CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The Island soccer community is excited about the impact of Canada co-hosting the World Cup in eight years’ time could mean for the sport.
“I’m just booking my vacation for 2026,” Lewis Page laughed early Wednesday morning. “To have it here in Canada is unbelievable.”
Page, the Prince Edward Island Soccer Association’s manager of high performance and head coach of the UPEI Panthers men’s team, was one of the many soccer enthusiasts who watched as FIFA announced that the joint bid from Canada, the United States and Mexico had won the rights to host the international championship.
Page said his phone start “blowing up” with messages from friends.
“My kids were trying to figure out what I was so excited about,” he explained. “It is the biggest sporting event in the world, bar none. It’s bigger than the Olympics. It’s a massive event.”
Jonathan Vos, the association’s technical director and bench boss for the Holland College Hurricanes men’s squad, said he was super nervous in the moments before the announcement.
“It’s going to be great for the game in Canada and North America to have that event in your own time zone,” he said. “It’s going to be an amazing experience for everyone involved, for fans and especially for young players who get to see it.”
Vos and Page both see it as a great way to promote the game with the potential to increase the number of kids involved locally.
“We’re very much a hockey country at times because the kids can see that dream. They see it day in and day out,” Vos said. “You want a kid to dream and want to put on that Canadian (soccer) jersey and play for Canada.”
Page noted the announcement comes on the heels of a new professional league starting next year with a team in Halifax.
“If you’re a young kid who dreams of making a living out of playing soccer and representing your country, everything is right there in front of you now,” he said. “(It’s) an amazing time to be a player.”
Page was part of the national team coaching staff from 1999-2011, mainly with youth teams. He attended three youth World Cups in Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand and in Canada, as well as the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico with the senior women.
He has witnessed the evolution of the national programs.
“The growth in the game and the investment at the international level from the Canadian Soccer Association has been unbelievable,” he said.
“When I first started, my first couple of camps, it was head coach, assistant coach, goalkeeper coach and we did everything. We washed the uniforms, we made sure everybody had plane tickets, we were booking buses.”
Now the teams travel with full sport science support teams, physiotherapists, trainers, specialized coaches, performance analysis and more.
It has helped develop the national teams to where the women’s squad is ranked in the top five and the men’s side is producing more top-level athletes.
“Canada really is on the world map now,” Page said.
SoccerStop owner David Vos said World Cups are always good for his business. They bring in jerseys, T-shirts, hats and paraphernalia from different countries.
“Having it in Canada will definitely generate more business, but we won’t see the effects of it probably until 2025,” he said, unless Canada makes the 2022 event in Qatar.
When Canada and the United States are in the tournament there is more buzz, but David Vos said they see a lot of people, even non-soccer super fans, getting caught up in the event’s excitement.
“In P.E.I., now the population is more diverse than it has been in the past, I get people coming in looking for Colombian jerseys and a huge Nigerian population at the university,” he said. “A lot of them are coming in looking for Nigerian stuff.”