By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada will qualify for the 2022 World Cup, coach John Herdman promised the nation on Monday as Canada Soccer rolled out a 2019-2021 strategic plan that also targets another spot on the Olympic podium for the women's team.
"We will be participating in 2022, we will lay a high performance foundation."
Even if FIFA is discussing expanding the 2022 tournament to 48 teams, it was a bold statement considering Canada has only once qualified for the World Cup finals and lost all three group matches in Mexico in 1986.
The "Canada Soccer Nation: 2019-2021 Strategic Plan" came dressed up in slick presentation with buzzwords such as "synergy" and "integration" sprinkled throughout.
The only thing fans will care about are results, however, and on the men's side those have been woeful.
While Herdman guided the women to bronze medals at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Summer Games to establish Canada as top soccer nation, the men have been consistent underachievers.
Herdman made the jump to the men's national team last year and won all four of his matches in charge, albeit mostly against soccer minnows like Saint Kitts and Nevis and Dominica.
The road to the 2022 World Cup will be much tougher but Herdman is confident the revolutionary plan, under which the men's and women's programs will share resources in areas such as sport science, equipment, technology and medicine, will deliver.
"It's clarity, World Cup 2026 has brought an acute focus for this organisation to do everything in its power to ensure Canada can compete at that World Cup," said Herdman.
"We don't know of any country that is working in this symbiotic way. For Canada, we have to be different we can't follow that well-trodden path in this country."
Canada's efforts on the world stage will benefit from a lucrative deal with Nike that will run through 2026, while the men hope to open up a new talent pipeline with the Canadian Premier League set to kickoff in April.
Canada Soccer officials took a moment on Monday to reflect on the success of their 2014-2018 plan, including a successful hosting of the 2015 Women's World Cup and securing the rights to co-host the 2026 World Cup.
"We talked a lot about in the last plan about the success on the women's side and we would like to now translate that onto the men's side," said Canada Soccer general secretary Peter Montopoli.
"The new one (plan) leans towards men's development.
"We done it before and feel like we can do it again."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)