John Herdman was on OneSoccer Today on Thursday night speaking one-on-one with Gareth Wheeler.
Throughout the 27-minute interview (which you can watch in full here), Herdman and Wheeler discussed a number of topics, with a main focus on the upcoming June international window, which will see Canada play Aruba and Suriname to close out Group B action.
The uncertainties around who Canada will play in the second round of qualifying, should they get there, are one of the biggest things on Herdman’s mind ahead of the June international window. If Canada, currently leading Group B on goal difference, win the group, they’d take on the winner of Group E, which is very tight as things stand, in the second round playoff just a few days later.
There are travel concerns about which country they’ll suddenly need to travel to on short notice.
“That playoff game, I’ve never seen anything like it in all my time in football,” Herdman said. “On the 8th of June, you have to wait until the 90th minute to know whether you’re going to go to Belize, Haiti, or Nicaragua. [There is] complexity and the planning, and trying to understand how you set up COVID realities in three different countries.
“Even doing it in one country outside of Canada has been a challenge. You’re excited about the football side, but as the leader of a program, there are so many other parts to this. You’re becoming a foreign ambassador to find out how to get people into countries,” he added with a laugh.
Herdman isn’t sure yet which players will be available for him in June, as things like travel restrictions and players possibly working on transfers to new clubs are among the potential roadblocks.
“Given the realities of what many of these players just experienced in Europe, which was a very heavy season, their families – mentally and emotionally – they need a break,” Herdman said.
There were two things that stood out for Herdman during the last international break in March, which saw Canada, missing a few key players, beat Aruba 5-1 and Cayman Islands a record-breaking 11-0.
“One was all of the top players committing to come in, at a time when they were putting their health and livelihood at risk,” Herdman started. “Atiba (Hutchinson) for me was a great example of that. He’s a guy that’s pushing to be at the top of his league, in probably the twilight of his career, he’s pushing to win a cup in that league, and he’s got three kids. Those windows are typically times where he goes into recovery mode.
“It shows that men are committed to taking this country to the next level.”
One of them is Alphonso Davies. Herdman was pleased with Davies’ desire to keep pushing for more and more goals against Cayman Islands, even when Canada were leaving no doubt as to who was the better team.
“The second moment that really spoke to us was in the Caymans game, where you had Alphonso (Davies) picking the ball out of the net on the sixth goal,” Herdman said. “This is a kid that’s just won everything in football domestically and at the European level, earning big salaries, no crowd, playing against an amateur team, and he’s there picking the ball out of the back of the net and running it back to halfway.
“They’re very clear and committed to perform for this country, to take this country to the next level, which is the Octagon for us, and to ignore the risks that have been put in front of them.”
The “Octagon” Herdman speaks of is the third round of qualifying for Concacaf teams ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Canada is currently in the first round of qualifying. If they win their group, which they’re leading as it stands, they’ll qualify for the second round.
In the second round, they would play one of the other five group winners in a two-leg series, with the three winners of those ties making it to the “Octagon” as it’s become known, or the third round of qualifying.
There, the three winners of the second round would join the top five Concacaf nations from July 2020 FIFA rankings (Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras) in another round-robin, with the top three from round three qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place team will play a playoff game against a team from another federation for another shot at qualification.
Before Canada can even think about the third round, they need to qualify for the second one, and that just got a little bit harder. Suriname have been ramping up their efforts to recruit players from the Netherlands, something that Herdman says might make Suriname a top ten team in Concacaf.
“I think the silver lining of the cancelled matches in October and November for Suriname is it’s given them a window of nine months to recruit up to 15 players,” Herdman said. “The local players that took them to Gold Cup qualification have been sidelined and a group of Dutch national players with Suriname heritage have been called in. Guys from Galatasaray, guys from Feyenoord, from the Bundesliga.
“When we were put into this competition pathway, people said ‘it’s just an easy route for Canada’, but I don’t think anyone had anticipated what Suriname was planning, and what they were able to do during that period of time. It’s going to be a hell of a challenge, and that’s what our players want, what we need.”