Soccer

Naylor: Looking ahead to the 2015 Women's World Cup

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Dave Naylor
7/13/2014 11:22:13 AM
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The 2014 FIFA World Cup is nearly behind us, a tournament that's been repeatedly called the best of all time.

And Canadians have bought in, consuming the games on radio and television, mounting flags to their cars and following the news from Brazil with great anticipation throughout.

There's only been one thing missing for fans in this country – Canada.

No matter how big a soccer fan you are, there's just no doubt the tournament would take on a different kind of appeal if Canada had a stake in the game.

The diversity of teams being followed across the country over the past month is a reflection of the mosaic that is Canada, which is fine. But wouldn't it be a heck of a lot more fun if we all had a common rallying point, from one coast to another?

Our struggles in men's soccer are well documented, with just one World Cup appearance in 1986, despite the fact that participation levels for soccer players in Canada surpassed hockey during the late stages of the last century. The national men's team is currently tied with Bahrain for 110th in the world.

Fortunately, the state of things in the women's game couldn't be more different.

Which is why there will be a much different dynamic surrounding the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup which will take place next summer in Canada.

For while this will be a tournament about hosting the world in a global game at venues in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Moncton, Winnipeg and Edmonton next June and July, it will also be about showcasing and getting behind Canadians in the sport of soccer.

Team sports tend to get overshadowed at the Olympics. But there is no doubt the most compelling story of the 2012 Summer Games in London was Canada winning bronze in women's soccer.

The Canadian women losing in dramatic -- and controversial -- fashion against the United States, and subsequently defeating France to win a medal were two of the most memorable international sporting moments in recent Canadian history. Throw in the fact Canada possesses a world-class star player in Christine Sinclair and you have the kind of dynamics behind which an entire country can rally.

Canada currently ranks seventh in women's soccer worldwide, ahead of such traditional soccer nations as England, Italy and the Netherlands, countries our men couldn't touch on their best days. So the optimism about what Canada might accomplish is based on more than just the 2012 Olympic result and the fact that the tournament will be played here.

At the top of the heap in women's soccer is the United States which, besides being the tournament favourite, also represents Canada's greatest rival.

What will it be like when Canada and the U.S. play next summer? What kind of television audience will it draw? Well consider the factors that could make this one of the marquee events on the Canadian sporting calendar next season.

First, the proximity of the U.S.to Canada means the U.S. will have a strong contingent of supporters along with them. Then there is the recent history, the bitterness of the Canadians and the raw feelings over the manner in which they were defeated by the U.S in London.

Throw in the fact that the Canadian team is comprised almost exclusively of players who got their training in the U.S. and you can understand why the familiarity of this rivalry makes it so intense.

But the real payoff to having the Women's World Cup is what it may mean to the sport of women's soccer in Canada in general.

We've seen the effect that the women's national hockey team has had on the growth of the sport among young girls and women. By its very nature, soccer is a more accessible sport than hockey, which means the potential to seed future generations of women's soccer players is immense.

It's one thing to present the world's game to Canadians and tell them to pick a country to get behind. It's something completely different, and far, far more compelling to tell them they can get behind their own.

Soccer isn't a new game in Canada, and from widespread participation to the emergence of Major League Soccer in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to the technology that allows fans to follow it around the globe, it's become a significant part of the sporting fabric of Canada.

But safe to say we have never experienced the sport like we will next summer.

Christine Sinclair Kaylyn Kyle  (Photo: Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
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