Canadian men's coach John Herdman declares need for better competition following World Cup exit
'We have to play big nations,' Herdman says about preparation for 2026 World Cup
It was a "life-changing experience" that was 36 years in the making.
Led by head coach John Herdman, Canada's men's World Cup drought ended in November.
Alphonso Davies scored Canada's first-ever goal at the men's tournament against Croatia but the 41st-ranked Canadians were eliminated in the group stage and failed to capture a desired result in Qatar.
"We were written off pretty early back in 2018," Herdman told Andi Petrillo, in his first interview since returning from the men's soccer showcase. "To galvanize the group around a clear vision with that purpose of having a moment that our country could come together and connect over was what drove us through the times you've had to go knocking on doors to get additional funding ... or just those unforgettable moments."
Herdman, from Consett, England, identified a pair of "unforgettable moments" in Canada's World Cup qualifying campaign: Davies' highlight-reel goal in a win against Panama, the frozen tundra of "Iceteca" (aka Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium), plus the victory over Jamaica in Toronto to clinch a historic World Cup berth.
Canada topped the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region following an unprecedented unbeaten run but suffered losses to No. 2 ranked Belgium, back-to-back World Cup semifinalists Croatia and No. 22 Morocco. The Atlas Lions made history on Saturday as the first African nation to advance to the World Cup semifinals following a 1-0 victory over Portugal.
WATCH l 1-on-1 with Canadian men's coach John Herdman following World Cup:
"We needed more games against that type of opponent," the 47-year-old said, looking back at Canada's World Cup run. "One error [can] lead to real punishment. I think we needed to feel some of that punishment prior to coming into the World Cup, and we hadn't.
"That's just part of a big learning that our organization will take on board as we prepare for this next World Cup."
Prior to Canada's World Cup opener against Belgium, it had been more than a decade since the men had played a top-10 team in the FIFA world rankings.
WATCH | Soccer North: Looking back on Canada's men's World Cup performance:
"We have to play big nations — big games and feel what it's like to be under the pressure of these quality players," Herdman added.
The Americans were the only CONCACAF nation that advanced to the Round of 16 this year, leaving the region with the worst performance of any single confederation.
Canada will co-host the 2026 World Cup alongside the U.S. and Mexico in an expanded 48-team tournament. All three World Cup host nations are also reportedly set to receive an invite to Copa America 2024 — South America's premier showcase event.
'We laid the foundation for 2026'
"It was really interesting to see that game against Belgium really did put us on people's radars," Herdman proclaimed. "As I said to anyone at the time who would listen, 'we had to qualify in 2022.' We had to raise the profile so we could get better games around the world, so we could raise the profile of our players to ensure more of them could get access to tier-one leagues. And secondly, to bring in the sort of revenue that's required to build the high-performance system to put more quality around the team.
"I mean, that's the beauty of 2022 for all the critics or whatever negativity came out of this World Cup – we laid the foundation for 2026. The next quadrennial is about really pushing hard to recruit those players that are on the bubble, on the dual passports.
"We've given them a reason to believe that Canada can compete now and that we are a football nation."
WATCH | Diana Matheson reveals new Canadian women's pro league set for 2025:
Herdman, who coached the Canadian women's national team from 2011-18 — capturing Olympic bronze medals in 2012 and 2016 — also recognized the efforts of Diana Matheson and Christine Sinclair, who announced plans on Monday to launch a domestic professional women's league in 2025, featuring eight teams throughout Canada.
"Amazing. Absolutely amazing. [Diana's] spirit has really driven this process," Herdman said. "She wanted this to happen. She knew it and we talked about this many moons ago. Bringing in Christine Sinclair on board was a massive key because at the end of the day, you know this country will do anything for Christine and there's a lot of people out there that will make sure that Christine's legacy and the legacy of this group of women is brought to fruition."
The league, yet to be named, is set to kick off in April 2025 with an inaugural champion crowned sometime in the fall. Each team will have at least one Canadian international and the goal is to bring home about half of the over 100 Canadians currently playing abroad.