There’s no doubt the world is taking notice of the soccer talent coming out of Canada.
Whether it be the women’s national team winning the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in 2021 or the men’s team proving they can hold their own with the best of the best at the 2022 World Cup, the country is firmly on the map.
Now a pin is set to drop on Waterloo Region as the future of Canadian soccer is headed here for the Toyota National Championships U-15 Cup from Oct. 4 to 9, 2023.
The top up-and-coming soccer talent from 11 different provinces and territories in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions will hit the pitch in an attempt to be crowned national champions and showcase their skills for Canada Soccer.
Experiencing High Level Soccer in Waterloo Region
Jeff Hughes, president of Southwest Soccer based out of Kitchener, is excited to see the championships make their way to the region. And while the athletes are young, he knows people in attendance will be treated to a high level of competition.
“It’s a good level of soccer,” Hughes said. “It’s at the lower end of the age groups but it’s a high level of competition with good players that are well into their own development.”
For some, this tournament serves as a steppingstone to higher levels. For others, it could be the highlight of their careers. Either way, it’s sure to be an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
“It should put a nice focus on the youth levels,” Hughes said.
“It shows them they can get to a national level competition, and this is something that exists out there.”
Hughes says Canada has been a bit of an anomaly when it comes to this sport. Soccer, or football as it’s better known in a lot of countries, is the most watched sport worldwide and is often referred to as the world’s most popular sport but it hasn’t always translated to North America.
That’s starting to change, though.
Hughes says he’s seen an increase in popularity right here in the region over the last few years, something that should come as no surprise given the success of the national teams.
Being able to host a tournament like the Toyota Nationals only helps expose younger generations to the game.
“It’s helping promote the sport across the district,” Hughes said.
“From a family and youth aspect, it’s an easy game to get into and is low cost in terms of equipment. It’s easy to grow.”
Hosting a Successful Event
As is the case when hosting any major tournament, the preparation has been extensive and time consuming. Hours of work by volunteers have been required to ensure the event goes off without a hitch.
Originally scheduled to take place in Waterloo Region in 2020, the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This gave the organizers a leg-up when the tournament was rescheduled to 2023, given a lot of the framework was already in place from almost three years ago, Hughes says.
Aside from the high caliber of play on the field, it’s anticipated the tournament will have a positive impact on local businesses.
“We’ve got 22 teams from across the country, including Ontario teams,” Hughes said.
“There will be families travelling and we have a couple different host hotels. They’re here for pretty close to a full week. With meals, the restaurants should see business. We’re also hoping people travel in to watch the games.”
When the whistle blows and the competition begins, Hughes hopes spectators appreciate the quality event they’re seeing. It’s one that doesn’t come around every day.
“I think people will see great competition, whether they’re playing in it or watching it,” he said.
“Hopefully it’ll provide some inspiration for players to stay in the game and continue to move on.”
The Toyota National Championships U-15 Cup
October 4-9, 2023
The Toyota National Championships U-15 Cup will be held at three Waterloo Region venues: RIM Park and Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, and RBJ Schlegel Park in Kitchener.