EDITORIAL – John Herdman, the current CanMNT head coach, was able to take the team to the FIFA World Cup (men’s) for the first time in 36 years last year. Herdman became head coach of the CanMNT in 2018 and was able to change the culture of the team and the country in the men’s game forever.
John Herdman (2018-Present): Road to the FIFA World Cup
John Herdman Switches From the CanWNT to the CanMNT
2018 was a very weird year in Canadian soccer. This was the year Herdman decided to switch and become the head coach of the CanMNT. Herdman described how the switch to becoming the CanMNT head coach happened. He details this with James Sherman of Sportsnet as Herdman’s was planning to coach for the English women’s soccer team:
“Someone had reached out to this headhunting firm and said we haven’t seen your application in uh we thought we might see you being an Englishman and all this stuff within two weeks I’m off to the Norway game, we were two nil down in that Norway game I knew that was the last game I’d accepted the England job and I was heading back home and that was it that was that was me done I was in my mind I was on the airplane,” Herdman said. “Peter Montopoli, who I had a great conversation with us and said you’re not finished here.”
At that time, Montopoli was the General Secretary of Canada Soccer. He played a major role in Herdman becoming head coach of the CanMNT and the rest as they say is history.
READ MORE: John Herdman: His Impact With the CanWNT
John Herdman: How He Changed the CanMNT
This is what Herdman said on the Tim and Sid Show of Sportsnet back in 2018:
“2022 all the work we’re doing now will be the foundation for 2026 when we qualify for 2022 the foundation will be layered in sports science.”
From then on, the CanMNT knew where they stood. The head coach put pressure on himself and the players had to buy-in and follow his lead. He also talked about the culture of the CanMNT when he became the head coach to Brunt of Sportsnet:
“That first camp there were a couple of fights in the training I’ve never seen that before guys were literally getting by the thought and everyone was getting in it it was a defining moment because I pulled the leaders together after the sesh and I said this is all the reasons why this team has never qualified for a World Cup.”
Taking accountability and having a brotherhood are very important. This is especially true in dark moments. The goalkeeper who helped the CanMNT make the FIFA World Cup, Milan Borjan exemplified that. After Canada lost to Haiti in the 2019 Gold Cup, this is what Herdman said about Borjan after the game in Haiti (source: BTS VanCity):
“He carried it after the Gold Cup, he sent a text to the players when he was in the airport and it was one of the most powerful texts I’ve seen from any professional football player, he owned up,” Herdman said. “For the guys, if someone like Milan could do that and admit that in the past that he would have pointed fingers and blamed other people, (it shows that) he’s a special guy.”
This would be the start of something very special for the CanMNT. There were many special moments, but there will only be a few covered in this article as there are just so many to go over. The first one to mention, of course, was the Concacaf Nations League win over the USMNT back in 2019.
CanMNT wins against the USMNT at the Concacaf Nations League
After their win over @USMNT last night in @CNationsLeague, @CanadaSoccerEN has qualified for Gold Cup 2021! pic.twitter.com/OVs7dP1Gu4
— Gold Cup (@GoldCup) October 16, 2019
The first notable result for the CanMNT was the 2-0 win over the USMNT in the 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League in Canada Soccer’s article:
“This is unbelievable and thanks to the fans that were here tonight,” said Borjan. “We showed we have a young team that is bringing a new football to Canada.”
It was a game that Canada deserved to win, they had the majority of the scoring chances and when Alphonso Davies scored the second goal, everyone knew that it was over. This was the first big result Canada had in a very long time.
Beating Suriname and Haiti at FIFA World Cup Qualifying
On the road to FIFA World Cup qualifying, the first two big challenges were Suriname and Haiti. They defeated Suriname 4-0 at home, which meant that Canada had to face the team that eliminated them in the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, Haiti.
Canada succeeded, as they beat Haiti both on the road and at home, which then took place in Chicago because of COVID-19. With all the difficulties of travelling to Haiti for that game, this is what Herdman said about the game when they made the final round of World Cup qualification in the Canadian Press:
“Just pride,” he said when asked what the result made him feel. “Real pride for you guys, for the fans, for the people who have been waiting for this opportunity for so long. It’s an organization, Canada Soccer, that has been relentless in finding a way to make sure we got into that Octagon and kept the dream alive of taking this group to 2022, which will lay the foundation for 2026.”
This was the first time Canada qualified for the final stage of World Cup qualification since the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification cycle. Canada was about to play their first final stage of FIFA World Cup qualification for the first time in the 21st century.
A big reason why the CanMNT qualified for the FIFA World Cup was because of the October, November, and January windows.
Herdman says tonight was Osorio's best performance in a Canadian national team shirt: "He's grown. I've watched Jonathan grow into a stoic leader for this team…he's embraced that next-level leadership. He's a big part of setting the culture of this team on and off the pitch."
— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) October 8, 2021
The first game against Mexico at Estadio Azteca was the first of many games to note. Canada played really well and from the play, felt like the CanMNT could have won the game. Alphonso Davies had the foresight to see Jonathan Osorio and passed the ball to him and Osorio finished the rest. It was a remarkable achievement as this was the first time Canada got a result in Mexico in World Cup qualifying since the 1982 World Cup qualifying cycle (source: 11v11). Herdman even gave praise to Osorio, who played really well in that game.
With the Jamaica game on the road, Canada struggled against Jamaica but got the point they deserved as Doneil Henry had a great game to help give the CanMNT the result. The Panama game though was something to behold. After giving up an early goal Canada was able to score four straight goals to win the game. Alphonso Davies was a big reason for the win as he was involved in most of the goals in that game.
READ MORE: Analysis: CanMNT CNL Roster Has “Four Toronto FC Players”
November and January Windows
The two games against Costa Rica and Mexico were big games for the national team. They both took place at Commonwealth Stadium as Canada looked to make the FIFA World Cup. First, they were able to beat Costa Rica 1-0 thanks to a goal scored by Jonathan David.
It was the game against Mexico though that really changed things. Cyle Larin was on form, scoring both of Canada’s goals. Milan Borjan, though, helped Canada qualify. He made a huge save at the very end of the game to preserve the win for the Canadian team.
The Canadian team also played really well in the January window, winning all three games last year. They even were able to beat the USMNT for the second time since 2019. This time it was at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario.
READ MORE: Huge CanMNT win over the USMNT: What it means for Canada Soccer?
CanMNT Qualifies for the FIFA World Cup
The moment Milan Borjan drenched John Herdman with MUCH-DESERVED champagne 🍾
FULL #CanMNT CELEBRATION SCENES ▶️https://t.co/NHgvgkyhxj pic.twitter.com/NzhfVR19xL
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) March 27, 2022
READ MORE: The CanMNT qualify for the 2022 World Cup with a 4-0 win
The CanMNT would qualify for the FIFA World Cup after beating Jamaica 4-0 at BMO Field. It was a historic night as Canada became the first Concacaf country to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. After the CanMNT defeated the USMNT 2-0, this is what Borjan said about how Canada was able to turn it around (source: Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star):
“I can just say two words. John Herdman. That’s it.”
Additionally, this is what Davies said about Herdman in the same Armstrong Toronto Star article:
“For John, every time he talks to the team, this guy makes me feel like I want to run through a wall,” Davies told analyst Kristian Jack this week. “Every time he talks to the team, he motivates us to a different level.”
That was all that needed to be said as Canada made the FIFA World Cup. Now Herdman and Canada did not have a great World Cup, even though Canada and Herdman did outcoach Belgium in their first game.
READ MORE: Analysis: CanMNT CNL Roster Has “Four Toronto FC Players
This shows the progress Canada has made in the last two years as they look to continue and try to earn some silverware this year with the Concacaf Nations League and the Concacaf Gold Cup this year.
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports on March 27, 2022, of John Herdman’s Headshot.