John Herdman began his tenure with the men's side of the Canada national team the way he ended things on the women’s side: with a one-goal victory in a Spain-based friendly.
And although four months elapsed between the women’s 3-2 win over Norway in November and Saturday’s 1-0 victory over New Zealand for the Canadian men, it was clearly the same Herdman along the sidelines on both occasions.
Perhaps the coach's biggest stamp on the game – aside from his perpetual, clearly audible instructions throughout the 90 minutes – came in the form of 18-year-old Liam Millar.
As boss of the women’s national team, Herdman showed a penchant for dropping young players into starting roles to see if they’d sink or swim, from Kadeisha Buchanan to Jessie Fleming to Deanne Rose. Such was the case on Saturday with Millar, a Liverpool youth academy player who was in his first senior-team camp with Canada.
Rather than squeaking into the game late in the second half, Millar played a starring role from start to finish, giving the New Zealand defenders plenty to do, first along the wing, and then in front of goal later in the match.
But it’s not just newcomers who step up in the presence of a new manager. The entire squad seemed ready to make a positive impression, as Canada’s long run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup begins.
Yes, it should go without saying by now that extrapolating too heavily from a one-off, neutral-venue friendly is a fool’s errand. All the same, any fears that Canada’s men wouldn’t play for Herdman appear to have been unfounded.
The question now, as ever, is: Can they step up again once the stakes are raised?
Milan Borjan: 6 Was beaten thrice in a windy first half, but bailed out by two goalposts and an offside flag – at the end of the day, a clean sheet is a clean sheet.
Ashtone Morgan: 5 Provided some overlap support and avoided any notable defensive missteps in just over a half’s worth of play.
Dejan Jakovic: 5.5 Some nerves along the back line in the early going, but the veteran settled things down and assisted on Canada’s first goal, before making way for David Edgar after 55 minutes.
Manjrekar James: 6 Another quietly steady showing from the center back, whose defensive line recovered after an early onslaught from New Zealand.
Michael Petrasso: 5 A quick day’s work for the converted fullback, who left just before halftime with an apparent injury.
Mark-Anthony Kaye: 6 The LAFC man once again looked confident for Canada, after a strong Gold Cup last summer; had some strong interventions and good link-ups with teammates before being replaced at halftime.
Jonathan Osorio: 6.5 The Toronto FC midfielder’s positive influence grew as the game wore on, as he developed sharper connections with some of his less familiar teammates and put in one of his strongest national-team performances.
Tosaint Ricketts: 6.5 Full of running as ever, and was rewarded early in the second half, getting on the end of a wind-assisted long ball and smashing home the winning goal.
Liam Millar: 7. The 18-year-old Liverpool youth player was impressive in his Canadian debut, showing numerous bursts of speed down the left flank to trouble the New Zealand defense, and nearly scoring on a couple of occasions.
Cyle Larin: 5. His touches weren’t the sharpest, perhaps due to lack of recent first-team action, and his few attempts at goal were undone by the opponents.
Marcus Godinho: 5.5. The 20-year-old fullback replaced Petrasso to earn his first Canada cap, and demonstrated some encouraging poise and strength.
David Wotherspoon: 5.5. The Scotland-born 28-year-old newcomer became the second man to play for Canada before ever having actually been in the country; marked the occasion with some really astute through balls.
Sam Adekugbe: 5.5. Came into the game alongside David Edgar early in the second half, and did well to cool things down and preserve Canada’s lead.
David Edgar: 5.5. A long-awaited return for the former Vancouver Whitecaps big man, who missed the 2017 season due to injury; provided a vital clearance in the game’s dying moments.
Tesho Akindele: 5.5 Came in after 70 minutes but still managed to cook up a few good attacking opportunities.
Raheem Edwards: 5.5 Entered with just 15 minutes remaining in the second half, but played a big part in keeping Canada pressing forward, preventing New Zealand from orchestrating an equalizing goal.