic was the Canadian Premier League — the long-awaited domestic pro soccer league which includes Island-based Pacific FC — which will be entering its third season in 2021.

“The league [CPL] is a baby. To have a baby grow up so quickly is unheard of,” said Bontis.

“It’s only two years old but showed it can execute in a pandemic environment with the Island Games [the abbreviated 2020 CPL season played in a bubble in Charlottetown, P.E.I. and in which PFC made the final four playoff round].”

Bontis pointed to two-time CPL-champion Forge FC of Hamilton, Ont., which has defeated Municipal Limeno of El Salvador and Tauro of Panama to reach the CONCACAF League quarter-finals against Arcahaie of Haiti.

“It is helping us attract international attention,” said Bontis.

“Young players are coming out of the Major League Soccer academies [of Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps] and graduating to the CPL. That is a very important relationship in our development path. [Canada head coach] John Herdman sees where the future of the national team is coming from. The CPL is making sure domestic talent has a chance to develop as much as possible.”

Also ahead for Forge FC is the Canadian championship game against Toronto FC of MLS.

“What a [Toronto-Hamilton] derby. It would have been an amazing sight if fans were allowed in the stands,” said Bontis.

Canada Soccer, which administers the sport from the grassroots to the national teams, has been hit hard by the pandemic. While B.C. youth and men’s and women’s club soccer plays from September to May, the rest of the country plays from March to October. The latter was during the heart of the first wave of the pandemic.

“All of a sudden, kids were not playing through the spring and summer, and one-third of our revenue comes from member fees,” said Bontis.

“It was a shock to the system. Hopefully, we will recover to pre-COVID numbers.”

Bontis, the former Canada Soccer vice-president, began his four-year term this month. He replaces outgoing president Steven Reed, who served the remaining three years of Victor Montagliani’s term, after the latter was named CONCACAF president.

Bontis noted Bayern Munich prodigy Davies has three million social media followers world-wide, the most for any Canadian athlete. The ripple effects will also be felt at home.

“That will help grow the consciousness for soccer across the country,” said Bontis.

He said he considers himself a fan first and foremost. Bontis recalled hunting down and finding a small TV during vacation on a remote Greek Island to watch Canada win women’s soccer bronze at the 2012 London Olympics and “jumping out of my seat” when Davies led Canada to a 2-0 upset over the U.S. last year in men’s play to end a 34-year drought.

Bontis has played many years in senior and masters men’s leagues in Ontario and touched on the importance of circuits such as the venerable Vancouver Island Soccer League, celebrating its 125th anniversary.

“These leagues are very important. They keep players active after age 18 and into adult and Over-35s and are a part of the sport that is integrated into communities in such a rich mosaic,” said Bontis.

“It’s a beautiful thing.”

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