The biggest change of events in Canadian soccer history unfolded before our eyes earlier this week when we were made aware that longtime Canadian women’s coach, John Herdman, was making the jump to the Men’s program. People had suggested it before, myself included, but all this is a final grasp at trying to find answers to what seems like a generation-long problem.
I’m not a veteran soccer analyst by any stretch of the imagination, but my fandom for Canadian soccer sprouted with the MLS adopting the Vancouver Whitecaps into their league. Soon came the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers, and then I later became hooked with the English Premier League. This all became like a drug to me on weekend mornings and it has grown into an obsession.
We can dissect everything that has gone wrong over the last decade, from the grassroots to Central American horror stories but the reality is Canada is turning a corner by their standards. Their Gold Cup campaign was anything but dull and World Cup Qualifying games at home are now games fans expect to win. The final two pieces of the puzzle were supposed to be a coach that knew what he was doing like Octavio Zambrano and a successful bid for the 2026 World Cup.
To me, this is why the news is so altering. Canada’s national teams’ best player still hasn’t even graduated high school yet and English players such as Scott Arfield and Junior Hoilett have committed to Canada already.
The fear of losing Herdman is a valid concern, but to say he has the ability to succeed at the Men’s game is anyone’s guess. There is a reason successful coaches at certain levels aren’t promoted to another league just because it gets more publicity. Why hasn’t Nick Saban migrated to the NFL or Mike Krzyzewski at Duke made the jump to the NBA (mind you, he just coaches the US Men’s National team in the Summer Olympics)?
Perhaps a more appropriate example would be Geno Auriemma, the Women’s basketball coach at UConn accepting a job offer at a Division I men’s program? The simple answer is it’s a completely different game.
That last paragraph isn’t supposed to come across as brash. It is fair for anyone of those questions to be asked. Personally, I think teams or schools don’t do it because they are fearful it won’t work out and they will be farther behind than they were.
In terms of the Canadian Men’s soccer coaching carousel, they pick from a larger pool of talent from coaches who have coached in Latin America before. As the track record has played out, those coaches haven’t had much success in qualifying but attendance has gone up in the last three Qualifying cycles.
With Canada slowly turning the corner, so has CONCACAF. They have introduced the CONCACAF League of Nations that will give Canada games before the 2022 cycle begins that they wouldn’t have had in previous quadrennials. For this reason, now seems like a good enough time to gamble a bit.
We don’t know all the details around the Octavio Zambrano exit, but we do know that Canada has a new coach that is already a house-hold name that is even known by non-soccer fans. This might be the spark that Canada needs. In theory, people will watch Canada’s games because of John Heardman’s success with the lovable women’s team.