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Big Goals

photography by chris robinson

The 2026 World Cup is coming to the Americas, with Toronto on a FIFA-­approved list of cities to host one of the world’s biggest sporting events as part of a three-country tournament to be split among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. York will offer up its athletic facilities for training purposes to visiting teams.

Carmine Isaaco, the master coach behind the University’s award-winning men’s and women’s soccer teams, says it’s a natural fit.

“Soccer has always been a vibrant element of the cultural mosaic and that mosaic at York is strongly representative of the game,” observes the former professional goalkeeper who coached pro team Toronto FC (winners of the 2017 MLS Cup) before coming to York 11 years ago.

“Talk to York students, and more than 90 per cent of them are familiar with soccer. They’ve either played it themselves or watched from the stands, cheering it on. Soccer is a participatory sport, and it’s quickly becoming a component of the expanding sporting mentality in Canada beyond just baseball and hockey.”

York’s invigorated athletics program has contributed to that shift in thinking.

The training as exemplified by Isaaco, a two-time recipient of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport coach of the year award, has pushed the Lions to win four national and five Ontario University Athletics championships over the past eight years.

York soccer has also served as a springboard for players at both the Major League Soccer (MLS) and United Soccer League (USL) levels, among them Jamaal Smith, Michael Cox, Charlie Trafford and Mark-Anthony Kaye.

“Carmine has done an excellent job at putting Canadian soccer on the map,” says Kaye, an on-the-rise midfielder who in January signed a fresh contract with Los Angeles FC in the MLS after two seasons playing for Louisville City FC in the USL.

“He put me on the right path for achieving the goals I set for myself when I played soccer at York in 2012 and 2013.”

While too early to say whether any York soccer alum will play in the 2026 World Cup, “Canada will be a participant, for sure,” predicts Isaaco, wearing a grey York Lions tee that instantly telegraphs where his allegiances lie.

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