In June, Canada Soccer announced that women’s national team head coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller will be leaving his role at the end of August to return to his native Denmark as the Head of Coach Education at the Danish Football Association.
That has left a potential vacancy at the forefront of the Canadian women’s national team, who have already booked their ticket to Tokyo
With the 2020 Olympics postponed to 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Canada Soccer will want to find a replacement quickly and have already started likely approaching candidates. In some ways, the time away has been beneficial as it has given Canada Soccer some time to find a replacement before they next take the pitch, whenever that may be.
With that in mind, and as we near the end of August, here are five potential candidates to replace Heiner-Møller.
Rhian Wilkinson played 181 times for Canada between 2003 and 2017, winning two Olympic bronze medals in the process. She’s been an important figure for the national team for the better part of two decades, something that has extended beyond her playing days. Since her retirement in Jan. 2017, she has been coaching, most recently being tasked with managing the U-17 and U-21 Canadian women’s sides. She was also an assistant for the senior team at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
With her trajectory, it seems inevitable that Wilkinson will be the CanWNT Head Coach one day. Add in her vast experience playing on the biggest stage, she’s put herself in a good position to one day take the top job.
She also knows the players on this roster better than most. That’s a great asset, but may also be the reason she’s better off as an assistant coach instead of in the driver’s seat—for now anyway.
She is certainly one to watch for the future, but in my opinion, the next CanWNT Head Coach shouldn’t be connected to the John Herdman era. As great as that era was, Canada needs a clean slate. Canada Soccer need to appoint someone who they are certain of can be 100 percent objective; As a long-time teammate and friend of many of the current players, Wilkinson may be hesitant, knowingly or not, to make tough decisions.
If she isn’t appointed Head Coach, don’t be surprised to see Wilkinson return as an assistant.
Daniel Worthington is Kenneth Heiner-Møller’s other assistant coach, so if Canada are to replace Heiner-Møller internally, it will likely be with either Worthington or Wilkinson.
The 40-year-old Englishman has been a coach with the Canada Soccer national team programs since 2010, and has experience as the head coach of some of the current crop of women’s national team players.
Worthington was the Head Coach for Canada at the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto, taking the reins of a very-young roster full of players who are still with the national team.
The majority of the 19 players Worthington coached at that tournament are still important members of the national team, including the likes of Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, Janine Beckie and Jessie Fleming, among others.
The problem with Worthington is the same as with Wilkinson; he has strong roots with John Herdman’s time in charge. Like Wilkinson, that could be a great asset, but if Canada Soccer are looking for a drastic shift in direction, it may be best to look externally.
Priestman, still with the Lionesses, has been seen as one of the up-and-coming coaches in the women’s game for some time now, and surely wants a shot at being the head coach of a team. With England boss Phil Neville leaving his role in 2021, she was likely a candidate to replace him, but The Lionesses have instead appointed Netherlands Head Coach Sarina Wiegman.
It hasn’t been announced whether or not Priestman will stay in her current role with England, but with just over a year still until Wiegman takes charge, it’s unlikely that Priestman would depart at the moment.
She could also find herself coaching in the FA Women’s Super League (or elsewhere) if an opportunity were to present itself, but if she expresses interest in the job, Canada would be foolish not to at least consider her—even if the objectivity problem with the previous candidates apply to her as well.
Laura Harvey is one of the most successful coaches over the past decade or so in the women’s game.
Currently the head coach of the United States U-20 women’s national team, Harvey has won most of the major honours available to her at the clubs she’s managed at, and has picked up a number of individual accolades as well.
After starting her managerial career as an assistant with Birmingham in 2002, Harvey moved to Arsenal in 2008, where she established herself as one of the world’s best coaches. Between 2008 and 2012, she led The Gunners to a three-peat of league titles, two Continental Cups, and one FA Women’s Cup—including the treble in 2011, among other trophies.
She moved to the NWSL in 2013, taking over the Seattle Reign for the league’s inaugural season. With Seattle she won the NWSL Shield in 2014 and 2015, and was named the league’s Coach of the Year in both seasons, also finishing among the finalists for the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football.
She moved to the Utah Royals after the 2017 season, and after two years there, left the club. She's currently managing the USWNT's U20 side, and should she want to give senior international management a try, Canada would be a great place to do it.
Currently nearing the end of the Christine Sinclair era and moving toward the promising future, it's a great time to take over the CanWNT. Canada is capable of having a shot at medalling in the upcoming Olympics in 2021, and the future is bright beyond that, so Harvey, or any other candidate, could set themselves up for a long, potentially successful, stint in charge.
This one is definitely ambitious, and unlikely, but to have the best international programs, you have to have the best staff, and Jill Ellis is one of the best managers in recent memory.
Ellis led the United States to a pair of World Cups victories — in 2015 and 2019 — and is currently a free agent after leaving her role with the USWNT in October.
She's currently an Ambassador for US Soccer, and may not want to leave that role, but if she's even slightly interested, Canada should do everything in their power to get her.
Again, wishful thinking.
Who do you think should take over as the next CanWNT head coach?