After a challenging week, Friday was a brutal day for Canadian women’s soccer and the end of the hopes of another FIFA World Cup berth. 

Facing Mexico at the CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship, Canada fell 2-1 in extra time in the semi-final, seeing their hopes of qualifying for the 2024 U-17 Women’s World Cup in the Dominican Republic dashed for the first time in the program’s history.

Until Friday, Canada had always qualified for the U-17 Women’s World Cup, a tournament that once hosted the budding careers of national team stars such as Jordyn Huitema, who in 2018 scored a quarter-final goal against Germany, giving Canada a 1-0 win and a spot in the semis. 

On Friday, the prolific Annabelle Chukwu scored Canada’s lone goal, tying the match in the 75th minute, finishing a through ball after sneaking behind the Mexican backline as Canada pressed while trailing. 

Mexico opened the scoring in the 25th minute through Carla Montes; however, their critical moment came with a 101st-minute strike in extra time from Vanessa Aguilar, punching Mexico’s ticket to the World Cup and CONCACAF Championship final, where they will take on the United States, who knocked off Haiti 7-1 also on Friday. 

“I’m devastated for the group. It’s a really, really talented group of young Canadians,” said Canadian head coach Emma Humphries. “That game could go either way … I’m super, super proud of the group.”

While a third-place finish could usually allow Canada to qualify for the tournament, CONCACAF only had two spots up for qualification in 2024, with the Dominican Republic given a host berth with the tournament set for Dominican shores in the fall. 

Mexico has qualified for the last seven tournaments, often using that third spot, while Canada and the USA have routinely battled for the U-17 women’s soccer crown in the region. The only non-CONCACAF team to qualify so far is New Zealand, with the remaining 17 teams yet to secure their place at the showcase. 

A worrying trend

While missing the World Cup due to a smaller qualifying field can only be so problematic, it’s the latest hit to Canada’s struggles at the youth levels. In the last U-17 Women’s World Cup, Canada failed to advance from the group stage, picking up 1-1 draws against France and Tanzania while losing 4-0 to Japan. 

Courtesy: Audrey Magny/Canada Soccer

In the other youth ranks, the Canadian men struggle to qualify for tournaments outside of CONCACAF, with the U-20s last qualifying for the World Cup in 2007 and no Canadian men’s team having been at the Olympic Games (U-23) since LA 1984. 

The Canadian men were at the last U-17 World Cup in 2023 but looked listless in three straight group-stage losses to Spain, Uzbekistan, and Mali. 

With the struggles at youth level, and the top national teams going through rough and transitional patches, with the rest of the world catching up in the women’s game, Canada’s future is looking bleaker, making the viability of Project 8 and the Canadian Premier League more integral than ever.