He also sees a women’s soccer program that should only get bigger and better. He knows Canada’s heart-pounding medal run in London four years ago drew young women to the sport and expects another bump from the pulsating climb to the medal podium in Brazil.
“I made it clear to them that we had to do well in this tournament to give this program the four years extra it needs,” he said. “Because what ends up happening is you do four years and then there’s a changeover and a changeover. We now can stick a 10-year plan together — we started in 2011 — see the fruits of it, so that this team should go like the U.S. and Germany to the podium every single year, every time we’re in an event, we’re in the top four.
“Our country’s got the talent pool to do that. This is building on what we’ve done, but really it’s the start of it again. It’s fantastic.”
“We are lucky to have him and to hear him speak every day,” said veteran fullback Rhian Wilkinson. “The passion he has for the game and for us as women and as his team, it’s a real pleasure to play for him. And I think you can see that it’s both ways. We’re very very fortunate to have him.
“You can see what he’s already done in this short amount of time he’s worked with the program. And it’s not just the national team either. If you look at the development program and the youth teams, this is a really cool time to be a female in soccer in Canada.”
The 41-year-old English native took over the Canadian women after they finished last at the 2011 World Cup under then coach Carolina Morace. In the words of veteran players, the team was broken and in a dark place.
Herdman restored their self-belief, connected the players and provided the structure in which they could flourish. But he needed to refresh the squad after London, to prepare for a home World Cup in 2015 and the 2016 Olympics.
He soon discovered that the talent pipeline was flawed. Some of the youngsters weren’t ready for the World Cup stage, forcing him to revamp the development system.
Herdman had to stick with existing talent and the team exited in the quarter-finals.
When the dust settled, Herdman jettisoned some veterans and gambled on youth. Players like Deanne Rose, Janine Beckie, Shelina Zadorsky, Rebecca Quinn and Nichelle Prince joined young guns like Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming, who were already embedded in the team.
“Erin McLeod said it perfectly. She had been waiting her whole life for this team,” said Sinclair, quoting the injured ‘keeper. “John says it’s just the beginning for the program. But I’ve been waiting my whole career for this opportunity, to play with this level of talent, to have this much depth in our roster.
“It’s been a struggle, I’m not going to lie. But it makes these moments the more sweeter. It’s just the beginning but we’re in a great place to start.”
After 165 goals and 250 caps, Sinclair’s soccer journey continues. The 33-year-old star showed endless energy at this tournament, chasing down balls at both ends of the pitch. Her vision and understanding of the game remains at the highest level with Herdman talking of an eventual move to midfield where she can pull strings.
The tournament will likely be the swan song for the 34-year-old Tancredi and Wilkinson, loyal servants to their country with a combined 300-plus caps.
At the other end of the spectrum, Brazil was a coming-out party for Fleming. The 18-year-old midfielder showed her moves in setting up Sinclair’s winning goal, stealing the ball from a Brazilian and then dancing past two opponents before finding Rose in the penalty box with a perfect pass. Rose then fed Sinclair for the winner.
Fleming’s vision and technique should serve Canada for many years.
The 21-year-old made Canada’s first goal Friday, taking a deft pass from the 23-year-old Zadorsky and then racing the length of the field. After ripping open the Brazilian defence, she delivered a perfect cross to the 17-year-old Rose.
“We’re still in discussions,” said general secretary Peter Montopoli “Certainly the Canadian public will see this team. But first we have to sit down with John, find out a timetable that works for him, the staff and really the players, have them recover as well.”
The win was Canada’s 15th of 2016, a record for the women’s team. The only losses in that 15-5-0 run were to the top-ranked Americans, No 2 Germany, No. 3 France, No. 8 Brazil and No. 20 Denmark. The Canadians avenged the losses to Brazil, France and Germany with wins here, although the gold-medallist Germans had the last laugh.
According to organizers, the men’s and women’s tournament drew 1,572,429 spectators in advance of the weekend men’s medal matches. Some 143,090 of those watched Canada and it would have been more had it not been for poor turnouts in Brasilia (8,227) and Belo Horizonte (5,641) for games against Germany.
Canada averaged 32,306 at its four games at Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.