General secretary Peter Montopoli is leaving Canada Soccer at the end of the month to serve as chief operating officer for Canada FIFA World Cup 2026.
Montopoli will be working for FIFA, overseeing the Canadian end of the 2026 World Cup which is being co-hosted by the U.S. and Mexico.
"It's been a journey I helped start with (former Canada Soccer president and current CONCACAF president) Victor (Montagliani) five years ago, (in) 2016," Montopoli told The Canadian Press. "We're still on the journey together. I'd like to finish off the journey.
"So it's certainly an opportunity for me but also an opportunity (where) I feel I can lend a strong voice for Canada at the table for the FIFA World Cup 2026 with my experiences, contacts, relationships."
After two years as national event director for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, Montopoli took over as general secretary in April 2008.
The Canadian men were ranked 63rd at the time while the women were ninth. Today the men are No. 48 and on the rise while the Olympic champion women are sixth.
Montopoli also helped Canada Soccer earn a reputation as an effective, successful tournament host, with the 2015 Women's World Cup a particular success.
"I'm saddened to be leaving Canada Soccer. It's been 14 wonderful years, for sure. But I feel like it's the right time … Hard to leave certainly, but the opportunity was very attractive as well."
Montopoli said the women's Olympic triumph and the men's success in the ongoing World Cup qualifying process prove the Canadian game is in a good place.
"We've done something that maybe 14 years ago people would not have bet on," he said.
That also included switching John Herdman from the women's program to the men's in 2018.
“Having served as the head coach for both the men’s and women’s national teams, the impact that Peter has had in unleashing the potential for both programs success may not be as well known as the results on the pitch, but cannot also not be underestimated,” Herdman said in a statement. “His steadfast leadership and unwavering commitment to the sport’s growth in our country will be well-placed in his new role with the FIFA World Cup 2026.”
Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis praised Montopoli for "his passionate and transformational leadership."
Montopoli, who changes jobs Dec. 1, kept his Canada Soccer duties when he doubled as CEO of the national organizing committee of the 2015 Women's World Cup.
"I was able for that one to do both," he said. "But in the reality of how big the World Cup will be in 2026, that opportunity would be too difficult."
The 2026 tournament will feature an expanded field of 48 teams, up from 32. It will also mark the first time three countries serve as host. The blueprint calls for 16 host cities in total, with Canada and Mexico each hosting 10 games and the U.S. 60.
That adds to the organizational degree of difficulty with cross-border, security and other issues looming large.
Montopoli said he had not really thought beyond the 2026 tournament.
"This project is big enough. I mean (under) the plans that we put into place when we put the bid in, it would be the largest event ever. And I'd like to think we'll execute against that promise for FIFA and for everyone that's been a part of it — and for our country.
"So I think once you're part of something that's hopefully the biggest ever, that's good enough for me."
Montopoli also served as an assistant general co-ordinator at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, general co-ordinator at both the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt and 2010 World Cup in South Africa in Rustenburg.
Joe Guest, deputy general secretary, will help fill the void after Montopoli's departure until the Canada Soccer board decides what's next.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press