TORONTO – Canada Soccer laid out the new vision for the men's national team under the guidance of John Herdman in an event on Monday afternoon at BMO Field.
Speaking publicly more than a month after he was hired to guide the men's team following a successful six-year tenure atop the women's program, Herdman insisted the players necessary to make progress already exist. They just need better guidance.
“The talent is there, but what has been missing is a clear vision that binds together in key moments; the high performance systems and structures of the modern game – sport science, mental performance training,” said Herdman. “In those big moments, they haven't been able to deliver, (and) the culture has been to point fingers. That's ready to change. The group are clear under new leadership with new focus, that if they can see a plan they believe in, they will push to levels they've never gone to before.”
Herdman took over the women's team in 2011, leading them to bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games and the quarterfinal stage of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Just qualifying for a World Cup would be viewed as a success in his new role; For the men's national team, the question always lurking in the background is why haven't they reached the tournament since Mexico '86.
“There hasn't been a deliberate approach to mental performance," Herdman said. “While they may have physically and technically the gifts to perform, on the mental side, on the big occasions, they haven't been able to deliver. Addressing that is the starting point. In the first camp, [the players] will notice the shifts, how it's inculcated into the whole culture.”
To that end, the introduction of the new CONCACAF League of Nations this fall will be welcome.
“Coming September, every match is going to have expectation, scrutiny, consequence," Herdman said. "Gone are the days of meaningless friendlies. ... 42 matches in a three-and-a-half year period; 90 percent in this part of the world. This team will have to be ready to think clearly under pressure constantly.”
Canada Soccer general secretary Peter Montopoli believes Herdman's appointment comes at a critical juncture for the sport in Canada.
With the recently announced expansion of the CONCACAF Gold Cup to 16 teams and the pending joint Canadian, American and Mexican bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Montopoli says the goal is to have a better-aligned men's system from the lower levels through the full national team that "provides consistent international performances." He even suggested the men's program may look toward the women's as a model and resource for some shared resources.
"We might be the first, only, to have that opportunity and ability," Montopoli said. "We have John Herdman, system builder, internationally proven track record as a coach. I've never seen anybody work harder; we are in good hands.”
Herdman's first match at the helm is set for March 24 against New Zealand in Spain; a roster is scheduled to be announced the week of March 12.
At his side will be former Montreal Impact coach, Mauro Biello, who will serve as the director of Canada's U-23 program as well as Herdman's assistant.
“He's handled tough dressing rooms, had success in career, he's got fantastic values," Herdman said of Biello. "A humble presence, but with that laser focus to be successful.”
With a swath of young talents beginning to emerge in MLS, Biello's contacts in the league will be valuable as he and Herdman continue the process of infrastructure building.
Herdman has begun the process, reaching out to the front offices and working his way down the organizational structures.
“My next task is the coaches,” continued Herdman. “And then Mauro moves into the academy directors, the U23 coaches, and the youth coaches. Stage by stage, to understand and get the structures right at the various levels. The clubs want that with this partnership.”
While names like Alphonso Davies, whom Herdman calls 'a phenom', Raheem Edwards, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, and Mark-Anthony Kaye are top of mind for the next generation of national team talent, Herdman wants to see more of those kinds of players log more regular minutes with their respective first teams.
“Academies have built that base, are starting to build a higher quality of player. [But] MLS has improved; it's tough to break into squads,” he said.
"At some point they've got to break a first team," he continued. "Without [that], you can't prepare yourself for international football.”