Former Canada women’s coach Herdman starts tough task of turning men’s squad around

By Gavin Day, The Canadian Press

ROLDAN, Spain – Seeing John Herdman in the middle of a soccer field, shouting orders with the Canadian crest on his chest, is a common sight.

But that’s where familiarity ends, as Herdman is no longer surrounded by a star-studded team featuring the likes of Christine Sinclair, Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.

Herdman is holding his first camp as the head coach of Canada’s men’s national team after making the move from the women’s program in January.

His goals with his new team will be much different than he had with the successful Canadian women’s squad, which he guided to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals and took as high as fourth in the FIFA world rankings. On Saturday, the 90th-ranked Canadian men will face No. 120 New Zealand in an international friendly.

“We’re having fun,” Herdman said, his voice a bit hoarse from shouting directions. “Sometimes we’re taking it seriously, but other times we’re enjoying our moments.

“It’s been good to see the real emotion and players going at each other so I’ve enjoyed that.”

It’s a relaxed environment that surrounds Canada in its first camp under its latest head coach. Training so far has been just a short trip from the team’s hotel in a gated golf resort.

Saturday’s game will be about 20 kilometres away in the small city of San Pedro del Pinatar, a largely quiet city that will be bustling in a few months’ time as a popular vacation destination for Spaniards.

Herdman was ushered into his new position as Canada parted ways with former coach Octavio Zambrano, who was in charge of the men for less than a year.

Herdman becomes the latest coach to try and bring some measure of success to a Canadian men’s program, a task proven too hard for coach after coach.

“As a group they’ve started to see that the World Cup is realistic to them,” said Herdman. “They’ve started a bit of clarity on what it’s going to take and what the standards are going to be like moving forward.”

Herdman has surrounded himself with members of his women’s staff at this camp, including former women’s national team player Robyn Gayle, sports scientist Cesar Meylan and goalkeeper coach Simon Eaddy.

Never shy of using technology, Herdman had a coach flying a drone above the field on Thursday for aerial video of the session.

“The organization has stood out for me in terms of on and off field stuff,” said veteran David Edgar of the camp. “We’ve got a clear vision of where we want to go and how we setup the next four years. We’re going to do everything we can to succeed in that vision. But as I said, what we got is clarity.”

Herdman’s squad features plenty of experience mixed with younger talent.

In his near seven years in charge of the women, Herdman introduced young stars like Buchanan and Jessie Fleming who have developed into some of the best players in the world in the early days in their career.

He’s hoping to find more diamonds in the rough in his first men’s camp.

“I’m quite honoured that I got picked,” said 18-year-old forward Liam Millar, who’s in the youth program at Liverpool FC and played under club legend Steven Gerrard, who coaches the club’s under-18 side.

“I was quite shocked that I did get picked because I wasn’t quite expecting it but obviously he’s been watching me and tracking me and he thinks I’m good enough to step into the environment so it’s always an honour.”

Canada will see its first competitive action under Herdman in September when it’s slated to play the U.S. Virgin Islands in a qualifying game for the new CONCACAF Nations League.

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