TORONTO – Asked what Canadian fans could expect from their team against the U.S. on Tuesday at BMO Field, John Herdman simply said: “Everything. Just everything.
“These boys are going to give everything.”
The CONCACAF Nations League A group stage resumes for the Canadians when they welcome their southern neighbours to Toronto next week. Having taken six points from wins in both matches against Cuba in September, Canada is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s exciting, really exciting,” smiled Herdman, “I said to the guys, right in the first meeting, ‘We’ve all been brought here for some reason. You don’t know sometimes why, but we’re all here.’
“It’s all coming together. We’re just waiting for that moment where we step forward, silence the critics, but also ignite those that want to see this team do well.”
Canada progressed through qualification for League A of the Nations League with ease, winning all four matches against the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and French Guiana, outscoring their opponents 18-1.
At the Gold Cup this summer, Martinique and Cuba, where Canada won 4-0 and 7-0, respectively, provided a similar level of opposition. Under Herdman, only matches against Mexico and Haiti at the tournament in June proved a challenge: Canada lost 3-1 to the Mexicans and 3-2 to Haiti, after taking a 2-0 lead into half-time.
The U.S. fit squarely into that second classification of opposition.
“We know where the U.S. stand,” stated Herdman. “They’re up there with the best we’ve played. We’ve only played Mexico and Haiti that really challenged us, so this is building on those learnings, an opportunity to say what did we take from those two matches?”
“From Mexico, when we went into our identity, changed how wanted to play, put certain players on the field together we really tested them, scored a goal, first time in over a decade,” he continued. “And then against Haiti, 2-0 up against a good team, and the lessons from that that the boys have taken will be carried into these games.”
Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley will be there too, though Jozy Altidore was forced to withdraw.
Against one of the giants of CONCACAF, it is incumbent upon the Canadians to rise to the occasion.
“For whatever reason we weren’t ready at the Gold Cup. We believed we were and we didn’t deliver,” levelled Herdman. “We’ve got to believe we’re going to be ready now.
“It’s going to turn, we know it’s going to turn, it has to turn. This team, when you sit in meetings with them, when you’re on the field, there is an energy, a passion, a culture, it’s a solid group. It’s just a matter of time before that moment happens and when it does, the country will get behind us.”
With those lessons absorbed, Herdman believes Canada can go toe-to-toe with the best that the region has to offer: “I look at a 40-minute stretch against the Mexicans. The first half we had a very deliberate strategy of playing with a back-five, keeping some weapons until a certain period in the game.
“When we released those weapons, we showed we were more able to more than compete. We were equal in the number of attacks and threatened them. The gap is closing, but I feel that’s the same for Curacao, for Haiti.”
At stake are not just the points in the Nations League group itself and a route to the CNL Final Championship next June – only the group winner moves on, but valuable Fifa points that could allow Canada to leap into the top six in Concacaf and thus earn a spot in the Hexagonal World Cup Qualification process next August.
In the most recent September rankings, Canada are seventh, five points behind El Salvador and two ahead of Curacao. They have until the June 2020 edition to establish position.
The benefits of a win over the Americans would be bountiful.
“This is 17 points. This is massive for us,” allowed Herdman. “For the U.S.A., they’ve already qualified for the Hex. But for us, 17 points could change everything.
“What’s more important is [the team] get out there, give their best in front of that crowd, so this country can go: ‘OK, it’s here. This team is here now.’ That’s what we want more than anything.”
Where there is a will, there is a way.
“It’s a question of the will: the will to get the job done,” said Herdman. “This group have got the belief, they feel they’ve got the talent there as well, to get a result and put a performance on, but it will all come down to that will.”
“When the U.S. play Canada, the U.S. won’t want to get beat,” he added. “Canada have always wanted to beat the U.S. So it will come down to who wants it more.
“And I’ve got a feeling our boys will leave it all out there. There’s nothing better than a football match like that where it’s all out on the field.”