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It has not been a great year for Canadian soccer.
The excitement of the men’s national team’s long-awaited return to the World Cup in late 2022 gave way to the disappointment of early exits at the Gold Cup and the Women’s World Cup. The upheaval within Canada Soccer continued while the inept federation narrowly averted a women’s strike and failed to reach a labour deal with either of its aggrieved national teams. The charismatic coach who guided the men to their first World Cup in 36 years quit, and the most prolific player in Canadian history announced she’s leaving too.
And yet, this annus horribilis can somehow still end on a happy note as the Canadian men and women enter their final international windows of 2023. Here’s how:
Men: Clinch a spot in the Copa
On Friday night in Jamaica, the Canadian men open an important CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal series that could provide a major boost to their preparations for the next World Cup.
The winner of the two-leg contest (the return match goes Tuesday night in Toronto) advances to next year’s Nations League final-four tournament. More importantly, it also gets a spot in next summer’s Copa America, the intensely competitive South American championship featuring reigning World Cup champion Argentina, perennial power Brazil and other elite teams.
Six guests from the CONCACAF confederation will be invited to the 2024 tournament, which the United States is hosting. If Canada fails to beat Jamaica for one of the four berths reserved for the Nations League quarterfinal winners, it would have to win a one-game, neutral-site playoff in March against another quarterfinal loser to get into the Copa.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux speaks with Canadian men’s interim coach Biello:
One of the Canadian team’s grievances with Canada Soccer is that the threadbare federation struggles to schedule quality opponents during the various FIFA international windows. So here’s a chance for the players to take matters into their own hands and ensure they face some top-flight competition as they try to sharpen up for the 2026 World Cup, which Canada is co-hosting with the U.S. and Mexico.
It may not be easy, though. Jamaica is ranked 55th in the world, just 10 spots below Canada. And this will be the first real test for interim head coach Mauro Biello, who took over for John Herdman after the popular leader left in late summer to take over Toronto FC. Biello has made it clear he wants to coach Canada at the 2026 World Cup, so consider this series part of his interview for the permanent job. Read more about the high-stakes Canada vs. Jamaica matchup here.
Women: Give the GOAT a proper goodbye
This year’s World Cup was a complete failure for the Canadian women. The reigning Olympic champions got shut out in two of their three matches in Australia and failed to advance out of their group after a hollow 4-0 loss to the hosts in a do-or-die finale.
Canada’s World Cup performance was so disheartening that there was even concern they’d lose the chance to defend their Olympic title. But the team summoned its trademark resilience to defeat a tough Jamaica team in a two-game playoff in September for a spot in the 2024 Summer Games.
WATCH | Sinclair always came up big when it mattered most:
However, the Canadians will be going to Paris without their longtime captain and leading scorer Christine Sinclair. International soccer’s all-time goals champion announced last month that she’s retiring from the Canadian team at the end of this year.
Sinclair will suit up two more times for the 10th-ranked national team — both in her home province of British Columbia. Canada faces Australia on Dec. 1 in Langford, on Vancouver Island, before the teams meet again on Dec. 5 in Vancouver for Sinclair’s farewell. The pair of matches against the world’s No. 11 team will give Canada the chance to say goodbye to its greatest player while also preparing for its first Olympics without her.