Coach doesn’t sugarcoat Canada’s huge World Cup challenge

For a dreamer, John Herdman knows what is real. The head coach of Canada’s men’s soccer team has already propelled the program to the World Cup for the first time since 1986; Canada, ranked 43rd in the world, are now entering their second pre-World Cup window, after the first in June was disrupted by a messy and avoidable wage dispute. When you’ve only been working in the shadows, the lights can be too bright.

But now, with games against 48th-ranked Qatar on Friday in Vienna and 13th-ranked Uruguay on September 27 in Bratislava, Slovakia, Herdman is trying to catch up and climb what he calls the mountains. current Russians. The coach is honest to the point where it’s almost as if he’s setting the bar for Canada’s expectations, while simply telling the truth: it’s not an easy task.

“We were pretty clear in June about what got us here, the things that create our foundation for success in CONCACAF, and we started to identify some of the gaps between us and now on the world stage,” Herdman said during of a conference call from Bratislava. “And ultimately, it’s something that you’re not going to close in six months. It’s something that you close in six years, two decades, to bring that consistency of world-class performance. So for us, it it’s about the pleasure of the moment.

“We have to close big gaps.”

He said they were due to build on the first window in June, but it was a shaky foundation. Most of this week has been swept up in the pay dispute, and now Herdman is trying to portray it as part of the evolution of a footballing nation – he points out that some countries are seeing their pay disputes erupt at the World Cup itself, so better get Canada Going Early. But even Herdman’s characterization of this week in Vancouver is designed to paint Canada’s quest in the most realistic tones possible. It’s hard.

“It gave us the opportunity to dive deeper into goal setting and watch… enter this new jungle that is world football,” Herdman said. “And then also share the reality that, you know, in the last six or seven World Cups, there’s only been three teams that have come out of the group stage with (only) three top players. So this what you’re saying is it’s possible, but the facts tell you it’s almost impossible, so we have to be prepared to do things differently.

Tactics are one thing, but Herdman is also caught up in the eddies and currents of world football with a very heavy roster. Team captain Atiba Hutchinson suffered a bone bruise in pre-season with his Turkish Super League club Beşiktaş, and Herdman says the 39-year-old struggled to stay fit without being able to put weight on his leg. Toronto FC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye has just returned from a lower-body injury, and teammate Jonathan Osorio is dealing with the aftermath of a head injury sustained in mid-June. Tajon Buchanan, a key forward, hasn’t played for Brugge in Belgium this season due to a quad injury, and his presence at this camp will be limited.

“This one has been a weird, weird window,” Herdman said. “I mean, in the last four months since June, it seems like there’s so much going on. You get the positive stories of Luca Koleosho (18) getting playing time in a tier 1 league at a club in tier 1 of (RCD Espanyol de Barcelona), to Mark-Anthony Kaye out for so long, Jonathan Osorio out, (defender) Doneil Henry suffered a hamstring injury last night The news on Atiba, Tajon Buchanan and his situation… his minutes will be very limited, as club and country try to wrap him in cotton.

“There are things happening here that have been super positive and some things that, yeah, keep me awake at night.”

Herdman fears four members of the Canadian squad playing for Toronto FC and TFC missing the playoffs will mean a huge game gap from October, compared to players from European leagues who will travel to Qatar in mid -season. He points out that in this window the big European sides weren’t interested in playing little old Canada, and says that Uruguay – whose combined salaries for international players are nearly double that of a national team like the United States – was a hit.

And when talking about tactics, Herdman points out that with a reduced coaching staff, Canada must choose what to work on and try not to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of work and the lack of time. He worries about Canada’s Group F opponents in Qatar, pointing out Belgium don’t lose to underdogs and have lost to two teams in the past six years, and says Croatia are in the same weight class .

“Yeah, it’s a sobering process when you get into scouting in depth, looking at these teams,” Herdman says. “But…I think we know what we’re good at. We are starting to build on a clear understanding of the areas (where) we can close the gap against this level of opponent. So, you know, we can go in with a certain degree of confidence that we can close the gap and, like any football tournament, on any day, anyone can beat anyone. So this is the spirit with which we are going to play.

“It’s just real excitement and an opportunity to go out and be brave, be brave. Test us and take a step forward for Canada by building respect and credibility as a footballing nation.

John Herdman may be gazing at the horizon or gazing up at the stars, but whether it’s Vienna, Bratislava or Qatar, he’s got his feet on the ground. In world football, that’s where they need to be.


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Rachel J. Bradford