5 simple suggestions to help Canada’s men get better at the 2026 World Cup

Chris Jones is in Qatar covering the Men’s World Cup for CBC Sports.

Now that Canada’s men have headed home from their first World Cup since 1986, it’s clear there is still work to be done before their next appearance in 2026, when they will join the USA and Mexico to host the tournament. Just being there shouldn’t be enough. At an extended World Cup, the Canadians should fight for a place in the new round of 32.

Here’s how they might.

FINALLY GET AN AGREEMENT

It is shameful that Canada Soccer failed to reach an agreement on World Cup compensation with either its men or women ahead of the tournament. The association was fortunate that the players agreed to negotiate for the duration of their time in Qatar, confident that they will nevertheless reach a satisfactory agreement.

“I don’t know when we’re done,” Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane said in an exclusive interview with CBC in Qatar. “We have made significant progress. We will continue these discussions after the World Cup.”

These discussions must of course be concluded before the women travel to Australia and New Zealand for their World Cup next year. But as a show of good faith, Canada Soccer should give immediate priority to a fair and just settlement.

PLAY AGAINST BETTER OPPONENTS

By the time of the World Cup, it had been more than a decade since the men had played a top 10 team. It showed. A September friendly against Uruguay was the first warning sign that being the best team in CONCACAF qualifying and playing the best sides in the world are two different achievements.

Not much to change about the geography. Unfortunately, CONCACAF is a weak association. (Only the Americans reached the round of 16 this year, giving CONCACAF their worst performance of any confederation.)

After a friendly against Iceland in January 2020, Canada played an incredible 27 consecutive games against CONCACAF sides. This can’t happen again. An 11-0 win over the Cayman Islands does no one any good.

With Canada already qualified for 2026, there will be room on the calendar for more friendlies and Canada Soccer must do everything in its power to ensure these games are played against strong opponents. It should also ask for an invitation to the Copa America in 2024.

“Now teams will want to play Canada,” said head coach John Herdman at his final World Cup press conference. Let’s make it happen.

Team Canada merchandise was not easy to find. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

GET NEW KITS AND GET THEM IN STORE

Canada was the only team at this World Cup without new jerseys for the tournament. It was, unfortunately, another instance of Canada Soccer dropping the administrative ball. Sponsor Nike, who unveiled new kits for a dozen other teams, announced that the Canadians are in “another kit development cycle”. The first men’s World Cup in 36 years played no role in this.

Worse, supply problems made the old threads hard to find in stores. Adidas released a competing line of generic “Canada” merchandise and featured contract players in advertising. (Things got so bad that Jonathan David covered up the Nike logo on his jersey after scoring against Qatar in September.)

Canada Soccer cannot afford to lose simple revenue or a little pride. Watch the role, be the role.

ENCOURAGE PLAYERS TO GO TO EUROPE

There was an obvious difference in experience between the teams that beat Canada (Belgium, Croatia and Morocco) and the Canadians – position for position, man for man.

The growth of the Canadian Premier League is important and Major League Soccer has been critical to player development. But for the best Canadian players, these domestic leagues should still be viewed as stepping stones, not destinations.

On average, teams leaving the group stage have six starters playing in the top five leagues in Europe. This isn’t an accident. Canada has two, in David and Alphonso Davies. (A third, Ike Ugbo, did not play in Qatar.)

Alistair Johnston is on the verge of a move from CF Montreal to Scottish giants Celtic. It’s good. More of his teammates should be encouraged to follow him.

CLOCK | Soccer North breaks down Canada vs Morocco:

Canada vs. Morocco Post-match reaction show

Watch Andi Petrillo take a look at the Canada vs. Morocco match at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

LET THE KIDS PLAY

This is tricky. Not surprisingly, some of Canada’s greatest leaders are its veterans. Atiba Hutchinson is an amazing person. When he enters the room, “you can just feel the temperature changes,” Johnston said. He is also 39, making him the oldest outfield player in Qatar.

The Canadians would not have made it in qualifying without Milan Borjan’s goal-scoring exploits. But he’s 35. He can’t be the starter in 2026.

Herdman is an extremely loyal person. He has to make some difficult decisions. The Canada men will next face Curacao and Honduras in March’s CONCACAF Nations League matchups. You should want to win. They also need to start using their young players more.

Ismael Koné, for whom manager Arsène Wenger expressed his admiration to Cochrane in Qatar, has to start. Dayne St Clair has to start. Sam Adekugbe should have played more here. Jonathan David should have played more here.

The kids are fine. Let them play you into a knockout game in 2026.


Look for new episodes of Soccer North every Friday during the World Cup CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports YouTube channel

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