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Ripple effects from Canada victory over Mexico will flow into the future, say local soccer experts

Milestone moment: Canada defeated Mexico 2-1 in Edmonton to move into first place in the final round of CONCACAF regional qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

It appears the drought is finally going to end.

So it was only fitting that members of the 1986 Canadian World Cup team, the last and only to qualify for soccer’s global showcase, got together at the Sticky Wicket Tuesday night to watch Canada defeat Mexico 2-1 in Edmonton to move into first place in the final round of CONCACAF regional qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“There is no way this group of players is not going to qualify for 2022,” said Jamie Lowery, the Port Alberni native and former Victoria West player, who played for Canada in the 1986 World Cup.

“I believe Canada will be going to the World Cup for the first times since 1986.”

Before Tuesday night, Canada’s victory over Honduras to qualify for the 1986 World Cup in St. John’s was considered the greatest in Canadian men’s soccer history. That may have been eclipsed by the result this week against traditional regional powerhouse Mexico in frigid Edmonton.

George Pakos of Victoria, who scored two of Canada’s four goals in the final round of 1986 qualifying, has stated this Canadian team may be good enough even to reach the quarter-finals in 2022 at Qatar.

Lowery said he wouldn’t go that far but added: “I believe this Canadian group is capable of getting out of the [opening] group stage because they are so talented, fast and competent with no weak spots.”

With Canada co-hosting the World Cup in 2026 with an automatic berth, it means Canada could be on the verge of playing in two consecutive World Cups. What that bodes for the sport in Canada could be limitless.

“There can’t be any excuses anymore [for the growth of soccer in Canada],” said Lowery.

“We have the [professional leagues] CPL and MLS and we have a great national team as catalysts.”

The reverberations from Tuesday night are still riffling through Canadian soccer.

“I’m in complete shock that Canada dominated the majority of the game against Mexico, and yes, acknowledging that it almost turned into a horrific draw,” said Vince Greco, executive-director of the Vancouver Island Soccer League, which produced 1986 World Cup players Lowery, Pakos and Ian Bridge.

“We have a whole generation that all they knew about Canadian men’s soccer was 1986,” said Greco.

“But it looks like that drought could be over. There are fans in Canadian immigrant communities who have cheered for their homelands, but never cheered for Canada, who are now cheering for Canada.”

Soccer long ago surpassed hockey in terms of youth participation in Canada but it was often seen more as a recreation while hockey was serious sport. Nobody now can say that either the Canadian men’s or women’s national soccer teams – the latter gold medallists in the Tokyo Olympics – aren’t serious about what they do.

“This is going to have huge spin-offs for kids across the country who will watch this and be inspired to play the game of soccer,” predicted Greco.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com