Kyla Rose was still a few months away from being born the last time Canada played in the FIFA World Cup in 1986. 

On Wednesday, when the men's national team makes its first appearance at the tournament in 36 years, facing off against second-ranked Belgium, she's taking the day off work to watch with her parents and friends at a North Vancouver sports pub.

"I've waited my whole life for this as a soccer fan," she said. "I want to really experience being able to watch Team Canada play in a World Cup game with other fans, not just from my office or at home by myself."

Fans across the country are gearing up for the World Cup kickoff in Qatar and marking the momentous occasion for Canadian soccer by finding time to tune in and communities of fellow fans to watch with.

Despite the early start times for games on the west coast — time-zone differences between Canada and Qatar range from seven to 11 hours — Rose, who played soccer for most of her life, said she won't miss Canada's tournament-opener or subsequent games against Croatia and Morocco at any cost. 

"I'm just going to come into work a few hours late," she said.

In a country typically known for its prowess in winter sports like hockey, she said Canada's qualification for the World Cup and opportunity to compete alongside world-class soccer players is a "massive deal" that will grow interest in the game at home.

"You can already see people who wouldn't normally have been interested in soccer keeping up," she said. "It's a special feeling around the city and talking to people, everyone's excited."

Christian Parlee, a child and youth counsellor at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, has been following Canada's national soccer team for 20 years and was six during their last World Cup appearance. 

He likened Canada's qualification for the 2022 World Cup to "a golden retriever that's been cooped up in the house all day, finally getting to run outside with the neighbourhood kids."

Parlee said soccer fans in Canada have felt let down by the team in the past and expectations of success aren't particularly high given the quality of the scheduled competition, but still called the moment "monumental." 

"I don't think anybody with any sense of logic or reason is expecting much — anything that's not a loss is a win," he said.

But the opportunity to play could still do much to elevate the game on home soil. Canadian soccer players previously had few leagues to play in and fewer chances for top-level development, he said, since Major League Soccer in North America has historically prioritized American players and the best home-grown talent have sought opportunities in Europe. 

"Now we see that this is a distinct possibility, as a Canadian player, to play at the highest international level. It does not get any bigger than this," said Parlee. "This is going to show a generation of young players that it is entirely possible."

Parlee took next week off work to visit his brother in the U.S., where they'll catch the first Canada game with their father at a bar. He said he may be travelling back around the time the second game against Croatia is set to take place, but he made sure to secure data so he could watch from his tablet if necessary.

Once home, Parlee said he may host people to watch Canada's third game since many of his frequented sports bars closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the time difference and mid-week schedule may force him to watch somewhere public. 

"I'm sure a lot of people will not be taking off work to come and watch this game and, while I appreciate that, I do not share the sentiment," he said.

But as a health care worker, Parlee said there are reasons to be concerned about mass gatherings as emergency departments and pediatric hospitals across Canada face a trio of circulating respiratory viruses — COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus — that are overwhelming health care systems.

"In some circumstances you may not want to go to these massive gatherings, you may want to keep it to a smaller bar," said Parlee, who noted he's up to date on immunizations and will be wearing a mask indoors.

Eric Franck, a restaurant server in Halifax who creates soccer content on Tik Tok, said he's never anticipated any soccer game in his life as much as Canada's matchup against Belgium. 

"To see our boys on the world stage, it's going to be mad," he said.

Even though he'll be watching Canada's first match at home, Franck won't be alone as he plans to live stream Canada's first match on YouTube. After that, he plans to find a pub or public space to watch games with his dad. 

Canada needs to do a better job promoting its participation in the tournament, he said, considering it will co-host the World Cup in 2026 with the U.S. and Mexico.

"The only hype these days is online. You can leave the house, there's nothing that implies a World Cup is coming up, not in the malls, not downtown," said Franck.

"We have a young team, a lot of these players are going to be there in four years, so it makes sense to try and grow the game and promote it."

Even though this year's tournament isn't taking place in the summer months as usual, meaning fewer barbecues, street parties and outdoor viewings, Franck wants to see Canadians show up for the team wherever they can.

"Get to your local pub, bar, town square, whatever's showing it... get in there amongst the crowd, get in the spirit," he said. "It's better than watching it at home."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2022.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.