In Canada, football, or soccer to them, has never been a top sport. Sitting below sports such as ice hockey or Canadian football, it means that many of their top players have struggled to get international recognition. However, Canada’s time in the football spotlight is just about here having qualified for the 2022 World Cup – their first appearance since 1986. This feat – added to their joint hosting of the tournament – means that Canada is ready to embrace football fever with full force. However, who are the greatest Canadian players to ever lace up a pair of boots?
Despite originally being born in Trinidad; Randy Samuel only ever had dreams to represent Canada at the highest level. His strong and physical manner on the ball made him a top defender and it was a quality that let him shine overseas too. This came through stints in both Holland with PSV Eindhoven where he was part of the squad that won 2 Eredivisie titles in 1986 and 1987. This strong run also saw him shine at a golden point for the Canadian national team where he was part of the 1985 Gold Cup winning squad and the squad that reached the 1986 World Cup. Following stints in England and Norway, Samuel retired in 2001 with the Montreal Impact and was subsequently inaugurated into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006.
Having been born in Guyana, Alex Bunbury grew into one of Canada’s top stars of the 1990s. The forward’s eye for goal and tenacious ability earned him plenty of plaudits leading the line in attack. It also caught the eye of West Ham in England who signed him in 1992. Bunbury would struggle in English football moving away after one season to join Portuguese side Maritimo – a blessing in disguise. He would be a machine for the Primeira Liga side with 11 goals in the 1994-95 season earning him the league’s Foreign Player of the Year award. He carried this form to eventually finish up with 59 goals for the club – their then-record goalscorer ever in the Portuguese top flight. After winning the 2000 MLS Cup with Kansas City Wizards, Bunbury retired. With 2 Canadian International Player of the Year awards and the then record goalscorer for Canada – Bunbury remains an all-time legend in his homeland.
For much of the late 20th century, Craig Forrest was the face of Canadian football overseas. Much of this success was down to his development and rise in English football. Having debuted with Ipswich Town in 1985, Forrest became a mainstay at Portman Road for well over a decade. His never-say-die attitude and quick reactions won plaudits from many in English football and Forrest was a regular in the Premier League in the 1990s. After Ipswich were relegated, Forrest moved briefly to Chelsea and then to West Ham sticking with The Hammers until he retired in 2002. He also starred regularly with Canada too particularly in the 2000 Gold Cup where Les Rouges were victorious. In the tournament, Forrest was a megastar only conceding three goals in 6 games earning him the Best Player and MVP awards of the tournament. With 2X Canadian Footballer of the Year awards and a spot in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Forrest is one of Canada’s all-time great players.
Dwayne De Rosario
Capable of playing almost anywhere in attack or midfield, Dwayne De Rosario was a handful for defences to cope with. His mazy runs and powerful shots made him a threat no matter who he played for. Most of De Rosario’s best form came in the MLS both north and south of the border. His best form would come with Toronto FC where he scored 15 goals in 37 games in 2010. His form was recognized throughout his career making 7 consecutive MLS All-Star appearances from 2005-2012 as well as winning 4x Canadian Player of the Year awards. With 104 goals, De Rosario is the ninth-leading scorer in MLS history and with 22 goals for the Canada national side, he is second in the all-time list for his home nation.
A goliath of a midfielder, Atiba Hutchison has been the benchmark for Canadian football in the 21st century. Playing at the heart of midfield, Hutchison has been one of the more underrated box-to-box midfielders of his generation. With a physical presence that easily shields defenders whilst having the technical skills to deliver devastating set=pieces, Hutchison has starred for many European sides. This has included FC Copenhagen, PSV Eindhoven and Besiktas. He has won plaudits wherever he went including a spot in FC Copenhagen’s All-Time XI and no less than three Turkish Super Lig titles with Besiktas. This has seen Hutchison win a record 6 Canadian Player of the Year Awards and with over 90 caps for the national side, he is their all-time appearance holder. A trendsetter for many to follow.
No-one has represented the rebirth of football in Canada better than Alphonso Davies. Davies burst onto the scene with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2016 debuting at just 15 years of age. His lightning pace and technique had all the traits of a star striker. After 8 goals in the 2018 MLS season, Davies moved to Germany with Bayern Munich where his style completely changed. His resilience on the ball and endless running saw him transition into a starring wing-back. Davies’ ever-developing game saw him become a regular with Bayern where he has shone and won 3 Bundesliga titles. His efforts have not gone unrecognized either winning Bundesliga Newcomer of the Season in 2020 and earning spots in both the 2020 and 2021 Bundesliga All-Star XI. If you add 3 Canadian Player of the Year awards and a spot in the 2020 FifPro XI, Davies is no doubt set to become of Canada greatest players of all time.