Ahead of their first World Cup since 1986, Canadian Men’s National Team stars Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan have paid tribute to head coach John Herdman.
The Englishman took over in January 2018 following a seven-year stint in charge of Canada’s Women’s National Team. Since then, he’s taken the men to new heights.
First, Les Rogues went beyond the quarter-finals of the Concacaf Gold Cup for the first time since 2007 last year, only losing their semi-final to Mexico in the ninth minute of second-half stoppage time.
Then, more importantly, Herdman didn’t just guide Canada to only their second-ever men’s World Cup. He did it in style, with the CanMNT finishing top of the qualifying group, above both Mexico and the United States.
Overall, Herdman has an incredible 31-10-5 record with the CanMNT, winning 67.39% of his games in charge so far. That record will be tested as they face Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco at the World Cup, but just to be here is an incredible achievement for the nation.
“John’s been an important part of the national team and helping us qualify for the World Cup. And in my career too,” Club Brugge striker Larin told 90min during a virtual press conference recently. “In the beginning, it was a bit rocky, but we came together and sorted it out. But for Canada I think he’s been important.
“To bring a country together, to bring a lot of players together to believe in one goal and believe in each other, I think that was very important. And he gave us that belief, and we put it onto the field. And for me, he trusted me to go out there and score goals for the country, and develop and be a better player. And you’ve seen that throughout my career in the national team. And I just think I’ll keep getting better and better. And the World Cup will show just how John Herdman influenced us to believe in each other and go on the field.”
Brugge and Canada teammate Buchanan agreed with Larin’s praise of Herdman – especially on how much ‘belief’ the coach has given to the players.
“I think Cyle was spot on with that. Since I’ve been with the program for this year and a bit, he’s really given us that mindset that we could compete with the best,” said Buchanan. “Every time we stepped on the field, we were going to win a game.
“I think that was very important for me. Watching the national team in the past, sometimes that belief wasn’t there. And yeah, obviously he brought a country together. We did special things during qualifying. It’s very special and nice to see what he’s done. And now we take another step forward on the world stage.”
Both players are in the unique position of playing their club soccer in Belgium – the nation Canada will open their World Cup campaign against on November 23.
For Buchanan, in particular, the move to Belgium has been a significant one as he adjusts to European soccer after three years in MLS with the New England Revolution.
Buchanan has been solid for Brugge so far, scoring two goals and assisting another four in 28 appearances across all competitions. That said, the 23-year-old says it’s the defensive side of the game he’s improved most since moving to Europe, though he believes the level in Major League Soccer isn’t so different.
“The leagues are fairly similar, MLS and Belgium,” said Buchanan, adding: “Playing that first six months here last year helped a lot, especially my defensive game. Playing in a deeper role, kind of right wing-back, left wing-back, or right-back or left-back. That’s helped my game a lot. And obviously, this year playing in a much deeper role has helped a lot.
“I’m very comfortable defensively now. Then my quality shows when I’m higher up the field. So that always helps.
“For the national team, my role is to play both sides of the ball, defensively and offensively. And my game has improved a lot in that sense. And I think it’s going to help the team a lot.”
Larin will face a particular sort of pressure in Qatar. As Canada’s record goalscorer with 25 goals in 54 caps, it’ll be up to the likes of him and Jonathan David – second on the list with 22 goals in 34 appearances – to pounce on chances that are likely to be few and far between.
However, the striker – who has previously played for the likes of Orlando City and Besiktas – isn’t feeling the heat and has faith in those around him to help ease the burden.
“Every time I went into the national team, I never felt the pressure of scoring,” Larin insisted. “I know the guys around me, I know the quality around me. The ball will get to me, and I’ve just got to work hard for my teammates.
“We do it together. I know the quality Tajon has, Alphonso (Davies), Jonathan (David), and our midfield. Or defense getting us the ball. I really believe in them. And that’s how I’ve always taken it. The ball always finds me in these big games, in these big games, and I’m always ready. I’ll be ready for the World Cup too.”