World Cup·Analysis

5 simple suggestions to help Canada's men be better in 2026 World Cup

From better competition to better kits, Canada Soccer has work to do to set men's team up for success when country co-hosts tournament in four years.

From better competition to better kits, Canada Soccer has work to do to set team up for success

Canada players line up for team photos prior to their final match against Morocco on Thursday. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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's work to do before their next appearance in 2026, when they will co-host the tournament along with the U.S. and Mexico. It shouldn't be enough to be there. In an expanded World Cup, the Canadians should seek to compete for a spot in the new Round of 32.

Here's how they might.

GET AN AGREEMENT DONE, FINALLY

It's shameful that Canada Soccer didn't come to an agreement with either its men or its women over World Cup compensation before the tournament. The association was lucky that the players agreed to table negotiations for the duration of their time in Qatar, trusting that they will still reach a satisfactory deal.

"I don't know when we'll wrap up," Earl Cochrane, Canada Soccer's general secretary, said in an exclusive interview with CBC in Qatar. "We've made significant progress. We'll continue those discussions post-World Cup."

Clearly, those discussions must be completed before the women go to Australia and New Zealand next year for their World Cup tournament. But as a show of good faith, Canada Soccer should make a fair and equitable agreement an immediate priority.

PLAY AGAINST BETTER OPPONENTS

Until 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 top team in CONCACAF qualifying and competing against the best teams on Earth are different achievements.

There isn't much to be done about geography. Unfortunately, CONCACAF is a weak confederation. (Only the Americans advanced to the Round of 16 this year, leaving CONCACAF with the worst performance of any single confederation.) 

After a friendly against Iceland in January 2020, Canada played a mind-numbing 27 consecutive games against CONCACAF sides. That can't happen again. Beating the Cayman Islands 11-0 doesn't do anything for anyone.

Because Canada has already qualified for 2026, there will be room on the calendar for more friendlies, and Canada Soccer must do everything in its power to make sure those games are against strong opponents. It should also beg for an invite to Copa America in 2024.

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

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

GET NEW KITS, AND GET THEM IN STORES

Canada was the only team at this World Cup without new kits for the tournament. It was, sadly, another case of Canada Soccer dropping the administrative ball. Sponsor Nike, which unveiled new jerseys for a dozen other teams, announced that the Canadians were on "a different kit development cycle." The first men's World Cup in 36 years didn't factor into it.

Worse, supply issues meant that the old threads were hard to find in stores. Adidas came out with a rival line of generic "Canada" merchandise and featured contracted players in advertising. (Things got so bad, Jonathan David covered the Nike logo on his jersey after he scored against Qatar in September.)

Canada Soccer can't afford to lose easy revenue, or an ounce of pride. Look the part, be the part.

ENCOURAGE PLAYERS TO GO TO EUROPE

There was an obvious experience gap between the teams that beat Canada (Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco) and the Canadians — position by position, man for man.

The growth of the Canadian Premier League is important, and Major League Soccer has been critical in player development. But for the best Canadian players, those domestic leagues should still be seen as steppingstones, not destinations.

On average, teams that advance out of the group stage boast six starters who play in Europe's top five leagues. That's not an accident. Canada has two, in David and Alphonso Davies. (A third, Ike Ugbo, didn't play in Qatar.)

Alistair Johnston is poised to move from CF Montreal to Scottish giant Celtic. That's good. More of his teammates should be encouraged to follow.

WATCH | Soccer North breaks down Canada vs. Morocco:

Canada vs. Morocco post-match reaction show

2 months ago
Duration 28:15
Watch as Andi Petrillo takes a look at the Canada vs. Morocco game at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

LET THE KIDS PLAY

This is delicate. Not surprisingly, some of Canada's greatest leaders are its veterans. Atiba Hutchinson is an amazing person. When he comes into the room, "you can just sense the temperature changes," Johnston said. He's also 39, which made him the oldest outfield player in Qatar.

The Canadian men wouldn't have made it at all without Milan Borjan's heroics in goal during qualifying. But he's 35. He can't be the starter in 2026.

Herdman is a hugely loyal person. He needs to make some tough choices. The Canadian men will next play in March, in CONCACAF Nations League matchups against Curacao and Honduras. They should want to win. They also need to start fielding their young players more.

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

The kids are all right. Let them play their way into a knockout game in 2026.


Look for new episodes of Soccer North each Friday during the World Cup on CBC GemCBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports YouTube channel

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Jones

Senior Contributor

Chris Jones is a journalist and screenwriter who began his career covering baseball and boxing for the National Post. He later joined Esquire magazine, where he won two National Magazine Awards for his feature writing. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, ESPN The Magazine (RIP), and WIRED, and he is the author of the book, The Eye Test: A Case for Human Creativity in the Age of Analytics. Follow him on Twitter at @EnswellJones

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