How missing out on 2022 FIFA World Cup lit a fire under CanMNT defender Scott Kennedy
It was the worst-case scenario for a footballer.
With the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup just weeks away, defender Scott Kennedy was excited for an opportunity to play in a historic tournament for Canada, as they returned to the world stage for the first time in 36 years. As an important piece in the Canadian backline, Kennedy was also likely to see the field, too. The excitement and energy that carried the team through qualifying was palpable.
But, a month before while playing with his club Jahn Regenbsurg, Kennedy suffered a shoulder injury just seven minutes into a clash against Hansa Rostock, and was forced to exit the game. After examination, doctors gave him the painful news – the injury would be enough to keep him out of participation at the FIFA World Cup, as he would be unable to recover in time for Canada's first game on November 23rd.
As a result, Kennedy was left to watch from home as Canada made their return to the big stage. He cheered them on heavily, knowing what the team’s brotherhood had gone through to reach that point, but had to do so with the weight of knowing he could’ve been there.
It was a crushing feeling, and it certainly weighed heavy on the Calgary-born defender, who gets philosophical when reflecting on the events of those trying months.
"Yeah, it was a tough one to swallow," Kennedy told OneSoccer last week (video, above). "Going from the high of qualifying for the World Cup, to picking up an injury and missing out, it makes you realize the ups and downs of football, and the ups and downs you can get in your career.
"Thinking back now it's easy to say that everything happens for a reason and I can take the positives out of it now, but at the time, it hurt," Kennedy continued. "Before, I never even dreamt of getting to a World Cup. As a Canadian, growing up, that wasn't really on the radar for us. I didn't even really watch soccer until I was 11, so yeah, just to have that opportunity was huge and it was tough (to miss out). It was enjoyable to watch the boys still play and play so well and show well for the country, but it hurt and now I have my next goal – to be there in 2026."
A career of risks and rewards
While Kennedy has had time to reflect and make peace with how things turned out in a series of events largely out of his control, he can take some comfort in knowing the door isn't closed to him forever. With Canada co-hosting the 2026 World Cup, Kennedy was able to quickly look to the years ahead as a chance for him to one day play at that stage.
And when seeing his unconventional journey to the national team, you'd certainly back him in his quest.
At the age of 18 in 2015, Kennedy – who had a German passport – decided to try his hand at lower-tier German soccer back. Instead of heading to university like many of his peers did, he decided to give himself a trial by fire by making a leap straight to the pro ranks.
To his credit, that risk paid off perfectly. After starting in the German sixth tier, he moved to Austria, where he played in their third tier, before making another jump up to the second tier when he joined Austria Klagenfurt. There, he played 40 games across two seasons, scoring three goals while developing into a trusted centre back. He then made a return to Germany as second-tier side Regensburg came calling in 2020.
It'd turn out to be a huge move for Kennedy, too, as he quickly developed into a regular starter in their backline, playing 25 games in all competitions. Highlighted by a run to the quarter-finals in the famed DFB-Pokal – which included a goal in a win over Bundesliga side FC Köln – Kennedy was enjoying a dream start to life with his new club.
"Yeah, it was magical," Kennedy reflected. "Unfortunately, our run was during (the pandemic), so we didn't have the fan atmosphere, but even without it, you could feel it on the field, just the difference in the players' energy, that desire to get to the next round.
"And yeah, for Regensburg it was amazing, as it was historic for us to get to the quarterfinals. Then, to score in a big game was huge, that was maybe a starting point for my career with the national team, to dig my way in there, so I enjoyed those runs."
35´ JAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Da ist der Anschlusstreffer! Nach einer Ecke kommt Kennedy an den Ball und drischt ihn in die Maschen 😍⚽️ Weiter so, #Jahnelf! 💪 #SSVKOE 1:2 ⚪️🔴 pic.twitter.com/wwVCrz2lRo— SSV Jahn Regensburg (@SSVJAHN) February 3, 2021
As he mentioned, success in Germany kicked off the start of his international career with Canada. In need of centre-back depth, head coach John Herdman's ears likely perked up when he first heard of Kennedy's exploits against Köln and his performances in the 2. Bundesliga – a league which is often regarded among the best second-divisions in Europe, and certainly comparable to many top divisions around the world in quality of play.
Herdman decided to give Kennedy a call-up to Canada's June 2021 camp, in which they were playing crucial first and second-round World Cup qualifiers. It was the first time many Canadian soccer fans had heard of Kennedy, as it was also the first time that Kennedy had represented Canada at any level. Stilll, it was a dream come true for the player, a much-deserved reward for his hard work and risk.
The start of his Canadian dream
Just as he's done throughout his club career, Kennedy would make the most of his first call-up to Canada, too.
Having impressed in training, Herdman entrusted him with his first start against Suriname for a must-win World Cup Qualifying match crucial to advancing to the second round. As part of a new-look back three which has now become routine for Canada, Kennedy came out strong in that game as expected, not looking a foot out of place on his debut.
As a result, Kennedy then started both of Canada's games in the second round later that week, helping Canada qualify for the final round of WCQ for the first time since 1998, putting in two strong performances in each game.
It's safe to say this was a dream start to his Canadian international career, and he admits as much when looking back on those days.
"When I think back to that camp, it's only positive memories," Kennedy offered. "That was an amazing camp for the country, for the team and for me, especially. I still remember the first time singing the national anthem, even though there were no fans, it was even maybe better, because you could hear the team and the feeling behind the words sung, as it was truly an honour.
"Then (on the field), I could only learn from the amazing talent we had there and absorb it all, and then I was lucky enough to get some minutes and played well, but yeah, it was an amazing feeling to represent my country."
A unique profile at the back given his rare combination of height (he's listed at 6'4") and speed (he clocked one of the fastest speeds in the 2. Bundesliga in the 2021-22 season), he was a big addition to the team's defensive ranks as well. Most of Canada’s centre backs preferred to let the game happen in front of them, whereas Kennedy is comfortable with the game in transition.
That was an important asset for Herdman to have in his ranks, especially in Concacaf, where there's never a shortage of speedy wingers to deal with, and to that end, Kennedy played a big role with his ability to stand out as a player.
"Against players like (Buchanan and Davies), my speed doesn't look that fast!" Kennedy joked. "But yeah, it's one of my best attributes, for sure, and I try to use it. I calculate my game so that I can use it to my maximum capacity. There are different strengths and weaknesses in every player, and you need to know what yours are to maximize those strengths and limit those weaknesses. So obviously I tried to get into a lot of running duels and exploit that strength."
Scott Kennedy is very fast, and he's shown that skill off a few times now— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 29, 2023
It's been a big asset for Canada, as Honduras has had some good looks in transition. Definitely a big weapon for the #CanMNT to have at the back, that's for sure
From there, Kennedy continued to establish himself under Herdman, playing five out of 14 games in that final round.
Not only that, but he played a crucial role in arguably the most important game they played during that journey, a 4-0 win over Jamaica at a sold-out BMO Field, in which Canada officially clinched their spot at the World Cup.
A historic day for his team, he went 90 minutes in the cold of BMO Field, helping Canada finally return to the big stage for the first time in so long, in a game he’ll never soon forget.
"Around the 70th or 80th minutes, I just tried to absorb everything," Kennedy explained. "All of the feelings I had, the atmosphere, the sold-out stadium, the cold wind with the snow blowing in your face, and just enjoyed all of it because we knew we were headed to a World Cup."
Now, however, Kennedy is excited about what’s next, for both club and country, as he continues his journey towards the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
The journey ahead for Kennedy
There's the whisper of an idea circling around the Canadian camp of late.
As Steven Vitoria ages out of the national team backline, Kennedy has fast emerged as his heir apparent in the middle of Canada's back three.
Given that he'll be in the prime of his career at 29 by the time the 2026 FIFA World Cup rolls around, Kennedy has every shot at playing a starting role for Canada moving forward. He'll certainly use the motivation of missing out on the 2022 edition as his fuel to make sure he doesn't just go, but plays a big part, too.
But first, Kennedy has two obstacles standing in his way: Surviving relegation with Regensburg, and lifting silverware for the first time in 23 years with Canada.
Regensburg currently sit in a direct relegation place in the 2. Bundesliga, two points off the relegation playoffs, and six points off guaranteed survival with three games to go at the time of writing. It'll be a true battle to stay up, but the team is very much in the hunt, and will push right to the very end to try and survive.
Having missed a chunk of the season due to his shoulder injury, as well as a facial fracture that saw him don a mask for a few weeks, Kennedy is excited to be in the midst of that push.
"We know the situation, it's tough," Kennedy explained. "But the positive thing is that we still have a chance, we're not out of it, it's still in our hands to create the possibility of staying in the league. So week in and week out we’re trying to get results, and until it's over, we're not going to give up. The 2. Bundesliga is tough, it’s a fight every week regardless of where you stand in the table, we know that, and we’re just going to continue to battle."
Then, the trophy hunt begins with Canada.
First, they've got the Concacaf Nations League finals, where Canada faces Panama in the semi-finals, and either the United States or Mexico in the final if they win. After that, they've then got the Concacaf Gold Cup, where they'll look to add a second trophy to their collection, sitting as the only team not named the U.S.A. or Mexico to win that tournament.
In both of those tournaments, the goal is clear for Canada – win at all costs. Knowing how important that would be to give them a boost ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup and helping further drive interest in this lovable team of young stars, they know what's at stake here ... and Kennedy is eager to help.
There's no better way to end off a season of extreme lows than with a high of lifting a trophy, after all.
"I'm buzzing," Kennedy said. "First, we've got a big job to do here with Regensburg, let's stay in the league, but of course, I have that in the back of my head, Las Vegas in June, the hype is there for me.
I hope we see lots of Canadian fans down in Las Vegas. It's a nice place to do a quick vacation, and then we'll move on to the Gold Cup. We're in a really good situation right now, we’re ready as a team to fight for silverware, so it's (exciting for us)."