You also wouldn’t expect it would be a Brit who reminded a group of Canadian athletes what it meant to represent the maple leaf. But the 39-year-old did, when he was named head coach of the Canadian women’s soccer team nearly four years ago, after the admittedly “broken” team crashed out of the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany with no points.
The team analyzed the national anthem. Collectively, they can envision what form “we stand on guard for thee” takes on the field. They’ve articulated a “truth north,” and it’s all part of the game plan to get the team to the tournament final July 5 in Vancouver.
Midfielder Diana Matheson has looked to him for support during an injury-laded eight months. Goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, the country’s longest-serving player, counts on him to push her to be better every day. Christine Sinclair, one of the only household names to come out of Canadian soccer and the Lou Marsh trophy winner in 2012 as the country’s athlete of the year, calls him the best coach she’s ever had.
Despite the success, he’s striving for more. Even a chance to coach the English women two years ago couldn’t sway the manager, who wants to leave a legacy by landing his team on the podium consistently, producing Sinclairs more often and strengthening the base so there’s a wider and stronger pool of talented players to be selected.
“While my brother would say, ‘Look, you helped Canada win a bronze medal, it’s time to leave, John, the only way is down from here,’ we hadn’t built the system,” Herdman says. “My family expected us to come home and take that job on, but the job hadn’t been done here.”