Few gave the Canadians much of a chance at the 1986 World Cup, especially with matches against established squads Hungary, the Soviet Union and reigning European champions France.
“My concern was that we would be embarrassed with the quality of the team and players we were going against,” said Canada manager Tony Waiters.
Canada held its own, losing to France 1-0 on a late goal, and by 2-0 counts in their final two matches.
Today, that feat of simply reaching the World Cup grows increasingly impressive with each failed qualifying campaign — now up to eight in a row.
The team that did it was an eclectic one that featured players with hometowns in five different provinces as well as 10 players who were born outside of the country.
But Canada’s World Cup squad was built on a backbone of B.C.-born or -raised players — including its captain and two longest-serving players — who comprised 13 of the squad’s 22 roster spots.
Here’s a look back at the team of ’86 and where its members are today.
Tony Waiters – Manager (Southport, U.K.)
Forever the coach, Waiters continues to work with young players even at the age of 81.
“You like to think you can leave a bit of a legacy,” said the former Vancouver Whitecaps and national team manager from his home on the Sunshine Coast.
“When people say you’re the only coach to take Canada to the men’s World Cup, it’s not a lot of satisfaction really.”
Instead, he’s driven to develop Canada’s next generation of talent by bringing soccer to the inner city.
“There’s some real talent there.”
The B.C. backbone
Bruce Wilson – Defender (Vancouver)
The Canadian captain retired after the World Cup and a year later signed on to coach the University of Victoria’s men’s soccer team.
Three national titles and two coach of the year awards later, he’s set to enter his 31st season with the Vikes this fall.
“If I can go another 30 years I’ll be really happy.”
Mike Sweeney – Midfielder (Duncan, B.C., raised in Squamish, B.C.)
After playing, Sweeney moved to Ohio and focused on coaching. He’s the longtime club director of the Cleveland Whitecaps, a youth academy cheekily named for his former Vancouver team.
“There’s very few people here who catch the tag.”
Bob Lenarduzzi – Defender (Vancouver)
Lenarduzzi managed the men’s national team between 1993 and ’98, worked in media and has been a part of the Vancouver Whitecaps for nearly four decades and currently serves as team president.
Dale Mitchell – Forward (Vancouver)
Mitchell managed both the Whitecaps and the Canadian national men’s team and is now a technical director with a Coquitlam youth soccer club.
Ian Bridge – Defender (Victoria)
Bridge managed several teams post-retirement, and has been an assistant coach for the University of Nebraska women’s squad since 2015.
Randy Samuel – Defender (Trinidad and Tobago, raised in Richmond, B.C.)
Samuel is listed online as a coach for several Lower Mainland youth teams in recent years.
David Norman – Midfielder (Scotland, raised in Coquitlam, B.C.)
Norman works as an insurance advisor and was a colour commentator for Whitecaps radio broadcasts until last season. His son, David Norman Jr., signed with the Whitecaps in December 2017.
Jamie Lowery – Midfielder (Port Alberni, B.C.)
After playing, Lowery returned to Vancouver Island, where his LinkedIn page indicates he recently worked as a transit operator with B.C. Transit.
Geroge Pakos – Forward (Victoria)
After the World Cup, Pakos returned to work for the City of Victoria, where he is retired.
Carl Valentine – Forward (Manchester, U.K.)
Valentine settled in Vancouver post-retirement and has worked with the Whitecaps as club ambassador since 2010.
“I get to meet a lot of people that supported me as a 20 year old. And, I get to thank them now because you don’t really appreciate it when you’re 20.”
Tino Lettieri – Goalkeeper (Bari, Italy)
The colourful former Whitecaps netminder, known for placing his stuffed parrot Ozzie inside his goal, lives in the Minneapolis area where he owns a pizza restaurant that bears his name. His son Vinni made his NHL debut late last season with the New York Rangers.
Randy Ragan – Midfielder (High Prairie, Alta.)
The former SFU player retired last year after serving eight seasons as coach of the University of Guelph Gryphons women’s soccer team.
Branko Segota – Forward (Rijeka, Yugoslavia)
Segota now lives in Florida, according to his Facebook profile.
Gerry Gray – Midfielder (Glasgow, U.K.)
Gray moved to the Seattle area post-retirement, became a United States citizen in 2004 and runs his own retirement and insurance business.
The young stars
Paul James – Midfielder (Cardiff, U.K.)
James coached York University to a national title in 2008, but was later removed from the job after admitting to crack cocaine use. Last January, he went on a hunger strike to draw attention to the stigma of drug addiction.
“I need to bring what’s invisible to people, visible,” he told CBC last year.
“We need people to come forward, but how can they if there’s so much fear.”
Igor Vrablic – Forward (Bratislava, Czechoslovakia)
Vrablic, only 20 in 1986, had his young career derailed soon after the World Cup when he was accused of taking money to throw games at a tournament in Singapore. He was last reported living in southern Ontario.
Paul Dolan – Goalkeeper (Ottawa, raised in Port Moody, B.C.)
Dolan is a colour commentator for Whitecaps radio broadcasts and also works in sales for Umbro Canada.
Sven Habermann – Goalkeeper (West Berlin, West Germany, raised in Vancouver)
Habermann was among a group of reserve players who watched the tournament from Vancouver, knowing their only chance at playing in Mexico was an injury to a teammate.
“We had a few pints because we knew we’d have 48 hours to get sober again.”
Post-retirement, a close encounter with a bear near his Maple Ridge, B.C., home encouraged him to turn his entrepreneurial streak toward self-defence.
He developed the Tornado, a quick-release pepper spray, and successfully pitched the product on the hit show Dragon’s Den.
“It was the first time I was ever really nervous,” he said of appearing before the Dragons. “You fear getting torn apart by those guys.”
Greg Ion – Midfielder (Vancouver)
The former Vancouver 86er coaches at an Arizona youth soccer academy.
Terry Moore – Defender (Moncton, N.B.)
Moore spent much of his life in Northern Ireland and coached that country’s team in the 2016 Homeless World Cup.
Pasquale de Luca – Defender / Midfielder (Edmonton)
His current whereabouts are unclear but de Luca coached the Edmonton Drillers of the Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League until it folded in 2012.
Colin Miller – Defender (Hamilton, U.K., raised in Vancouver)
Miller would go on to captain Team Canada and twice serve as its interim manager. The Lower Mainland resident is now the head of development for the Abbotsford Soccer Association.