After defeating Mexico 2-1 in Edmonton in World Cup CONCACAF qualifiers this week, the Canadian men’s soccer team has risen to its highest ranking in international soccer in more than 20 years.
Canada moved up from No. 48 in the world to No. 40 with the win, the squad’s best ranking since FIFA rankings were introduced in 1992.
Canada reached No. 40 in 1996 and has not been anywhere near since, with several years toiling away in the 100s. The team was ranked 120th just four years ago.
Now in first place in CONCACAF, the Canucks are certainly poised for a jump into the 30s and their highest rank to date, along with a possible FIFA World Cup berth for the tournament taking place around this time next year in Qatar.
The fact that the Canadian men’s soccer program has been ranked so low, for so long, in the world soccer rankings has been a source of national embarrassment.
A large percentage of Canadian children play soccer at some point. The women’s program has been wildly successful. The country’s melting pot of cultures ensures a healthy number of diehard soccer fans. And unlike hockey or football, the barriers to playing soccer – even simply on the street with friends – are limited. You only need a ball.
So, will this recent success translate into increased popularity in Canada? The brain trust behind the Canadian men’s national team must hope that a competitive and legitimate team has a trickle-down effect that ends with a pipeline of young talent and a permanent spot among the top soccer nations in the world.
If the popularity among sports fans is any indication, there is still plenty of work to do in Canadian soccer.
This chart, provided by Statista, shows that 56 percent of sports fans who watch soccer only tune in for the finals or main event of a tournament.
Only 33 percent of respondents to this 2019 survey said they watched every game of a given season or tournament.
It’s worth keeping in mind that these numbers are among sports fans who already like soccer. The numbers from the general public would likely be far lower.
We know there is a solid base of soccer fans in Canada and the presence of three Major League Soccer teams within the country has certainly contributed to that. The multicultural nature of Canada’s population also ensures a great deal of fans of essentially any soccer league across the world.
There is still a long way to go for Canadian soccer to reach the levels of popularity other sports enjoy, but a top-40 ranking for the men’s team and a gold medal for the women in the Summer Olympics has certainly put the sport in maybe its highest standing to date.