When it comes to North American Soccer, America has been enjoying the majority of the limelight, with international focus firmly on the MLS thanks to the big names they have attracted over the years.
But, while the MLS has attracted international attention, the American national side continues to blow hot and cold, the squad rife with inconsistency and a lack of quality across the squad.
Yet their brothers to the north have silently been developing more and more homegrown talent, to the point where many big names hail from the land of the maple leaf.
When you think of the city of Calgary for example, you’d be more inclined to think of online bookmakers before you’d think of elite Soccer players, but the likes of both Owen Hargreaves and more recently Fikayo Tomori were born in Alberta’s largest city alone.
The Canadian-born all-time XI you could put together looks like twice the side compared to an all-time American XI.
Canada can boast the aforementioned Tomori and Hargreaves as well as Moroccan Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou alongside current Canadian national team players Jonatan David and Alphonso Davies, with a host of solid ex-pats and nationals to build around these star players.
The US-born all-time XI, however, while having produced a few good talents like Pulisic and Gio Reyna with Tim Howard in goal, simply pales in comparison.
Given Canada’s relative size compared to America Canada being ranked only slightly behind the US men’s team is an incredible feat.
The US men’s team are in real danger of being overtaken by their (comparatively) tiny neighbours to the north, and the MLS Canadian sides are a huge part of the growth in Soccer’s popularity in Canada.
How Popular Is Soccer In Canada?
Canada boasts close to a million registered Soccer players as of 2022, which is 2.6% of the population. For such a large share of the populus to not only watch the sport, but actively play it is simply astounding, and comfortably makes the sport the most played in the country.
Data on how many watch the sport and don’t play is hard to come by, but according to one 2022 survey, 15% of Canadian residents describe themselves as passionate Soccer fans.
Most encouragingly, it’s the younger generations that are most fond of the sport, making further growth inevitable. Factor in the extra 15% who consider themselves ‘casual’
soccer fans and you have at least 30% of residents taking a legitimate interest in the sport.
More than a 3rd of Canadians watched the first two Canada National Team Group Games of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Now this is all very promising, but the most important indicator of the sports popularity might be how it stacks up to the sports interest in the US.
Over 4 million Soccer players are registered in the US, which is 4x the amount in Canada, but this actually speaks volumes about just how big a deal the game is over there.
This makes up just 1.2% of the 332 million strong American population, showing that Canadians have taken to the sport massively over the past decade. Soccer has quickly risen to rival Ice Hockey for Canada’s most popular sport
How Has Canadian Soccer Developed To Such A Degree?
A major part of the sport’s growth has ironically been thanks to the MLS gaining traction as a league. Specifically, the inclusion and success of sides based in Canada such as Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps have cultivated a massive fanbase.
This Canadian inclusion has given citizens a massive reason to root for one of the three sides as they face of against essentially the rest of America. There’s national pride on the line, and every game is like a rivalry.
But it’s more than just a matter of national pride. Historically Canada’s favourite sport is Ice Hockey, a sport that is notoriously difficult to play casually.
There’s so much equipment, and the fact an Ice rink is mandatory to properly play the sport, the only real way to play is to join a team, which for many would be jumping right into the deep end.
The key to Canada’s newfound favourite pastime is how accessible it is. As Europeans and South Americans have found for decades, all you need is a ball.
You can play the game anywhere with friends or practice alone, and the easy to get into nature of Soccer alongside the catalyst of Canadian success in the MLS has done wonders for Soccer’s popularity.
Add to that the development of two elite players plying their trade in Europe. Names such as Alphonso Davies, Tajon Buchanan and Jonathan David, give young Canadians players to idolise and inspire them to take up Soccer.
Even outside of elite-level talent, there are some well-regarded Canadian players playing in strong European leagues, such as Stephen Eustáquio at Porto and Cyle Larin at Mallorca.
On paper, the national team should be able to compete against the US men’s team, and recent results prove they can do just that with multiple close-fought matches between the two that saw both sides come out on top on different occasions.
It’s this competitiveness, and relative ability compared to the rest of the North American Soccer-scape as a focus on developing the game from a grassroots level over the last decade has paid dividends.
Many countries attempting to grow Soccer ought to take note, without investing heavily into bringing over-the-hill big names into their own domestic league, Canada has managed to create a long-lasting public interest in the sport with Soccer more popular than ever among young Canadians.