Full disclosure, I’m not here to categorically say that Canada should fire the men’s National team’s most successful coach since the eighties. But football is a fast, results-driven business. It’s not March 2022 anymore, and after a run of form that has seen Canada soccer handed a big reality check, perhaps it’s time we examine John Herdman closer, and ask the uncomfortable question, is he good enough to lead Canada in 2026?
Now it would be unfair to disregard the good work Herdman has done. After revitalizing the Women’s National team, Herman swapped over to the Men’s team in January 2018 and has taken the team to heights that no one could see coming. Canada was ranked 94 in the world at the end of 2017, and by January 2022 they had dramatically risen to be the 33rd-best team in the world. The best quality is his ability to motivate and bring a team together, the core Canadian squad is a close-knit team who refers to itself as a brotherhood, and the team plays with a genuine mentality that they can beat anyone.
But Herdman’s managerial limitations have been starting to show. With some major weaknesses becoming more obvious over time.
Firstly, Herdman is either too stubborn or loyal to certain players. There are core players in the Canada squad that will either be retired or well passed their prime come the 2026 World Cup. As good as these players are now, it will not help Canada’s World Cup preparation at all to give significant minutes to 36-year-old Steven Vitoria, 36-year-old Milan Borjan, 33-year-old David Wotherspoon, 30-year-old Lucas Cavalinni, 34-year-old Junior Hoillet, and a half fit 31-year-old Johnathan Osorio. Canada has good promising players in Victor Loturi, Mathieu Choinière, Jayden Nelson, Dominick Zator, Kyle Hiebert, and Theo Corbeanu hey none of them have either been picked for the GOLD Cup squad or have seen little to no game time under Herdman.
In particular with Milan Borjan (who has undoubtedly been a great servant to Canada), it’s clear to see that he is past his prime. His distribution with the ball is shaky, he isn’t the best at commanding his box and he is only getting slower when it comes to reacting to shots. Canada has many upcoming good quality goalkeepers; Dayne St Clair is the most apparent choice right now – he is been a mainstay for Minnesota United and is well deserving of game time for the national team. Other options include Jonathan Sirois (who was very unfortunate not to be called up for the GOLD Cup squad) and Tom McGill, who still needs to be cap tied to Canada. For some reason, Herdman keeps persisting with Borjan, who was even recently let go from Red Star Belgrade as their manager didn’t deem him good enough.
Atiba Hutchinson is now retired, but during the World Cup he was only just back from an injury that has stifled his club season with Beşiktaş to the point where it was up in the air if he would retire or not before the tournament. Hutchinson started against Belgium on November 23rd and just four days later, Herdman deployed a barely fit 39 year old in a midfield two against Croatia’s elite midfield three of Modrić, Brozović and Kovačić…it was a disaster. Canada was completely overran in midfield and from the second minute on, were completely outmatched tactically. Remarkably, Hutchinson didn’t come off until the 73rd minute, 73 minutes more than he should’ve played.
Defence has also been a problem, not just in player selection but it’s a big part of the issue. Centreback Scott Kennedy had a very poor game against the States in the Nations League Final. He plays for a second-tier German team that just got relegated to the third tier, and he’s being asked to play in defence against an American front line that includes Folarin Balogun, Gio Reyna, Timo Weah and Christian Pulisic – a task that Kennedy just simply isn’t prepared for. Vitoria, Canada’s most experienced defender started against Panama but was dropped for the Final most likely because of fatigue (he did eventually come on). To be frank, Herdman wasted 90 minutes from Vitoria on a Panama squad that Canada should be dispatching.
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The defence in that game, just like many other games was falling victim to the same old Herdman problems. Set pieces and long balls. It’s been a common theme, most glaringly in the World Cup with goals conceded against both Belgium and Morocco both coming from long balls. It’s clear that Canada’s defenders don’t have the pace to deal with fast attackers latching on to the long ball, yet as we’ve seen in games since the World Cup…Herdman hasn’t adapted.
As for set pieces, particularly corners….oh boy. I went back and watched some Canada women’s games under Herdman’s tenure. The two most heartbreaking games in his time were the 4-3 defeat to the States at the 2012 Olympics, and the 2-1 defeat to England at the 2015 World Cup, naturally, Canada conceded a goal from a set piece in both games. The goal in particular against England even doubled as a long ball over the top.
In a 3-0 defeat to the US (2013), they conceded a goal from a long ball over the defence, in a 3-0 defeat to Japan (2013) they conceded from a corner, there are plenty of other examples and don’t get me wrong – no team is perfect with all arts of defending. But John Herdman’s teams have a problem that goes back over a decade now.
It’s not gotten any better with the men’s team, going as far back as the 4-1 defeat to the US in 2019 Herdman teams have struggled with the same old weaknesses. Canada conceded twice in World Cup Qualifying to long balls over the top, and were incredibly fortunate not to concede from corners in the home games against Mexico as the States.
The point I’m trying to home in is that this defensive weakness is something that doesn’t show any signs of getting better. Even in the 2023 GOLD Cup Canada are still conceding this type of goal!
Signs are definitely showing that the tide is turning, Herdman was seen as a man who can do no wrong not that long ago. Yet now there is growing frustration with his tactics, his player selection, and even now his answers to media questions, in which he often fails to take responsibility for results. The 2026 World Cup is the best chance soccer has ever had to truly take off in Canada, and the best chance Canada will have to make an impactful World Cup campaign, surly there must be nerves that Herdman isn’t the man to unlock this team’s full potential?
Okay, he got the team to Qatar, but look at this team. Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Tajon Buchanan, Stephen Eustáquio, Alistair Johnstone and Cyle Larn etc, to be frank anything but World Cup qualification with that squad would’ve been a sackable offence. I’m not saying it was an achievement worth celebrating, but on paper it should’ve been expected. Canadas big results have came against the weakness Mexico side in decades, and the USA with Gregg Berhalter in charge, they have failed to deliver any other time they’ve faced a stern test.
But here’s the thing…what does Canada soccer do? First off, Herdman is realistically not going anywhere. He has too much credit in the bank and will always be thought of highly. The other issue is that the Canadian Soccer Association isn’t exactly swimming in cash. John Herdman is contracted to the end of the 2026 World Cup, meaning he would be entitled to significant financial compensation should the unthinkable happen and he is fired.
Furthermore, Canada would barely be able to afford a higher-quality manager. Anyone holding out for Carlo Ancelotti needs to come back it the real world, a new Canada manager would more than likely be some out-of-work mediocre MLS manager (I heard Bob Bradley is now free…)
So that’s the John Herdman problem. He has clearly raised Les Rouges floor to a level not seen in generations. But the ceiling is limited, a stubbornness in tactics and player selection will see Canada always struggle against better teams, and even weaker teams should their key players be missing.
But Herdman represents the best candidate the CSA can attract, so unless something dramatically changes, we have to get into the boat and enjoy the ride. All while hoping John Herdman can adapt as a manager come 2026.
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