Women's soccer team pose with medals after victory ceremonyMark Blinch/COC
Mark Blinch/COC

Top 10 historic moments for Canada’s national soccer teams

In March, the Canadian men’s national soccer team made history, qualifying for the FIFA World Cup for just the second time ever.

Now, the tournament is set to kick off with Canada looking to make even more history. The team failed to score in their only previous appearance at Mexico 1986, meaning someone could write their name in the record books with a goal at Qatar 2022.

Before that (potentially) happens, let’s look back at 10 other history-making occasions for our national soccer teams.

Canada’s first Olympic soccer gold

Sure, the men’s soccer competition at St. Louis 1904 only included three teams and a total of four matches. But with two lopsided wins, Galt F.C. (a club team based in what’s now Cambridge, Ontario) finished first and earned Canada an Olympic gold medal in soccer.

No one could have known it would take the country over a century to repeat the feat.

FIFA World Cup qualification

Prior to Mexico 1986, Canada had never really come close to qualifying for the World Cup. But an impressive run during the qualification tournament put Canada in a position to make history in the very last match on September 14, 1985.

Canadian national soccer team players Paul James (left) and Randy Samuel celebrate the team’s 2-1 win over Honduras in St. John’s, Nfld. in this 1985 file photo. The win helped propel the Canadians to the World Cup finals in 1986. (CP PHOTO) 1998 (str-Michael Creagan)

It was a showdown with Honduras in front of a packed house at King George V Park in St. John’s. A second-half goal from Igor Vrablic sent the hometown crowd into delirium and sent Canada to heights they’d never reached before.

Kings of Concacaf

In 2000, Canada were far from favourites at the Concacaf Gold Cup, the tournament that crowns the continental champion in the region covering North America, Central America and the Caribbean. But the soccer gods were surely on their side.

After escaping the group stage on a tie-breaking coin flip (yes, literally), Canada shocked Mexico with a golden goal winner in the quarterfinals. A clean sheet from tournament MVP Craig Forrest secured a semifinal victory, and a slippery, soggy 2-0 win in the final over Colombia (who were special invitees) clinched Canada its only Gold Cup title.

Sinclair and company announce themselves

Everyone in Canada now knows that Christine Sinclair is special. But that reality first came to Canadians’ attention during the 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women’s World Championship.

Chrtistine Sinclair holds a gold trophy of a soccer shoe above her head
Canada’s Christine Sinclair hoists the Golden Boot award for top scorer at the end of the FIFA U19 Women’s World championship final in Edmonton, Sunday September 1, 2002. (CP PHOTO/Adrian Wyld)

Hosted in Victoria, Vancouver and Edmonton, the tournament was a launching pad for Sinclair and others, including Erin McLeod, Kara Lang, Candace Chapman, Carmelina Moscato, Brittany Baxter (née Timko) and Clare Rustad.

The final on September 1 drew nearly 50,000 fans to Commonwealth Stadium and saw Canada fall 1-0 in extra time to the United States. With 10 goals, Sinclair was the tournament’s top scorer and MVP, the first of many accolades to come.

Stepping up at the World Cup

A year later, six young players from that tournament (including Sinclair) were part of a Canadian team seeking its first-ever win at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Not only did Canada earn its first wins at the 2003 tournament, they’d go on to claim fourth place. That still stands as the country’s best-ever showing in a senior World Cup.

A podium finish for the ages

A decade after the U-19 tournament, seven veterans of that youth squad (Sinclair, McLeod, Chapman, Moscato, Baxter, Robyn Gayle and Melanie Booth) were part of a team that captured Canadian hearts at London 2012.

Canada forward Christine Sinclair (12), defender Rhian Wilkinson (7) and midfielder Brittany Timko (left) and defender Candace Chapman (9) hoist midfileder Diana Matheson into the air after she scored the game winning goal against France in second half Bronze medal football action at the Olympic Games in Coventry, Great Britain on Thursday August 9, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canada forward Christine Sinclair (12), defender Rhian Wilkinson (7) and midfielder Brittany Timko (left) and defender Candace Chapman (9) hoist midfielder Diana Matheson into the air after she scored the game winning goal against France in second half of bronze medal football action at the Olympic Games in Coventry, Great Britain on Thursday August 9, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Sinclair secured her place in history with an otherworldly hat trick in Canada’s bitter, controversial semifinal loss to the USA. But the whole team secured its place in history with a redemptive win over France in the bronze-medal game, courtesy of a 92nd minute goal by Diana Matheson.

It was Canada’s first podium finish in a traditional Summer Olympic team sport since Berlin 1936. But it would be just the beginning for this women’s national team, which included a return to the podium at Rio 2016 as the Olympic bronze medallists once again.

Excitement on home turf

The team rode its newfound wave of support into the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, hosted in Canada.

Team Canada reached the quarterfinals, getting to show off their stuff in front of massive crowds at Vancouver’s BC Place, Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, and Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

The tournament itself made history in a few ways: it was the first Women’s World Cup to feature 24 teams and the first World Cup of any sort to be played on artificial turf.

Sinclair scores No. 185

For years, there were three constants in the universe: death, taxes, and Christine Sinclair scoring goals for Canada. But, the question was often asked: could she keep up the pace long enough to become the all-time leader in international goals?

On January 29, 2020, we got our answer: a resounding yes.

Christine Sinclair is given a commemorative jersey by Victor Montagliani.
Christine Sinclair is given a commemorative jersey by Victor Montagliani for becoming the world’s all-time leader in international goals. (Credit: Canada Soccer by Mexsport)

At the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship ahead of Tokyo 2020, in a blowout win over St. Kitts and Nevis, Sinclair scored her 184th and 185th goals for Canada. That was enough to surpass long-time rival Abby Wambach and cement Sinclair’s status as soccer’s goal-scoring GOAT.

They’re simply the best

There’s perhaps no clearer signal of the sport’s progress in Canada than the duo who claimed the nation’s top athlete awards in 2020.

Sinclair and Alphonso Davies won the Bobbie Rosenfeld and Lionel Conacher Awards, respectively, as the Canadian Press Female and Male Athletes of the Year. Davies, the brightest superstar on the men’s side, was also a co-winner of Canada’s Athlete of the Year award.

Sinclair and Davies

It was the first time that Canadian soccer players were recognized so prominently for their contributions here at home, but may not be the last.

Canada’s second Olympic gold

And we end up where we began, with Canada atop the Olympic podium.

Tokyo 2020 was much different than St. Louis 1904, to put it mildly. Thanks to the pandemic, it was also much different than most other Olympic Games that had ever taken place. But nothing was going to stop Team Canada from fulfilling its destiny.

The team exorcised some old demons with a win over the USA in the semifinals. Then, a heart-stopping win on penalty kicks gave Canada its first gold in women’s soccer and put a fitting exclamation point on Sinclair’s historic career.

Canadian women's soccer team runs onto the field in celebration
Team Canada celebrates after defeating Sweden to win the gold medal in women’s football during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Friday, August 06, 2021. Photo by Mark Blinch/COC