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Canada Men’s Soccer History: From 1876 To 2022 World Cup

Canada Men’s soccer began in 1876 when teams in Toronto started playing to Football Association rules. In the beginning, Canada soccer was primarily played in the universities and colleges in southern Ontario. The Canada men’s national soccer team that toured Britain in 1888 was all Canadian-born, except one man, who was brought to Canada when he was two years old. [1]

The Early History Of Canada Men’s Soccer

Soccer in Canada was played by the Dominion Football Association (1877) and the Western Football Association (1880), precursors to the Canadian Soccer Association we know today. There was a match between a team from the WFA and an unofficial U.S. governing body called the American Football Association in 1885 in New Jersey. The Canadian men’s soccer team  won 1–0. [3]

In 1888, the WFA sent a squad to the British Isles, where they won nine games, drew five, and lost nine. 16 of the players were Canadian-born, with the exception of tour organizer David Forsyth, who immigrated to Canada one year after he was born. [2]

Galt Football Club Canada

In 1904, Galt Football Club represented Canada at the 1904 Summer Olympics and won the gold medal. There were two sides of Americans to contend with. Galt brought home gold for Canada, winning 7-0 and 4-0.

The Pilgrims were an English touring team in 1905. Because Galt Football Club was the reigning Olympic champions, the game was referred to as “The Championship of the World.” Canadians and Americans in the North were keen to watch the game. Three thousand fans gathered at Dickson Park to watch Galt draw 3-3 with England.
 
In 1924, the Canadian national team toured Australia for a series of friendlies. The first official match took place on June 1924, in Brisbane, Queensland, as the Australian national team defeated the Canadians 3–2.
 

The United States played Canada in Montreal in 1925, and the Canadians won 1–0 on Ed McLaine’s goal. In November 1925, Canada was defeated 1–6 in Brooklyn, New York. The next year, Canada lost 2–6 to the Americans. [4]

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World War One brought a large influx of immigrants from Britain. So from a game played by many Canadians, soccer (known here as football at the time) became a game played by British immigrants right up to 1940.

Canada was primarily a British country in the years leading up to and during World War Two. However, immediately following the war, thousands of people from all over Europe emigrated to Canada, dramatically changing the demographics from Anglo-Saxon to multi-national. The change in the makeup of the population turned Canada soccer on its head.

The Dominion of Canada Football Association was inaugurated on 24 May 1912 and became a member of Fédération Internationale de Football Association on 31 December 1912. Canada withdrew from FIFA in 1928, following British soccer associations. [8]

Having rejoined FIFA in 1946, they participated in World Cup qualification in the North American Football Confederation for the first time in 1957, the first time they had played as a national team in 30 years. [5]

canadian national soccer team 1970s training

After World War II

The Second World War destroyed much of the infrastructure that existed before 1940, and Canada men’s soccer more or less started anew when the war was over. But this time, while the administration of the game remained British, the teams reflected the nationalities of the immigrants and brought many ethnic conflicts onto the playing fields.

In the period beginning around 1950 and continuing through into the 1980s, Canadian soccer was predominantly ethnic, both at the playing level and among those who watched. The one exception was in British Columbia, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, where the majority of the players were native-born Canadians.

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When Canada entered to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 1958, the squad of men to represent Canada was made up entirely of players native to British Columbia. Few of the immigrants were Canadian citizens and were left out.

Canada posted two wins and two losses in its four World Cup qualifying matches. In Canada’s first-ever qualifiers match on 22 June 1957, Canada defeated 5-1 over the USA. After conceding a goal on a penalty (USA’s Harry Keough), Canada roars back to score five unanswered goals. [6]

Norman MacLeod scores Canada’s first goal while Pat Philley, Art Hughes (two), and Gogie Stewart add to the lead. They failed at the World Cup qualifying in 1958 and eventually made the World Cup finals in 1986.

canada mens soccer team doing a lap of honor

The Formation Of The New Canada Men’s National Soccer Team

Interest in Canada men’s soccer remained high amongst the immigrant population, and in 1961 a group in Toronto and Montreal felt that the time was right to start a top-class men’s professional league that would tap into this interest.

Thus, early in 1961, the Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League (ECPSL) was born with four teams: Montreal Cantalia, Toronto Italia, Toronto City, and Hamilton Steelers.

To stock these teams and interest the immigrant groups, the ECPSL turned to Europe and South America. However, in Eastern Canada, Canadian players were not considered capable of playing at the level the league required. Consequently, the search overseas began, not only for players but also for coaches.

Toronto City was the team that attracted the most attention with its recruiting. City signed Stanley Matthews and Jackie Mudie from Blackpool, Danny Blanchflower from Tottenham Hotspurs, and Johnny Haynes from Fulham. In addition, Scottish international goalkeeper Tommy Younger was signed as the team’s player-coach.

The rest of the squad was made up almost entirely of British players, some from the First Division like Roy Gratrix and others from the lower divisions.

Also, Hamilton went essentially for British players, but a lower budget-restricted them to more minor well-known players. Finally, as might be imagined, Toronto Italia signed mostly Italian players primarily from Serie B clubs, while Montreal Cantalia had Italians and several Argentines.

When Was The First Games Played

The first Canada men’s soccer ECPSL game was played in May 1961 between Montreal and Hamilton in Montreal and drew a crowd of 5,000. The biggest game of the new league took place a week later in Toronto with City playing Italia before 16,509 fans at Varsity Stadium with Italia winning 3-2.

As the season progressed, the stars of Toronto City returned to England on loan from their English clubs. Haynes only played in seven of the 24 regular-season games, Mudie only eight, Blanchflower 11, and Stanley Matthews 14.

Both Toronto teams played at Varsity Stadium, where the total attendance for 18 league games and six playoff games was 145,479 for an average of 6,061 per game. The average ticket price was just $1.50.

On 24 June, Toronto City defeated the French club Rheims 2-1 before 10,722 fans in an exhibition game. Later in 1961, after the stars had gone home, Toronto City traveled to Vancouver to play Real Madrid and were beaten 5-1 in front of 24,264 fans.

starting line ups for Toronto City vs Real Madrid in 1961

Toronto City was tied with Montreal Cantalia on points when the season ended but won the league championship on a .0294 better goal average. In the playoffs, City was beaten by Italia, who was beaten by Cantalia for the title.

1962 Season

Before the 1962 season rolled around, the champion Montreal Cantalia had dropped out of the league. There were now five teams, the new entrants being Toronto Roma and Buffalo White Eagles. The Toronto City stars didn’t return as the English Football Association banned them from playing in Canada.

Tom Finney did show up to play one game. Toronto Roma won the league championship in 1962. They were beaten in the first round of the playoffs by Toronto Italia. Italia went on to win the championship by beating Toronto City.

1963 Season

In 1963 there were six teams in the league. Montreal Cantalia rejoined along with another Montreal team, the Ukrainians, while Buffalo dropped out. This time Toronto Italia won the league championship while Toronto City finished at the bottom, thus missing the playoffs, despite the presence of Ladislav Kubala in the starting lineup. Italia once again won the championship.

Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League poster

1964 Season

The musical chairs continued in 1964 as Montreal Cantalia dropped out again along with the Ukrainians, but Montreal Italia joined, so the league was again down to five teams. This time, Toronto City jumped from last to first and also won the playoff against Italia.

Malcolm Allison was Toronto City’s coach and was replaced partway through the season by Charlie Fleming. Zoltan Czibor played for Hamilton Steelers.

1965 Season

In 1965, Hamilton Steelers changed its name to Hamilton Primos, having been bought out by the head of a local pasta company, while Montreal Italia became Italica. Toronto City finished last again, and Stanley Matthews returned to play five games. Toronto Italica won the championship.

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1966 Season

Before the 1966 season rolled around Toronto City, the flagship franchise of the league dropped out. Owner Steve Stavro stated that the league could not survive if the three Toronto teams did not merge. So the league went ahead with four teams. By this time known as Italia-Falcons, Toronto Italia won the championship but lost in the playoff to Roma, by this time known as Inter-Roma.

The Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League folded at the end of the 1966 season with barely a whimper. The following year the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) and the United Soccer Association (now known as the Major League Soccer) were formed in North America. [10]

Toronto Falcons (having dropped the Italia part of the name) played in the NPSL, while Toronto City reappeared in the United Soccer Association. When the leagues merged at the end of 1967 to become the North American Soccer League, only the Falcons remained. That was the end of Canada having its own professional men’s soccer league.

Canada Professional Soccer League Tables

Canada Men's Soccer League Tables

What Happened After ECPSL

With no Canadian premier league in the country, Canada participated in FIFA World Cup Qualifying for the second time in 1968. From 13 teams in CONCACAF, only two qualified for the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. They were El Salvador and host Mexico. In FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, Canada posted two wins, one draw, and one loss in four matches.

Also in this era, Canada’s amateur national team participated in 1967 Olympic Qualifying (one draw, one loss) and the Pan American Games Winnipeg 1967 (fourth place).

Canada entered, but pulled out of FIFA World Cup Qualifying for Chile 1962. Canada did not enter the qualifying for England 1966.

The Canada men’s soccer national team participated in the WC qualifiers for the third time in 1972. From 12 teams in The Confederation of North and Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). only one team qualified for the 1974 Germany tournament: Haiti. [7]

References:
[1] and [2]: https://durhamstorm.ca/the-evolution-of-canadian-mens-soccer/
[3]: https://kids.kiddle.co/Canada_men’s_national_soccer_team
[4] and [5]: https://alchetron.com/Canada-men’s-national-soccer-team
[6]: https://itefaqo.accounting123.eu/canada-wins-world-cup-soccer.html
[7]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_men’s_national_soccer_team
[8]: https://silo.tips/download/2014yearbookannuairelayout-1-2-18-14-1246-pm-page-ii
[9]: https://www.canadasoccer.com/news/this-day-in-football-from-28-may-to-3-june/
[10]: https://www.torontofc.ca/news/torontos-soccer-history-1876-1971

Images:

In Wikipedia. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Hall_(soccer)
Canada Soccer
https://www.mlssoccer.com/news/canada-in-concacaf-nations-league-group-c-with-honduras-curacao

In the World Cup qualifying, Canada posted one win, one draw, and two losses. Canada finished second in the North American Group and did not advance. Also in this era, Canada’s amateur team participated in Olympic Qualifying and the Pan American Games Colombia 1971.

Canada participated in FIFA World Cup qualifying for the fourth time in 1976 and 1977. Of 16 teams, one team qualified for the 1978 Argentina tournament: Mexico. In the qualifiers in 1976, Canada posted one win, two draws, and one loss in group action, then won 3:0 over the USA in a December playoff to advance to the next round.

In the Confederation of North and Central America, and Caribbean Association Football World Cup Qualifiers in 1977, Canada posted two wins, one draw, and two losses, but did not advance. Also in this era, Canada’s amateur national team participated in the Pan American Games in 1975 and the Olympic Football Tournament in 1976.

Canada participated in FIFA World Cup qualifying for the fifth time in 1980 and 1981. From 15 teams, only two teams qualified for the 1982 Spain tournament: El Salvador and Honduras. In the qualifiers in 1980, Canada posted one win and three draws to finish first in the North American group ahead of Mexico and the USA.

In the qualifiers in 1981 (CONCACAF’s final round), Canada posted one win, three draws, and one loss and did not advance.

canada national team player tackling an opponent

Qualified For The World Cup

For the first time, the Canadian soccer national team participated in the FIFA World Cup. Canada qualified after winning the 1985 CONCACAF Men’s Championship. In the World Cup Qualifiers semi-final stage, Canada posted three wins and one draw to finish first in its group and advance to the next round.

In the qualifier’s final round, Canada posted two wins and two draws to finish first ahead of Honduras and Costa Rica. Of the 15 CONCACAF teams that participated in the qualifiers, only host Mexico and champion Canada qualified for the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.

At the 1986 World Cup Mexico, Canada lost its opening match 0-1 to European champion France, with the lone goal scored in the 79th minute. Said opposing coach Henri Michel, “you have to admire the Canadian resistance.

I was surprised by the Canadian strength in the air and by the fact that they didn’t only defend, but also created good scoring opportunities.” Canada lost its next two matches 0-2 to Hungary and 0-2 to the Soviet Union. [9]

Also in this era, Canada finished fifth at the Los Angeles 1984 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. Canada posted one win, one draw, and one loss in the group phase to advance to the quarter-final stage. Canada then drew 1-1 with Brazil but was eliminated after losing 2-4 on kicks from the penalty mark.  1986 was the last time Canada was in the World Cup.

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Canada Men’s Soccer Today

The sport of soccer is Canada’s largest participatory sport and the country’s fastest-growing. Over 1 million Canadian soccer players will be registered within the next two to three years, especially as they have qualified for Qatar 2022.

Nearly 850,000 soccer players are registered with more than 1,500 clubs across 144 districts governed by 12 provincial/territorial associations.

In the history of the country, Canada has only qualified for one FIFA men’s World Cup, but that could change ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Having gone unbeaten in its first eleven matches of World Cup qualifying, the Canadian men’s soccer national team finished 2021 by defeating Mexico for the first time in over 20 years to finish at the top of the table.

 

References:
[1] and [2]: https://durhamstorm.ca/the-evolution-of-canadian-mens-soccer/
[3]: https://kids.kiddle.co/Canada_men’s_national_soccer_team
[4] and [5]: https://alchetron.com/Canada-men’s-national-soccer-team
[6]: https://itefaqo.accounting123.eu/canada-wins-world-cup-soccer.html
[7]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_men’s_national_soccer_team
[8]: https://silo.tips/download/2014yearbookannuairelayout-1-2-18-14-1246-pm-page-ii
[9]: https://www.canadasoccer.com/news/this-day-in-football-from-28-may-to-3-june/
[10]: https://www.torontofc.ca/news/torontos-soccer-history-1876-1971

Images:

In Wikipedia. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Hall_(soccer)
Canada Soccer
https://www.mlssoccer.com/news/canada-in-concacaf-nations-league-group-c-with-honduras-curacao