Canada coach John Herdman says his team need to embrace their new elevated status in the CONCACAF region when they return to action in this month’s Nations League games.
But the Englishman said that the recent disputes over pay and conditions with Canada Soccer had taken an “emotional toll” in what should have been a positive time for the team.
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The Canadians qualified for the World Cup in Qatar last year, ending a 36-year wait to return to the biggest stage but losing all three games, and Herdman says they will need to have their focus right in the games against Curacao and Honduras.
“We have to ensure there’s not any complacency going into CONCACAF,” Herdman told reporters on a call.
“We’re the hunted now, not the hunters in many ways, so there’s a lot of added motivation for this group.
“But right at the core of it, they want to experience lifting a trophy for Canada. They want to experience winning and pushing up the rankings at the world level.”
The Canadian players unions have been in negotiations with Canada Soccer over a new collective bargaining agreement after a public dispute between the Canadian women’s team and the federation and Herdman said that dispute had impacted the mood.
“There’s no doubt that what’s happening behind the scenes has taken an emotional toll,” he said.
“It should be a really celebratory time in our football history but ultimately it’s becoming a time of provocation and change. And that’s important too.”
The women’s team had threatened to boycott last month’s SheBelieves Cup before backing down and the incident led to the resignation of Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis and new talks over a collective deal.
“As a leader, I don’t think you can just ignore these things, ” said Herdman.
“I think you have to ensure you fully understand what’s happening in that environment and how people feel and what they’re really trying to say with their actions.
“But at the same time. we’re here to inspire through our performances as much as what’s happening off the pitch. That’s what I have to focus on now.”
As well as looking to secure qualification for this year’s Nations League finals and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Herdman is also looking to build his squad ahead of the 2026 World Cup, which Canada will co-host with the United States and Mexico.
– Key matches upcoming –
Herdman’s side face an away trip to Curacao on March 25 and then a home game with Honduras three days later in Toronto and the Englishman has called up three uncapped overseas-based players to his squad.
Goalkeeper Tom McGill, defender Dominick Zator and midfielder Victor Loturi all have a chance to make their debuts.
McGill, who has been with Premier League club Brighton and Hove Albion since the age of 14, has previously played for England’s Under-17 national side.
Loturi moved from Calgary club Cavalry FC, in the Canadian Premier League, to Scottish Premiership club Ross County in June.
Zator is another product of the Canadian Premier League who signed for Polish top flight club Korona Kielce in December.
Herdman said he was pleased by the way that Zator and Loturi have moved from the domestic league to test themselves in Europe.
“These are players that have progressed out of our Canadian Premier League and taken a risk to go over to the second and third tier leagues in Europe and get the experience,” he said.
“Canadians have often struggled, those that have taken that jump, they haven’t always found it easy. And these players are getting consistent minutes which is really important for selection.”
World Cup squad members Samuel Piette, Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett are unavailable through injury.