Canadian Soccer Association says it will make a play to host 2026 World Cup

Canada fans

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USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO – It’s official: Canada wants to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

And Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani publicly announced Thursday that he hopes hosting the “granddaddy of them all” can do for Canada what it did for the USA in the aftermath of the 1994 World Cup.

“We’ve already started our preliminary discussions with our FIFA partners and with CONCACAF,” Montagliani told reporters at a press conference unveiling the CSA’s new five-year strategic plan.

“The bid would not be in until 2018-ish, but the process has to start now, and the first process is you have to put up your hand and say, ‘This is something that’s required, that we want to do."

Montagliani first spoke of the CSA’s interest in hosting the World Cup back in October, but Thursday’s announcement indicated the beginning of a full-blown effort to bring the sport’s premier event to Canada for the first time.

Montagliani suggested the tournament would be due to return to the CONCACAF region by 2026, and that only three countries – Canada, the USA and Mexico – could handle hosting duties. The CSA president declined to comment on the specifics of the proposed bid, but mentioned that the USA seemed like an unlikely contender for the 1994 tournament, which ultimately proved to be a success.

“When they bid for the World Cup, I wouldn’t say the game was in a healthy state in the US, both professionally and domestically,” he said. “Their leadership group decided to put a bid together, and I think that was a bit of a lightning rod for people to come together.”

That idea of galvanizing nationwide support was a key theme for the CSA in introducing its five-year plan, entitled “Leading a Soccer Nation." The document outlines four main priorities: investing in technical leadership, ensuring world-class performances by the national teams, encouraging the growth of the game and governing the game in a professional manner.

The most tangible takeaway is the CSA’s ongoing commitment to establishing a regional, semi-professional development league that will serve as a bridge between the youth ranks and the professional level – a key element of player development that has been absent for a long time.

Montagliani also identified the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a priority for the men’s national team program.

“We’ve taken a different approach, the clubs have taken a different approach, with the camp you just saw in Florida, it was pretty much an Olympic team,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “If we’re successful at getting into the Hex, some of these players may have to be ready for the Hex in 2017, so you need to prepare them.”

In fact, preparing players to perform at the key moments in qualifying – rather than obsessing over short-term fluctuations in the team’s FIFA rankings – is the main goal of the program for the next five years.

“The reality is, what we want to do is prepare our players to consistently perform, to have the tools to perform in environments where we need to qualify,” said Montagliani. “If you’re ranked 85th and you get into the Hex, [your ranking] doesn’t really matter to anybody, at the end of the day.”