Canada prepares to host 2 major FIFA tournaments
2014 U-20 Women's World Cup & 2015 Women's World Cup
Canada may be on the cusp of becoming a soccer nation.
In the next two years, Canada will host 84 international soccer matches over two major FIFA women's tournaments: the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, and the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Combined, the two tournaments will be played in seven cities across the country, and are expected to draw nearly two million soccer fans. The goal is to continue expanding the sport in Canada.
"The world needs to see good women's football," said Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's head of women's competitions. "We hope that we can reach so many countries worldwide to further develop football, not only in the world but also in Canada.
"It's important for us to hold these events in countries that can show the world that women's football is at a high level and is developed and has success stories. That hopefully helps other countries to jump on the train."
Haenni, alongside other FIFA and Canadian Soccer Association officials, was in Montreal on Friday to unveil the official U-20 tournament ball and ticket prices. On Saturday, Montreal will also host a live televised official draw to determine Canada's group stage opponents.
This summer, four Canadian cities — Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Moncton - will welcome some of the best women's under-20-year-olds from 16 different nations.
A few of the other notable teams joining Canada on the pitch for the U-20 Women's World Cup will be England, France, Germany, Brazil, and the United States.
Since the inaugural tournament in 2002, also hosted by Canada, the U-20 tournament has been held every two years. The Americans are the defending champions, having beaten the Germans 1-0 in the final game of the 2012 tournament in Tokyo, Japan.
This year, the 20-day tournament begins on Aug. 5 and wraps Aug. 24 at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Montreal will host a total of 10 matches over six days, including a quarter-final, one of the semifinals, as well as the match for third place.
"Montreal is a city that responds well to events, as traditionally it always has," said Victor Montagliani, president of the Canadian Soccer Association. "It's been a fantastic supporter of the game and our Canadian teams."
In addition to hosting international FIFA qualifiers, the CONCACAF Champions League and the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Montreal co-hosted the men's 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, drawing in crowds of roughly 40,000 fans on average per game.
And although Peter Montopoli of the Canadian Soccer Association knows it will be difficult to replicate those attendance figures for the upcoming women's U-20 tournament, he expects the competition to draw in a total attendance of 320,000 fans across all venues.
Figures show the entire sport — including the women's game — is growing in Canada. In the past 20 years, the number of registered women's soccer players in the country has tripled.
Montagliani points to Christine Sinclair, current captain of the Canadian women's national team, as the emblem of soccer's rise from obscurity and continuing growth in Canada.
In 2002, when she was only 19, Sinclair distinguished herself in the inaugural U-20 competition, which Canada lost to the U.S. in the final in front of a still-standing tournament record of 47,700 fans in Edmonton. Sinclair scored a tournament-high 10 goals, and was named most valuable player. Today, she is an Olympic medalist, and Canada's all-time leading goal scorer.
"She's a superstar today," said Montagliani. "That's the best example I could ever give. She represents women's football in Canada. In 2002, she was a young girl. Now she's Canada's star."
The U-20 World Cup will give also give Canadian soccer fans a taste of what's to come. Next summer, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver will host the FIFA Women's World Cup, the first senior FIFA tournament held in Canada.
Montagliani is hopeful these two tournaments will legitimately add Canada to the discussion of future FIFA World Cup hosts.
"After we successfully host the U-20 and then the Women's World Cup in 2015, there's only one left," said Montagliani of the world's largest sporting event. "The focus will then be on leveraging from this successful platform, and moving onto the next level."