After a month at the helm, John Herdman’s vision for the Canadian men’s national soccer program is starting to take shape.
Herdman, who was named Octavio Zambrano’s replacement on Jan. 8, has spent the past 30 days speaking with members of the men’s side to gain a better understanding of the key issues.
“I guess one of the biggest elephants in the room has been addressed in some of our conversations with the players is that on those big moments, they just haven’t been able to deliver and that the culture has been to point fingers. That’s ready to change,” Herdman said during a press conference on Monday at BMO Field.
Herdman takes over a men’s program ranked No. 94 in the world and has qualified for a World Cup just once (1986).
The 42-year-old took over the women’s program in 2011, leading it to a record-high fourth in the world rankings. Under Herdman, the women’s team won back-to-back bronze medals at the Olympics.
Herdman had several in-depth conversations, including with veteran forward Atiba Hutchinson of Brampton, Ont. Among the topics discussed was establishing a belief that the program is working in the right direction.
Big tests ahead
“Every player, to a man, said they believe this group is talented enough to qualify for the World Cup, but they feel there’s a lack of genuine belief,” Herdman said. “That genuine belief that, under pressure, in the big games whether it’s a Gold Cup semi or quarter-final, it unravels because that belief wasn’t there because there wasn’t a good plan in place.
“Someone mentioned the mental side, this group has never been exposed to mental performance training. It’s a national team so automatically you can see the gaps.”
Herdman’s first test as coach of the men’s side will come on March 24 against New Zealand in Murica, Spain in the upcoming FIFA international window. The match will be Canada’s first of the 2018 international season, as they build towards a new cycle of FIFA World Cup qualifiers ahead of Qatar 2022.
A roster for that game will be announced the week of March 12 with training camp to follow in Spain where Herdman plans on having some of the changes in place.
“There’ll be a mental performance consultant in the camp to start some of their work with the team,” said Herdman. “That’s the critical part of our culture and environment and what we work towards. It’ll be a little bit different for some of the male players because they haven’t been exposed to this.
“If the tactical periodization isn’t in line with the modern game, then these players are going to ask some big questions, and that belief ain’t there. They turn up and hope that things are going to change, right from the on-set we’ll be making some changes to create a foundation of trust, which is what this is all about.”
Expanded Gold Cup
An ever bigger test will be this year’s Gold Cup.
On Monday, CONCACAF announced that it will be expanding the tournament from 12 to 16 nations.
It will also explore holding the 2019 tournament outside of the United States, possibly with some games in Central America and the Caribbean.
CONCACAF plans to provide details of the qualifying process on March 7.
The U.S. is the defending champion after winning its sixth regional title last year. Mexico has seven championships and Canada won in 2000.
Herdman turns to Biello
Herdman also announced on Monday that former Montreal Impact coach Mauro Biello has been named Canada national team assistant coach and EXCEL U-23 program director.
“What I loved about Mauro is he just had a blend of national team experience, MLS experience, he’s handled dressing rooms, tough dressing rooms, he’s had relative success in his career in the MLS,” Herdman said. “He’s got fantastic values and that really shone out.”
Biello played for Canada at the 1989 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Scotland and later played for the senior national team.
As a professional player, he set team records for games with the Impact from 1993 to 2009. He then became an assistant coach before replacing Frank Klopas as head coach during the 2015 campaign, leading the Impact to the Eastern Conference final in 2016.
He was fired after missing the playoffs last season and replaced by Remi Garde.
“It means a lot to me to represent this country,” said Biello. “I feel privileged to be part of Canada Soccer’s men’s national team program and I feel that something special is happening in Canadian soccer.”
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