Octavio Zambrano on the possibility of Canada on possibly hosting the 2026 World Cup via a joint bid: “We need to be prepared for this great show … it’s an event that Canada needs to show improvement, considerable improvement and show that it belongs.” (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

NEW YORK — If Canada winds up hosting the 2026 World Cup as part of the joint bid along with the United States and Mexico, its new head coach realizes it will have to have its act together.

After all, the Canadians have qualified for only one World Cup that was more than a generation ago at the 1986 competition in Mexico.

So, no one has to remind former MetroStars head coach coach Octavio Zambrano, who runs the Canadian national team, about that.

“It puts an onus on us as a country, and I’m speaking about Canada, to prepare because even though we have Qatar in-between, that is what we’re aiming for,” Zambrano said after Monday’s announcement at One World Trade Center that the three North American countries will put in a joint bid to FIFA.

The Canadians missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, so they must wait until 2020 to start their next qualifying run.

“We need to be prepared for this great show,” said Zambrano, who directed the MetroStars in Major League Soccer from 2000-2002. “We cannot disappoint in neither one of them. Certainly, this one particularly, it’s an event that Canada needs to show improvement, considerable improvement and show that it belongs.”

Canada needs to improve in several facets, Zambrano said.

“It’s a multi-front approach,” he said. “We have to address some issues within the youth, we have to address the issues the way our national teams compete below the senior teams. We need to do better with our senior team. So, it’s kind of a situation where we need to do well with the senior team so that those results permeate down to the younger teams. Also, we need to do well in the bottom part of this pyramid so that all those players that are going to eventually become part of the national teams down the line also do well.”

Canada must take full advantage of being a joint host in 2026. The bid calls for 10 games to be played there.

“Canada will benefit immensely because just as ’94 signified a kind of game changer for the United States,” he said.

In awarding the United States the 1994 competition, FIFA charged U.S. Soccer with starting a professional league after the World Cup and MLS kicked off in 1996.

The Canadian Premier League, a professional league, is expected to kick off in 2018, which is expected to help the development of the game there.

“This is also a great event about to happen that will set us off on a course about eight years of working when this World Cup comes,” Zambrano said. “We will have eight years of big play. This is very, very important because the improvement of the U.S. national team is directly related to MLS and so will be for Canada.”

Zambrano remembered USA ’94 well. He was an assistant coach with the LA Salsa in the American Professional Soccer League. He attended games in southern California and the Salsa hosts Brazil at its home stadium at Cal State-Fullerton in Fullerton, Calif., participating in a scrimmage against the eventual world champions.

Well before thinking about any World Cup, Zambrano has charged with another task — getting his younger players vital international experience. The Canadians will have an opportunity at the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.

Canada will compete in Group A with 2014 World Cup quarterfinal Costa Rica, 2014 WC participant Honduras and French Guiana. The team will kick off the competition against French Guiana at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. July 7, meet the Ticos at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston July 11 and finish the group stage vs. Honduras at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas July 14.

“The Gold Cup is a good tournament and will always be a good tournament because we will get to see some of the young players who perhaps have not been part of the national team before,” he said. “Canada incidentally is going through generational changes.”

He rattled off names such as Julian de Guzman, Dwayne DeRosario and Atiba Hutchinson, who formed the core of recent Canadian sides.

“These are great players. Some are retired and some are thinking about retirement,” Zambrano said. “So, we have to make sure the guys who come after them are players of similar or better quality. And that’s a very difficult task because we’re talking about world class players.”

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.