John Herdman is now heading into his first major international tournament with Canada at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, where the competition will be tougher and real questions will be posed of his squad. John Herdman can only beat opponents presented to him and has been perfect so far in his short stint as head coach of the Canadian men’s national soccer team.Herdman is now heading into his first major international tournament with Canada at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, where the competition will be tougher and real questions will be posed of his squad.On Thursday, Herdman named his 23-man roster for the continental championship, which features an expanded 16-team field from the North, Central America and the Caribbean region.“I think selection for the Gold Cup is always a bit of a challenge when you look at players’ individual circumstances,” Herdman said in a conference call Thursday. “Whether it’s personal or injury, and where they’re at in their pre-season development, what they need for themselves first and foremost to keep their careers moving forward, and combining that with a non-FIFA window, selection is a challenging process, of course.“It’s been also an exciting one, because I think all the players that Canada has on that roster gives them a chance to push high into a Gold Cup placing. They’re there and they’re hungry and they’re absolutely committed to take this team as far as they possibly can.”Canada is grouped with Martinique, Cuba and Mexico, with the top two teams moving on to the knockout round of the tournament.Canada open against Martinique on June 15 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., then face Mexico at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver, Col., on June 19, and conclude their group stage against Cuba on June 23 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.Canada’s three group games will be played in three different time zones, and if they finish second in their group as expected, would likely play Costa Rica in the quarter-final in Houston on June 29.“I think it’s going to be a challenge for every team,” Herdman said. “It’s going to be a tough schedule and I think the realities are that you have three tough games as well. When you analyze Martinique, Cuba and Mexico they all pose a different challenge to Canada.”While Herdman is understandably respecting his first two opponents in the tournament, in reality, Canada should have little trouble getting past Martinique and Cuba before stepping up a number of weight classes to face Mexico.Herdman is a perfect 5-0 since taking over the men’s team in January 2018, after a successful stint with the women’s program, which included back-to-back Olympic bronze medals.
Canada’s Zachary Brault-Guillard, left, and French Guiana’s Miguel Haabo vie for the ball during the second half of a Concacaf Nations League qualifying soccer match in Vancouver, on Sunday March 24, 2019. Darryl Dyck / CP
Under Herdman, the Canadian men have yet to play a formidable opponent, however, with an exhibition game against New Zealand and four Concacaf qualifying matches against the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and French Guiana.Canada will play an exhibition game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 10 in Los Angeles as a tune-up for the Gold Cup.To put things into perspective, two days before Canada defeated French Guiana 4-1 in Vancouver this past March to qualify for the Gold Cup, Mexico defeated two-time defending South American champions Chile in an exhibition game in San Diego. They then defeated multiple World Cup qualifier Paraguay 4-2, four days later in Santa Clara, Calif.That’s how vast the gap is between opponents the top teams in the region — Mexico, Costa Rica and the United States — are facing and the ones Canada has been dispatching of late.So without an accurate gauge, it is difficult to set expectations on Canada at the Gold Cup.“I think as a coach, you always want to go and win the tournament, you’re always dreaming of that moment and are planning back from that last game,” Herdman said. “But at the same time, you have to go with where the players are at. That group of players, they have an internal goal, they’re pretty clear of what their targets are, so I think there is a minimum and the minimum is always to get out of that group stage and then to roll with what the tournament is throwing at you.”
Canada’s Alphonso Davies (L) and Jamaica’s Kemar Lawrence (R) fighting for the ball during their CONCACAF tournament quarterfinal match at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on July 20, 2017. Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images
In fairness to Herdman, it is not his fault Canada had to go through a qualifying tournament to get to the Gold Cup and the Nations League event, created to eliminate meaningless exhibition games during the FIFA mandated international calendar.Yet, following their first two group games, the Gold Cup will provide a more accurate assessment of where Canada stands and how far they have to go to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar before they play part in hosting the tournament in 2026.“When you go into these tournaments every game, it’s just one game at a time,” Herdman said. “You’re neither an underdog nor a favourite you just have to get clear and know that this is what they’re going to bring and we have this ability to get beyond them, whether that’s Mexico, Martinique and Cuba. We’re very clear what we can do in those games and what we have to do to get a positive outcome.”Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Twitter: @DerekVanDiestCanadian Gold Cup rosterGK- Milan Borjan, 31, Hamilton, Ont., Red Star BelgradeGK- Maxime Crépeau, 25, Candiac, Que., Vancouver Whitecaps FCGK- Jayson Leutwiler, 30, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Blackburn RoversCB- Derek Cornelius, 21, Ajax, Ont., Vancouver Whitecaps FCCB- Doneil Henry, 26, Brampton, Ont., Vancouver Whitecaps FCCB- Kamal Miller, 22, Scarborough, Ont., Orlando City SCFB- Zachary Brault-Guillard, 20, Montréal, Que., Montreal ImpactFB- Marcus Godinho, 22, Toronto, Ont., Heart of Midlothian FCFB- Ashtone Morgan, 28, Toronto, Ont., Toronto FCM- Scott Arfield, 30, Livingston, Scotland, Glasgow Rangers FCM- Atiba Hutchinson, 36, Brampton, Ont., Beşiktaş JKM- Will Johnson, 32, Toronto, Ont., Orlando City SCM- Mark-Anthony Kaye, 24, Toronto, Ont., Los Angeles FCM- Noble Okello, 18, Toronto, Ont., Toronto FCM- Jonathan Osorio, 27, Brampton, Ont., Toronto FCM- Samuel Piette, 24, Le Gardeur, Que., Montreal ImpactM- Russell Teibert, 26, Niagara Falls, Ont., Vancouver Whitecaps FCF- Lucas Cavallini, 26, Mississauga, Ont., Puebla FCF- Jonathan David, 19, Ottawa, Ont., KAA GentF- Cyle Larin, 24, Brampton, Ont., Beşiktaş JKF- Alphonso Davies, 18, Edmonton, Alta., FC Bayern MunichF- David Junior Hoilett, 29, Brampton, Ont., Cardiff City FCF- Liam Millar, 19, Brampton, Ont., Liverpool FC U-23