The University of Guelph men’s soccer coach says Canada’s successful joint bid with the United States and Mexico for the 2026 World Cup could not have come at a better time.
Keith Mason says hosting one of the biggest events on the planet is a dream come true for all Canadian soccer fans and for a nation with a growing football culture that now has three Major League Soccer teams, including last season’s champions, Toronto FC.
“The impact of us hosting the World Cup in 2026 cannot be underestimated,” Mason said in a phone interview after FIFA’s member associations voted in favour of the bid. “The most important benefit will be the impact on a generation of players in our country.”
“The kids that play now, they have something to strive for, something to dream about and something to work for,” Mason said.
The vote took place Wednesday at the FIFA Congress in Moscow and the United Bid convincingly defeated the bid from Morocco 134-65 with one no-vote.
The plan calls for Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each, with the U.S. hosting 60. Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal are candidates as host cities for the tournament that will be expanded to 48 teams for the first time.
FIFA will select 16 host cities at a later date.
BELOW: Keith Mason speaks with CJOY News reporter Matt Carty on Canada’s successful bid for the 2026 World Cup
Mason said the introduction of the Canadian Premier League (CPL) in April 2019 will only help develop Canadian soccer players ahead of the 2026 World Cup.
The league is expected to have eight to 10 teams across the country and have a minimum quota of Canadian players on each roster.
“That’s going to give seven or eight years of development leading up to the World Cup 2026 and give a platform for our top players to play,” Mason said.
As head coach of the Gryphons, Mason said recruiting has become a bit easier, given the recent popularity of soccer in Canada.
“More kids want to stay in Canada, too,” he explained. “That’s another factor the CPL is bringing to the table. A lot of kids always had the thought to move to the next level, they had to move the States, but now a lot more are staying home and they see the pathway.”
Canada has only ever competed in a single World Cup in 1986. The team did not score a goal and finished last in their group.
Whether or not Canada automatically qualifies for the 2026 tournament as a host nation is still up for FIFA to decide, but Mason would not be surprised if the team qualifies for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
He said that coach John Herdman, who led the Canadian women’s team to a gold medal at the 2011 Pan Am Games and a pair of Olympic bronze medals, has a proven track record of success.
“He’s basically starting from the beginning and starting with youth, and giving them a chance in four years’ time,” Mason said. “If we can make the 2022 World Cup, what an amazing platform that would be for us to build for hosting the next one after that.”
Two Canadian players to keep an eye on over the next eight years are 17-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies and 18-year-old forward Liam Millar, currently in Liverpool FC’s system.
— With files from The Canadian Press
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.