It seems like more than a year ago that Canada Soccer descended into controversy and chaos after John Herdman switched national teams. The way it all happened, the aftermath and Herdman’s early tenure as men’s national team manager all continue to divide opinion.
Today’s meeting with French Guiana will mark exactly a year since Herdman’s first game in charge of the team, a 1-0 friendly win over New Zealand. That is arguably the most competitive fixture the team has played to date, outlining the difficulty of truly judging his tenure so far. It’s likely few, if any, Canadian managers have had an easier start fixture wise.
After that year, there still isn’t a large, or significant enough, sample size. On the surface, his initial impact has mostly been positive, but we will learn very soon what kind of shape the national team is really in as competition ramps up this summer.
The Gold Cup, as well as the A Division of the Concacaf Nations League, should Canada qualify, will finally be a true measuring stick for this team. Aside from guaranteeing that those games happen, this camp will also be important for building towardsl those games, both tactically and personnel wise.
Unfortunately, the team is without at least two key players: captain Scott Arfield and star-man Alphonso Davies due to injury, both of whom would have been nice to have in camp for chemistry reasons. However, with Canada’s depth in the attack and midfield, the losses are not as costly as they once would have been.
This certainly underlines one bit of good fortune for Herdman; he couldn’t have picked a better time to join the program. He inherited a very solid roster, and was handed the ultimate recruiting chip when Canada was awarded a co-host position for the 2026 World Cup.
With that being said, he has still done an excellent job cultivating that player pool. Winning recruitment battles for Ballou Tabla and Stephen Eustaquio will benefit the national team both now and for many years to come. It’s also been very rare that he hasn’t been able to bring a player into camp, even if Canada hasn’t been playing the most attractive opposition.
He’s also been able to very effectively integrate that young talent into the roster. It’s something that he did incredibly well with the women’s national team under even more difficult circumstances as he transitioned out the “golden generation”.
Of course, you will hear all of this from Herdman, something that has rubbed a lot of national team supporters the wrong way. He has always been something of a shameless self-promoter, who is often equal parts coach and motivational speaker. In part, it has lead to some calling him a snake oil salesman.
It has also led to the most exposure the national team has had in years. Sure, having marketable talent has been huge, but Herdman has been able and willing to talk up his team on whatever platform he is afforded.
In doing so, he has made some pretty bold proclamations, like the fact that he believes Canada will qualify for the 2022 World Cup. But being unafraid to publicly set high standards and goals for his team is not necessarily a bad thing, either.
The players, both publicly and privately, really believe in what he is selling, which after all is his most important target audience. It has been impressive, especially after the amount of skepticism around his hiring initially.
He still has plenty of work to do before that buy-in extends to the rightly cynical core of Canadian soccer supporters. But after a year in charge, the program is quickly heading in the right direction, and Herdman is undoubtedly contributing to that fact.