Herdman tabs Osorio, Piette as "critical to future success" for Canada

Samuel Piette - David Wotherspoon - Dejan Jakovic - Jonathan Osorio - Canada - Warmups vs. New Zealand - Murcia, Spain

TORONTO – The new era for the Canadian national team got underway on September 9 with an 8-0 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands in Bradenton, Florida and MLS players were in the middle of the action.

The match, Canada's opener in Concacaf Nations League qualification, was the first competitive outing under John Herdman, who took charge of the men's side in January.

These four games will determine where Canada will compete when the Nations League proper gets underway next year – the top six sides will compete in League A – and determine participation in the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup – the top ten teams earn a berth.

Against the likes of USVI, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and French Guiana, as important as results is that Herdman's culture is instilled and relationships on the pitch are developed.

At the core of the side were a pair of MLS midfield stalwarts: Toronto FC'sJonathan Osorio and the Montreal Impact'sSamuel Piette. Herdman called them, “Two very important players for this team.”

Both in their mid-20s (Osorio, 26 and Piette, 23), the duo has the potential to guide Canada through the next two World Cup qualification cycles.

“Those two players are critical to our future, to our success,” explained Herdman in an exclusive phone interview with MLSsoccer.com. “What binds these two as players is they have a common, shared vision, a selfless attitude, and a clear vision that they want to take this country to the next level and they're prepared to do whatever it takes.”

From opposite sides of the great Canadian divide, representing one of the Two Solitudes, the two have become good friends through national team camps over the years. That unity can spur Canada on. 

“They both have leadership roles within the team,” added Herdman. “The work off the field, they way they're connecting as unit leaders, pack leaders, transfers on the pitch, where you start to see a relationship and chemistry form. It's a key partnership for Canada moving forward.”

The final half-hour against the U.S. Virgin Islands also provided a glimpse of another such potential partnership, as a pair of MLS products – Alphonso Davies and Cyle Larin – combined twice with Davies sending in the cross for Larin to finish.

Larin had previously struggled in front of goal for his country, but with a newfound confidence since departing Orlando City SC for Turkish giant Besiktas and Vancouver Whitecaps FC's Bayern Munich-bound starlet providing the service, Larin was clinical.

Herdman explained that with the opponent tiring, they loosened the reins on Davies. 

“And to have a predator like Cyle in the box,” continued Herdman. “It was clear Alphonso knew, you just have to get the ball into the right area and Cyle will be there.”

“It's exciting to think that we've got Lucas Cavallini, Larin, and they're going to get fed to Davies, Liam Millar, Junior Hoilett,” added Herdman. “I wouldn't say there was any specific partnership to point to, [rather] there were a lot of connections around the game, where players were able to combine and express themselves.”

“Those assessments are going to come in against teams like Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico, the USA,” concluded Herdman. “That's where we're really want to see how these partnerships and chemistry will form.”

Canada will continue their Nations League qualification campaign on October 16 against Dominica at BMO Field, the first home match for Herdman and his side.

The 23-man squad that played in September featured 10 MLS-based players, yet did not include a number of players who were part of the last few groups that played New Zealand under Herdman in March and against El Salvador last October: Ashtone Morgan, Raheem Edwards, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Michael Petrasso, Kwame Awuah, and Jay Chapman, who was named originally, but was forced to pull out with an injury concern and was replaced by TFC teammate Liam Fraser

Nor did it include one player that Herdman is looking forward to getting back into the fold: LAFC'sMark-Anthony Kaye, who featured in Spain in the new coach's first match, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in July.

“He's had a terrific season, growing from game-to-game,” observed Herdman. “Once he's back, he'll certainly be find himself pushing into that midfield group.”

Herdman was quick to note that all those players and more are constantly monitored and tracked; many were part of the wider squad that were contacted prior to the recent camp. And if they missed out on this one, looks will come in the future.

“The beauty about where we're at currently is we've got such a competitive squad it's going to be difficult for players to break in,” said Herdman. “Players that are struggling to get game time in MLS know they're going to have to push harder to break the national team.”

“In the past, that might have been different, you could be on the bench and still make the starting lineup for the national team,” continued Herdman. “That's changed. I've come in at a fortunate time, where the quality is higher and I've turned to some younger players that are playing in other environments to push that level up.”