Breaking down the next steps for a new CanMNT coach ahead of 2026 World Cup
Quietly, the CanMNT are now just over two months away from a crucial matchup, as they get set to take on Trinidad and Tobago in a one-game, last-ditch 2024 Copa América qualifier in Frisco, Texas on March 23rd.
If they win that game, a spot in the Copa América awaits them, giving them a chance to play Lionel Messi and defending World Cup and Copa América champions Argentina in the tournament’s opening match, in what would likely be one of the biggest games in the program’s history, if not the biggest.
With a loss against Trinidad, however, that opportunity to play on one of soccer’s biggest stages would quietly slip away from their grasp, denying them some vital preparation games on their quest for the 2026 World Cup.
Safe to say, that gives a pretty good idea of why Canada will want to take that Trinidad game quite seriously.
This #CopaAmérica draw is perfect for the #CanMNT, *if* they beat 🇹🇹— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) December 8, 2023
They get a needed but extremely tough test vs Argentina, who is in fantastic form, but have a chance vs Peru/Chile even though those will also be 2 tough games. Gives them a chance of KOs
Yet, despite being so close to this crucial T&T qualifier, the CanMNT still has some important business to take care of. In fact, they’ve got one key item to address: hiring a new coach to lead the team for that match.
As it stands, Mauro Biello remains the team’s interim head coach, but after Canada’s heartbreaking loss to Jamaica in the quarter-finals of the 2023-2024 Concacaf Nations League, where they blew a 3-1 lead on aggregate to bow out 4-4 on away goals, denying them of direct qualification to the Copa América and a chance at their first trophy since 2000, his position as coach remains in doubt.
Because of that, it seems likely that Canada Soccer will bring in a new CanMNT coach, especially now that they’ve hired a General Secretary, Alyson Walker, given that all indications were that they wanted to make that hire before even looking at changing CanMNT coaches.
But with this Trinidad & Tobago game rapidly approaching, the pressure is mounting for that hire to be made as soon as possible to maximize preparation time, especially knowing what’s at stake in that game.
And that’s not even the only piece of business that a new hire will have to contend with. With just two-and-a-half years until the 2026 World Cup, which will be co-hosted by Canada, the CanMNT has all sorts of work to do if they’re to compete at that tournament.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of what this new hire will have to take care of over the next three years, from qualifying to the Copa América and more. No matter if it’s Bobby Smyrniotis, Wilfried Nancy or the recently fired Jose Mourinho, that to-do list is pressing and will need to be taken care of sooner rather than later, so it’s important that whoever is brought in is ready to tackle it.
Find a way to compete against top-level opposition:
To begin, the main objective is clear for this Canadian team - find a way to be more competitive against top opposition over the next few years.
At the moment, Canada’s big struggle hasn’t been to beat teams that they’re expected to. For the most part, they’ve done a good job of doing that over the past few years, doing well to become a force in Concacaf through that.
Where they’ve struggled, however, is against top opposition, and more specifically, top opposition from outside of Concacaf.
As a result, they’ve got a record of 3W-3D-8L against top opposition since the start of 2020, with those wins coming against the US in 2022, Mexico in 2021 and Japan in 2022, while the draws were against Mexico in 2021 and the US in 2022 and 2023, showing that the small success they’ve had against top teams has mostly come against Concacaf opponents.
Of course, it’s worth noting that’s not that surprising - at the end of the day, Canada is a team that hasn’t cracked the top 30 in their history, so they’re expected to lose against those sorts of top sides when they come up against them. That’s just the nature of the game.
At the same time, with the squad that they’ve got at their disposal, it feels like there’s no reason why they can’t be more competitive than they’ve been against those teams, either.
Because of that, a new coach will have to find a way to make this side do that, or else they’ll be remembered as a strong Concacaf team, one that flirted with being great, but one that wasn’t able to make much of a dent outside of that, as it has the potential of being able to do.
And to help them do that, that’s where things like Copa América qualification are so key, knowing that it can provide more of those sorts of tests in competitive environments which will otherwise be few and far between until the World Cup, given that Canada gets to skip qualifiers.
To prove yourself against the best, you need to play the best, and being able to maximize all such opportunities to do that is key.
Pick a new captain:
At the moment, this Canadian side is in a bit of a transition phase, and there’s no better example of that than when looking at the team’s leadership group from the past few years.
The team’s three main captains during the World Cup run, Atiba Hutchinson, Steven Vitória and Milan Borjan, are now 40, 37 and 36, respectively, with Hutchinson now retired from the sport while the others near the tail-end of their careers, giving an idea of where they’re at right now.
Because of that, it’ll be important for Canada to pick some successors for those three as captains, and more specifically, some successors under the age of 27.
Having undergone a generational shift on the pitch over the last few years, one that’s seen players like Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Tajon Buchanan, Stephen Eustáquio, Ismaël Koné and more step up as key pieces, it’ll soon be time for that shift to occur at the leadership level, too.
Given that this core group of young players is expected to carry this team on the pitch through this next World Cup cycle, and likely the one after it, there’s no reason why they can’t be entrusted with key leadership roles off it now, providing stable and long-term leadership. Especially seeing that a lot of them have already begun to do so at the club level, it just shows that they’re ready to carry that over to the National Team, which is key.
Having all been with the CanMNT for at least a few years now, too, soaking up the experience and wisdom of those like Hutchinson, Borjan and Vitória, it feels like they’re now ready to make that jump, too.
Because of that, a new coach will have to help ease that transition, which they can do by pushing them to join the leadership group, while naming one of them as a captain.
It’ll be a tough choice to make, as there will be several deserving candidates, but if they can get it right, it’ll make a huge difference, pushing this group to another level.
Prepare for some tough roster decisions:
Speaking of tough decisions, however, that may be one of the important items on the list for the new head coach, as they’ll have some big calls to make when it comes to the roster.
On paper, this Canadian team remains quite talented and has several young players coming through the ranks who look to be future contributors, but they’ve remained loyal to several key players from their run to the 2022 World Cup, which has blocked the progress of some of those key young prospects.
Because of that, a new coach will have to be willing to make tough calls on some players, some of whom remain key leaders on the team, which can be hard to do.
Of course, this doesn’t mean all veterans need to be shown the door - far from it, as there are still some older players on this Canadian roster who can play a role heading into 2026, but it’s important that those who remain continue to earn their spots through their form, instead of past contributions.
Before, it made sense for this team to be a bit more veteran-heavy, as that insulated some of the young talent that came in between 2017 and 2022, but as a lot of those players have stepped up into key contributors and leaders, some of that veteran leadership isn’t as needed as it was before.
Plus, with Canada looking to compete and make a run at the 2026 World Cup, they must start looking at more players who can help them at that tournament, even if they haven’t reached their full potential yet.
Sometimes, getting young players into an environment early can pay off further down the road, (something that this team did quite well in 2018 and 2019, actually), so it’ll be important to get that process started now before it’s too late for that 2026 tournament.
Even if it means some short-term pain now, if it means long-term gains, that’s the sort of sacrifices that Canada can afford to make, especially knowing that they’ve already got their spot at the World Cup locked up.
Figure out a new tactical vision:
Yet, while picking the right personnel is important, all of that is for naught if those players aren’t set up to succeed.
Because of that, this very well may be the biggest item on the list for a new coach to address - tactics.
In particular, this CanMNT side needs to figure out its tactical vision for the 2026 World Cup, and then commit to maximizing it, while getting buy-in from all of the players.
Last thought for now, but what #CanMNT needs to take from the WC & today to take that next step tactically is the importance of a system that specifically maximizes one's best players— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) June 19, 2023
They've done it in glimpses, but need way more of that to push top teams. That's the next step
After spending most of the 2022 cycle without an identity, which worked to great success as they were able to surprise their opponents on a game-by-game basis, that surprise factor has started to wear off, and that showed in 2023.
As can be the case at the top level, teams had started to figure out what this Canadian side was doing, and were able to limit their strengths and maximize their weaknesses because of that.
Because of that, it’s imperative that Canada now commits to a tactical identity, one that makes the most of what they have, while limiting some of their deficiencies.
And, more importantly, they need to do so while getting the most out of their best players, too, which means finding a system that suits Davies, Eustáquio, David, Koné and co, with getting the most out of them being the priority.
It may seem simple, but seeing that someone like Davies has played seemingly every attacking position for Canada over the past 16 months, while David has drifted in and out of form due to different deployments, it’s felt that there’s more that can be done to maximize that pair, starting with the tactics.
From there, it’ll be important to then start making roster decisions based on those tactics, ensuring that those tactics can be put into action as best as possible going forward.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done, but there’s a reason why tactics are so crucial in international soccer, as in an environment where you are stuck with a specific player pool, knowing how to maximize said pool is a big asset, with tactics usually being the best way to do so.
Especially at the top level, where the gap between the top teams narrows, having a tactical vision that everyone commits to can make a huge difference, as seen with the success of teams like Argentina and the failures of those like Belgium at this last World Cup.
Win a trophy:
Lastly, it feels like any new CanMNT manager will have one main goal before the 2026 World Cup - to win a trophy with this team.
Be it a Nations League crown in 2024-2025 or a Gold Cup in 2025, an accomplishment like that could be a huge confidence booster for this group ahead of the 2026 World Cup.
Especially given that the CanMNT hasn’t won a trophy since 2000, it’ll be a way for this team to further announce its status as a top Concacaf nation, while further cementing the belief that they can compete with top teams.
Plus, for a group filled with players who have and continue to win their fair share of trophies at the club level, which has helped them immensely in their careers, one can only imagine what an international trophy could do for them, and thus the group.
It’s a tall ask, but this feels like the last step that this Canadian team has to take in Concacaf, and succeeding in that should only help them push them toward their other goals as a team, which would be the most important thing at the end of the day.