Canada men’s soccer team coach bullish about qualifying for 2022 FIFA World Cup

Canada men's national soccer team newly-announced coach John Herdman poses for a picture at BMO Field in Toronto on February 26, 2018.
Canada men's national soccer team newly-announced coach John Herdman poses for a picture at BMO Field in Toronto on February 26, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO – On a day when the Canadian Soccer Association unveiled its 2019-21 strategic plan with slick videos and speeches, Canada men’s coach John Herdman got straight to the point.

World Cup, here we come. And not just the 2026 men’s tournament that Canada is co-hosting with Mexico and the U.S.

“We’re going to qualify for 2022 Qatar,” Herdman told a news conference Monday at BMO Field. “And lay the foundation for 2026.”

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Given Canada has only ever qualified for the 1986 men’s World Cup, the silver-tongued Englishman might as well have dropped the microphone right there and then and walked off.

The new strategic plan, subtitled Canada Soccer Nation, is supposed to help get him there.

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The document itself is pithy, although a supporting website is to come.

A short welcome from Canada Soccer’s president and general secretary is followed by nine triangles encompassing stake-holders (players, clubs, coaches) plus talking points (performance, participation, collaboration) and buzzwords (align, stabilize, innovate).

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The CSA says it surveyed 3,000 Canadians as well as its clubs and provincial partners in coming up with the plan, as well as surveying similar plans in other countries.

For CSA president Steven Reed, Monday was another chance to tout the million-plus Canadians who play soccer. He said in touring the globe to sell the so-called united World Cup bid, people were “flabbergasted” at the numbers.

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“They all think that hockey is our main sport. Well it’s not. I mean you see it on TV a lot, but soccer is really the primary sport in our country and we want to continue to make it that way and grow it,” Reed said.

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The previous strategic plan, issued in early 2014 under the title Leading a Soccer Nation, was almost as pithy. The document was divided into four goals with 27 sub-points.

The CSA can point to a job well done in hosting a successful Women’s World Cup in 2015, bringing the men’s World Cup to Canada as well as well as forming a domestic pro league – with the Canadian Premier League poised to kick off in April.

For Herdman, the new plan is about clarity.

“I think the World Cup 2026 has brought an acute focus for this organization to do sort of everything in its power to ensure that Canada can compete at that World Cup,” he said.

For Canadian women’s coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller, the blueprint is about developing players and coaches for the future.

For CSA director of development Jason deVos, the strategic plan is a chance to work at the grassroots level with soccer clubs. The CSA’s club licensing program, for example, is a bid to help clubs provide a safe, enjoyable and inclusive environment, one that is “developmentally appropriate” and which meets provincial terms of membership.

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For CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli, noting another strategic plan will be unveiled ahead of the 2026 World Cup, this transitional three-year blueprint is a chance to develop momentum and prepare ahead of 2026.

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On the women’s side, the goal is to help the team reach No. 1 in the rankings.

The Canadian women, ranked fifth in the world, are gearing up for the Women’s World Cup this summer in France. Heiner-Moller anticipates a long run at the tournament.

“We want to be there for the end,” he said.

“There are six, maybe seven teams that can go there to win it. We’re one of them,” he added.

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Canadian captain Christine Sinclair could make history along the way. She has 178 goals, just six behind retired American Abby Wambach’s world record of 184.

Heiner-Moller expects Sinclair to surpass that number. “And I cannot see that (new) record ever being broken.”

Herdman and Heiner-Moller worked together when Herdman ran the women’s program and the Dane was one of his assistants. That co-operation continues today with the two programs sharing staff and expertise, they say.

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The Canada men were ranked 84th in the world – sandwiched between Albania and the Congo DR/South Africa – when the 2009-13 strategic plan was released in October 2008.

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And they were No. 111, between Bahrain and Guatemala, in January 2014 when the 2014-18 blueprint was unveiled.

Canada is currently No. 78, between Belarus and Iraq.

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But under Herdman, there is a new feel to the national team – positivity fuelled by the presence of a talented youth corps led by the likes of Bayern Munich teenager Alphonso Davies.

When the last strategic plan was released, the Canadian men were winless in 14 games (0-11-3) and hadn’t scored in 10 games. The run included an 8-1 humiliation in Honduras that ended World Cup qualifying hopes.

Today Canada has won four straight, albeit against lower-ranked opposition. The men stand third in the CONCACAF Nations qualifying standings and, with one more game to go, making the Gold Cup and elite CONCACAF Nations Group A seem in their reach.

Off the field, the CSA touts its new sponsorship deal with Nike which Montopoli says will “take us to another level that we’ve never been able to achieve just on our own.”

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