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Airdrie soccer fans tune in to FIFA World Cup as Canada gets set to compete

“I understand it’s not been an easy road being a Canadian soccer fan,” Kmet said. “I think there’s some satisfaction in feeling that after all these rough years, that it’s finally paying off.”
Canada's national men's soccer team, seen here during a World Cup warm-up game in Dubai last week, are preparing for their first group stage game tomorrow. Photo by Brandon Barnes.

Airdrie's soccer fans will be glued to their screens for the next four weeks, as they take in the FIFA World Cup – the most televised and viewed sporting event on the planet. 

The fabled tournament, which takes place every four years and features the national men's soccer teams from 32 qualifying countries, kicked off in Qatar on Nov. 20, with Ecuador beating the host team 2-0.

In the days since, the tournament has already seen a few notable results, such as England's 6-2 win over Iran, and Argentina – one of the favourites to win the cup – being upset 2-1 by Saudi Arabia. 

Airdrie's sizeable soccer community will be keenly watching as Canada's men's national team kicks off their own group stage schedule at noon today, when they face Belgium. This year marks the first time since 1986 that Canada has qualified for the World Cup. 

One local soccer fan who has been waiting decades to see his country compete on the sport's biggest stage is Jason Kmet, the owner of the Polaris Travel Clinic and Pharmacy. A day out from Canada's opening match, he said the fact Canada is competing in the World Cup this year still feels surreal. 

“It’s been so many years, and it seemed like an unattainable dream,” he said. “But here we are.”

While he'd grown accustomed to watching Canada under-perform in previous World Cup qualifying campaigns over the decades, Kmet said something felt different this time around. Led by head coach John Herdman (who had previously guided the Canadian women's national team to two bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games), and with talented players like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David in the line-up, Canada marched to its first World Cup in 36 years. 

“After the first few games, it just seemed the idea of making it into the top three was entirely possible,” Kmet said. “I think the idea of winning the whole qualification group was somewhat irrelevant. You just want to finish in the top three, and it seemed after the first few matches that that was definitely possible.”

Kmet's support of Canadian soccer dates back to the early 2000s, when he was an amateur sportswriter covering Calgary's (now defunct) pro soccer team, the Calgary Storm.

He also took part in a crowd-funding campaign in 2000 to pay for the creation of the Voyageurs Cup – a trophy that is now presented to the winning team in the Canadian Championship tournament every year. 

The pharmacist said how Canadians perceive the world's most popular sport has come a long way in the last 20 years, with the arrival of three Canadian MLS franchises, a new domestic pro league in effect since 2019, and the national men's and women's national teams' success in recent years. 

“I understand it’s not been an easy road being a Canadian soccer fan,” he said. “I think there’s some satisfaction in feeling that after all these rough years, that it’s finally paying off.”

There is always a buzz around the world whenever the World Cup is held, but Canadians are generally less enthusiastic than other countries about the month-long spectacle. However, Kmet agreed Canada's participation in the tournament this year could lead to a louder buzz than usual – including in Airdrie.

“When it comes to sport, you can always enjoy a sport, but when you have a rooting interest, it really does enhance it,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll see the city shut down on Wednesday afternoon or anything, but there’s definitely more interest than in previous World Cups.”

The Airdrie and District Soccer Association (ADSA) would likely agree with that sentiment. The local soccer club's associate technical director, Michal Misiewicz, (a former professional goalkeeper with clubs in England, Poland, and Germany, as well as Canada's U17 and U20 national teams) said there is always interest among sports fans whenever the World Cup kicks off.

“Every weekend, there are Premiership games or Bundesliga or La Liga – whatever league you like to follow around the world – but [ a World Cup] just gets people amped up to another level,” he said. 

The ADSA's technical director added the World Cup could even bolster local soccer registration numbers in the spring, as more families tune in and become enthusiastic about the sport. 

“I think you’ll probably see more of an effect after the World Cup in December – people might get excited and want to try it,” he said. “It will be interesting to see in spring what registration looks like [because] we’re hosting it in four years’ time, so that also can get people riled up.”

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