Stepping stones: Top moment from each of the 36 years since CanMNT's last World Cup
It’s been nearly four decades since the CanMNT last participated at a FIFA World Cup.
Thirty-six long, long years, to be exact.
A lot has changed since the CanMNT last got to play with the world's best. Back then, Diego Maradona was wowing the world en route to a memorable World Cup triumph for Argentina, while his heir and seven-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi hadn't even been born yet. The UEFA Champions League was still the European Cup, footballers wore black boots, and concepts such as 'rest' and 'recovery' meant sleep it off and don't do anything risky on your days off.
Even from a Canadian soccer standpoint, a lot has changed. The Canadian Premier League was still decades away. MLS, too, would come to Canada nearly a decade after its inception. In fact, there were still amateur players on the Canadian men's national team at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, just to give an idea of where things stood at the time.
As this edition of the CanMNT gets set to end a 36-year drought in 11 days' time – and with respect to the Canadian women's national team who have created their own incredible moments of history, of course – let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit the milestone moments that define the growth of men's soccer in Canada.
1987: Vancouver 86ers kick off maiden CSL season
One of the many professional leagues to start and fail in Canada, the CSL may have been short-lived, but it did yield the Vancouver 86ers, a team filled with heavy 1986 World Cup alumni, allowing them to dominate for most of the league’s five-year existence (winning four titles), setting a foundation that for club soccer in the country that would thrive further down the road.
1988: Craig Forrest makes his CanMNT debut
One of the best Canadian players of his generation, Forrest would never be one to shy away from a call-up to his country, even at the cost of his club career, making his CanMNT debut the start of something special for the keeper, who was almost ahead of his time with the commitment he showed to Canada.
1989: Canada wins the Francophone games
For a team that hasn’t won that much silverware, moments like 1989 will always be special for Canada, as they went to the first-ever soccer tournament at the Francophone games, and emerged as winners, doing so with a strong core of players who were either on the senior team, or soon about to be, allowing them to maintain the momentum of their post-1986 hype.
1990: Canada wins 1st Three Nations Cup
Another forgotten piece of silverware in the CanMNT trophy case, Canada lifted the first-ever North American Nations Cup in 1990, a tournament contested between the United States and Mexico (the three members of the North American Football Union), beating the US and Mexico to bring home that trophy.
1991: Tony Waiters coaches final game for Canada
An icon in the sport due to his work with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the CanMNT, Waiters coached his final game for the country in 1991, marking the end of the ride for someone who set the table for a lot of what has happened to the sport in the country since.
1992: Mitchell, Catliff mark last WCQ cycle in style
Both tied as all-time CanMNT goalscorers when they retired with 19 goals, Mitchell and Catliff went out with a bang for Canada in the 1994 World Cup cycle, as Mitchell scored three goals, and Catliff four. Along with a certain Alex Bunbury scoring five of his 15 career CanMNT goals, and two goals from one Domenic Mobilio, that cycle ended up being a fun one for Canadian strikers, even if it ended in heartbreak.
1993: Alex Bunbury makes move to Maritimo
After having sacrificed a career at West Ham to represent Canada, Bunbury ended up making a move to Portugal that would be career-changing, as he eventually became C.S. Marítimo's all-time scorer, showing the world what Canadians can do at the top level when allowed to thrive.
1994: Drawing Brazil in 1994 World Cup tune-up
A month before Brazil lifted the World Cup in 1994 for the fourth time in their history, they took on the CanMNT in a tune-up friendly over in Edmonton, where to the surprise of many, they were held to a 1-1 draw, a bittersweet moment for Canada, who was still recovering from narrowly missing out on qualifying for the tournament.
1995: Larin is born; Bernier plays U-17 World Cup
1995 was quite the year for CanMNT players who would end up having an impact down the road.
First, there was the birth of Cyle Larin, who is currently the all-time CanMNT leading scorer, having gone on a hot run over the past two years to earn this mark. Having forged a unique path through the NCAA, MLS and Europe to get there, his story is a fascinating one, and it all began in 1995.
Then, in a move that seemed of relatively little consequence at the time, 15-year-old Patrice Bernier represented Canada at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, marking his first appearance for Canada at any level. Also a talented hockey player who played two seasons in the QMJHL, he ended up picking soccer, forging a career that spanned nearly two decades, becoming a key figure in Canadian soccer history in the process.
1996: Stephen Eustaquio is born
It might’ve flown under the radar at the time, but somewhere in Leamington, Ontario, a midfielder who would alter the course of the CanMNT at the turn of 2020 would be born, that being Eustáquio. After representing Portugal at the youth level, he ended up choosing Canada at the senior level despite a knee injury, a move that would arguably put them over the hump in terms of becoming the team they are today, while also vaulting his career upwards.
1997: Jason de Vos makes CanMNT debut
A crucial leader in some big moments on and off the pitch, De Vos marked the beginning of what is a still ongoing CanMNT career (he remains an assistant on the team) in 1997, a move that is still paying dividends today given the ongoing presence of the once hard-nosed centre back on this run.
1998: Paul Stalteri transfers to Werder Bremen
A key cog for the CanMNT throughout the end of the 1990s and a good chunk of the 2000s, Stalteri began his rise into a reliable defender for Canada with a transfer to Werder Bremen directly from the Toronto Lynx, beginning a career that saw him play in the Bundesliga and Premier League for over a decade, racking up 84 Canada caps along the way.
1999: Something special starts brewing
Jim Brennan makes his Canada debut, and while these may seem like the leanest of lean years, scroll back up and you'll see that much of the '90s was defined not by team success, but by developments that would pay off in the years to come. In the year that followed, Canada would taste success again, but in 1999? It was very much a game of slow, meticulous build-up, chemistry forming, confidence building ... Trust us. It gets way better from here.
2000: Canada wins Concacaf Gold Cup!
See what we mean? In an underdog story for the ages, the CanMNT managed to become the only team not named the United States or Mexico to win a Concacaf Gold Cup in 2000, where they rode a magical coin flip to beat Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and Colombia and lift the trophy. A Craig Forrest clean sheet and De Vos game winner paved the road to victory in the final.
2001: Playing in the Confederations Cup
A reward for winning the Gold Cup a year prior, that allowed Canada to play in the Confederations Cup for the first and only time ever in 2001. It didn’t go as planned, as Canada finished seventh out of eight teams, although a 0-0 draw against Brazil was a decent consolation in a rare foray into a global tournament for Canada.
2002: Atiba Hutchinson makes pro debut
A fresh-faced teenager out of Brampton, Hutchinson made his professional debut with the York Region Shooters in the summer of 2002. Little did many know that would be the start of a career that has seen him play across Europe, where he's won titles, played in the Champions League and become adored as a player. He'll go on to become the all-time CanMNT appearance leader along the way, too, and 20 years later? He makes his World Cup debut.
2003: Canada shine at FIFA Youth Championships
Led by Hutchinson and future CanMNT regulars like Iain Hume, Canada's U-20 team left quite the impression at the 2003 Youth Championships (now called the U-20 World Cup), making it all the way to the quarter-finals, where they narrowly lost to Spain in extra time.
2004: Carlo Corazzin scores final goal for Canada
2004 was a bittersweet year for Canada, as while Hutchinson made his CanMNT debut, Corazzin – who won the Golden Boot at the 2000 Gold Cup with four goals – retired from international soccer, but not before scoring one last goal for his country: his 11th in 59 caps.
2005: MLS comes to Canada
A watershed moment for Canadian Soccer, Toronto FC became the first Canadian team to officially join the rapidly-growing MLS in 2005. After the many struggles to get a professional league up and running in Canada, TFC's arrival opened up an opportunity for Canadians to play pro within their country, and ended up being the start of a big momentum for the sport in the country. Vancouver would join in 2009, with Montreal following in 2010.
2006: David Edgar makes Newcastle debut
David Edgar was not the first Canadian to debut in the Premier League, nor was he the last, but he certainly had a memorable stint with Newcastle, which included him scoring a long-ranger belter against Manchester United in his home debut, which came on January 1st, 2007.
2007: Canada hosts FIFA U-20 World Cup
In a bid to capitalize on the growing soccer culture in the country, Canada hosted the U20 World Cup in 2007, playing host to some future stars like Sergio Agüero, Luis Suárez and Alexis Sánchez in a memorable tournament. Even though it didn’t go Canada’s way, as they finished last, it showed that the country would be keen to host such events in the future.
2008: The Canadian Championship is born
After years of being a fan-organized competition between the Canadian teams playing in the USL, the Voyageur’s Cup officially was assimilated into a brand-new competition in 2007, known as the Canadian Championship. Canada’s answer to tournaments such as the FA Cup, the tournament has grown incrementally in recent years, becoming a flagship competition in the yearly Canadian soccer calendar.
2009: Toronto FC takes its revenge
Among the many famous nights that make up the history of the Canadian Championship, none are more iconic, perhaps, than the Dwayne De Rosario-inspired 'Miracle in Montreal'. Needing a big-margin victory to secure their first-ever Voyageurs Cup, the Reds went into enemy territory and came good at long, long last, picking up a 6-1 win that set the tempo for the intensity of rivalry that would define this competition.
2010: Vancouver, Montreal join MLS
By 2010, MLS expansion into Canada has reached its peak (so far), with Vancouver joining in 2009, and Montreal rounding off the trio in 2010.
Meanwhile, in Gloucester, ON, a young boy from Brooklyn, NY begins his own soccer career with the Gloucester Dragons.
2011: Milan Borjan makes CanMNT debut
A wily veteran and a key leader on today’s team, Borjan first donned the red and white of Canada in 2011, marking the start of an international career that has seen him pour everything into representing his country, a mentality that has stuck with many who have played with him along the way.
2012: Dwayne De Rosario sets top goal mark
A longtime servant of the CanMNT, De Rosario scored his 20th goal for Canada in his hometown of Toronto at BMO Field against Panama, becoming the top all-time CanMNT scorer at the time. For someone who stuck with the team through the highest of highs (he was on the 2000 Gold Cup roster), to many of the lows that would follow, it was a nice moment, allowing him to celebrate a career of dedication to his country.
2013: Jonathan Osorio makes CanMNT debut
A lean year for the CanMNT as they picked up the pieces following the heartbreak of their 8-1 loss to Honduras the year prior, the rise of then 20-year-old Osorio with TFC was a bright light for fans to cling to, as he ended up making his Canada debut against Costa Rica. 54 caps and several clutch goals and performances later, he has ended up becoming the first of a new generation of Canadian talent now heading to Qatar.
2014: A young star rises in Edmonton
While soccer fans enjoyed a memorable Canadian Championship final, over in Edmonton, a young boy by the name of Alphonso Davies lifted his final trophy with youth soccer outfit Edmonton Strikers.
This young star would then sign for the Whitecaps Residency program, and the rest would be history as we are writing it today.
2015: Impact make deep Champions League run
Off the back of that 2014 Canadian Championship win, that then sent Montréal to the CONCACAF Champions League for 2014-2015. And there, they ended up having a run to remember, making it all the way to the final, where they narrowly lost 5-3 on aggregate to Club America, falling just short in front of a then-CONCACAF record 61,004 at Montréal’s Stade Olympique.
2016: Julian De Guzman picks up 89th cap
Another legend of the CanMNT who stuck with the team through thick and thin, De Guzman ended up playing the final game of his CanMNT career in a friendly against Azerbaijan, pushing up to 89 caps, a record that ended up standing until Hutchinson surpassed the mark in late 2021 at 38 years old.
2017: Toronto FC wins treble; CPL is born
A rare double entrant, 2017 was a big year for Canadian soccer on multiple fronts.
First, the Canadian Premier League was founded, finally giving Canada a top-flight men’s league, after seeing several past experiences fail.
Then, TFC ended up having a season for the ages, becoming the first Canadian team to win the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup, while topping it off with a Canadian Championship to complete a treble, in a season that would really send the interest in soccer in Toronto to a fever pitch.
2018: Canada to co-host 2026 FIFA World Cup
Off of the back of the founding of the CPL, that also allowed Canada to tick off a key requirement for their bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup, a bid that they, the US and Mexico officially won in 2018, marking a huge inflexion moment for the country.
2019: Canada snaps 34-year U.S. drought
Having last beaten the US all the way back in 1985, Canada was eager to change that as they hosted the US in an October Nations League clash in 2019. And they’d do just that, winning 2-0 off of goals from Alphonso Davies and Lucas Cavallini, a win that ended up being a catalyst for Canada’s success in the years to come.
2020: Alphonso Davies wins Champions League
A big part of that aforementioned success, Davies has always been one to push to new heights since he made his pro debut as a 15-year-old, and him becoming the first CanMNT player to win the Champions League is no exception. As part of a season that saw him make the World XI, his breakout really made many take notice of what was happening with soccer in Canada globally.
2021: Canada freezes out Mexico at 'Iceteca'
In the midst of their most successful World Cup qualifying campaign since the 90s, Canada snapped a 21-year drought against Mexico in style in November of 2021, beating them 2-1 thanks to a Cyle Larin brace in sub-zero conditions in Edmonton, in what has been coined the ‘Iceteca’ game due to its frigid temperatures.
2022: Oh Canada, oh baby! We. Are. BACK.
Finally, to wrap off that qualifying campaign, Canada officially broke their 36-year drought in March of this year against Jamaica at a frosty BMO Field, downing them 4-0 to book their ticket back to the World Cup in front of a sold-out crowd.
And, with the year still not over yet… more memories could be on the way, but either way, one thing is for sure - the drought is over, and that’s worth celebrating.