What's next for CanMNT, Toronto FC after surprise John Herdman move?
In a titanic set of moves, John Herdman stepped down as head coach of the Canadian Men’s National Team on Monday, before joining Toronto FC as their newest bench boss shortly after.
After over five years in the CanMNT job, it’s a big move for Herdman, who will be helming the bench of a club team for the first time.
Yet, despite that, his departure from the CanMNT leaves more questions than answers. Given that Canada’s about to co-host a World Cup in 2026, it’s a big surprise to see Herdman trade that opportunity for the volatility and instability of the club game.
At the same time, this has been brewing for a while. As was first reported by Joshua Kloke of the Athletic, who broke the initial news of Herdman’s hiring, instability within Canada Soccer has played a huge role in this move.
He's no stranger to BMO Field. Welcome, Gaffer 👏— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) August 28, 2023
Toronto FC name John Herdman as Head Coach#TFCLive
Because of that, it’s understandable to see why a job like TFC’s would be enticing to Herdman, as it’ll allow him a chance to try and turn around a massive club in need of a refresh.
Now, however, it’s left Canada Soccer in a precarious situation less than three years out from the World Cup, for which they’ve already qualified. Of course, their guaranteed participation in that tournament could prove to be tempting for some top candidates, but some of those candidates could also be turned away by the aforementioned instability, as well as budget concerns.
Safe to say, that’ll leave Canada Soccer with a tall task to find a proper Herdman replacement with that in mind. With a quickly growing player pool and a team eager to build off its participation at the 2022 World Cup, it’s a crucial moment for the program, one that could end up defining this generation.
With all of that in mind, however, here’s a look at what this means for Herdman, TFC and Canada, who all have different kinds of pressure on them now after this latest news.
What does this mean for Herdman?
First and foremost, Herdman emerges as a key winner here.
Undoubtedly, staying at the CanMNT for 2026 looked to be a big priority, and why not? Despite making the 2022 World Cup, the plan was always to really do some damage in 2026, and that’s been the case since day one.
Yet, while that was certainly a goal, it was also one Herdman didn’t need to accomplish. Given that he’d already coached at a home World Cup back in 2015 with the CanWNT, it’s not as if it would’ve ticked off an item on the bucket list by doing so once again.
You add that he’s already been to multiple World Cups, Olympics and more, which meant that he was in a position where he didn’t need to go to the 2026 World Cup.
Of course, that’s not to say that he wouldn’t have wanted to - coaching in a World Cup is a huge deal for a manager, especially a home World Cup - but it meant that he could tackle that task with a different perspective.
And based on his comments earlier this year, it looks like he wanted to use that World Cup as a chance for Canada to really prove that they can do some damage in the men’s game. Not just show up, score a goal and be there, but make a run, and really show that the pendulum is shifting internationally.
Because of that, it’s telling that he’s chosen to depart in the way that he has. Feeling that Canada Soccer wasn’t doing enough to help him achieve that goal, he decided to look elsewhere, and that’s where the TFC job came into play.
Given that the lack of resources had already impacted his team’s ability to find success this past year, he was the only one who could stand to lose by staying in his job, as he took the brunt of the criticism for some of Canada’s struggles at the 2022 World Cup, 2023 Nations League and 2023 Gold Cup.
Of course, that’s only natural - as a manager, you’ll always have that pressure, and you’ll have to wear it when things don’t go well. Yet, for Herdman, why would he want to take unneeded pressure and risk hurting his reputation while already not receiving enough support, when he didn’t really need to?
Therefore, it shows why taking this TFC job makes a lot of sense for him. Undoubtedly, he’ll have more pressure there, especially given that this is his first club job, but at least he can push to prove doubters wrong by trying something he has flirted with for a while, all while being backed by a club that has not been shy in investing in their team.
And while he’ll surely be disappointed not to see his 2026 project through to the end, he can embark on this new adventure feeling quite proud of what he accomplished in the international game, ready to do the same in club soccer.
What does this mean for TFC?
As for Toronto, however, this hire is an intriguing one.
No doubt, given their current situation, Herdman makes a lot of sense for them right now. A team that looks fractured on and off the field, it feels like a complete cultural reset is needed at the club.
And in terms of managers who can do that, there aren’t many better out there than Herdman. As he showed with his time with both the CanWNT and CanMNT, he can do an excellent job of unifying a locker room, no matter how fractured it might’ve seemed.
That was huge in the international management game, given that you can’t ship players in and out like in the club game, as it allowed Canada to get the most out of their players - who for better or for worse, they were stuck with.
Therefore, look for that to be a big goal of Herdman’s with Toronto. Especially given that he’ll have the option of being able to clean out any players who he feels don’t align with his vision, he should have no issues in terms of trying to unify this TFC side.
Where the questions will lie, however, is in his tactics, and that’s the gamble that Toronto is taking.
Certainly, Herdman’s a better tactical manager than given credit for - his flexible tactical identity allowed Canada to catch teams by surprise on their run to the 2022 World Cup, which shouldn’t be forgotten.
At the same time, there have been some questions about how tactically solid he is when teams prepare for him, and his ability to adjust when opponents start to figure out his strengths and weaknesses. In particular, those two factors have played a huge role in Canada’s struggles over the last 12 months, such as when the US soundly defeated Canada in the Nations League final.
For a Toronto team that has invested a lot of money into their squad, they’ll be hoping that Herdman can overcome that, helping TFC click into a well-oiled machine on the field.
Plus, for what it’s worth, the club game could prove to help Herdman in that regard - he’ll have far more training sessions and time to work on tactics with his team than he did at the international level, which will both help. Plus, you add that he's got familiarity with a few Toronto players from his time with Canada, such as Jonathan Osorio, and that will also be a bonus for him.
But given that he’ll be perceived as an “unproven” manager given his lack of experience at the club level, Herdman will have to find his feet, quickly, as Toronto fans won’t be afraid to demand more from him.
Especially given that many of them felt that an experienced manager or big-name hire was the best way to organize their chaotic on-field product, those thoughts will only creep in if Herdman doesn’t show signs of turning the ship around, quickly.
Yet, that’s the risk that TFC is taking, as they look to bank on Herdman to provide similar magic to them as he did the CanMNT after his hiring.
What does this mean for Canada?
Undoubtedly, however, the big loser from this has to be the CanMNT. For a team that is less than three years away from the World Cup, to lose their manager the way they did is a huge blow.
Because of that, they’ve got a tall task ahead of them, as they look to pick up the pieces now.
The good news? It’s not as if Herdman’s departure is catastrophic, at least from an on-field perspective.
In international management, moves like this happen all the time. Plus, given that they’re about to co-host the World Cup, there will certainly be outside interest in the job, so there should be no shortage of candidates.
Now, however, they’ll have to find a way to properly replace Herdman. Given that he’s been very involved with the program for so long and has his fingerprints on the game across the country, that’ll be a tall task, especially for a federation in turmoil.
John Herdman Departs Canada Soccer— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) August 28, 2023
Men’s National Team.#CANMNT
Yet, this is also a chance for them to have a reset on the field. If they can find the right candidate, that could also be a big boost for them, helping them reach another level.
Look at what happened on the Canadian women’s side, where Herdman’s departure was originally seen as a devastating loss there, too. After a less-than-memorable stint from Kenneth Heiner-Moller, however, in came Bev Priestman, and she led the team to an Olympic gold medal.
Not to say that will happen now with the CanMNT, but the beauty of hiring a new coach is that it offers a fresh start, one that can either go well or poorly.
What that means, however, is that they’ll have to be very careful with that hire.
Because of that, it’ll be intriguing to see in what direction they head, as they begin their coaching search, which will be carried out immediately while Mauro Biello picks up the reins as interim manager.
Can they find a way to woo a big-name manager? Or do they go for a safer hire? How about taking a risk on an unproven manager?
Those will all be worth watching, but either way, one thing’s for sure - this is a huge moment for the CanMNT.
If handled poorly, it could be a move that sets the program backwards, erasing the last few years of progress that they made. If done properly, however, it could also set them back on track, setting them up nicely for 2026.
Naturally, given the circumstances under which this occurred, the former happening is the fear of many supporters, and understandably so, but now it’ll be up to Canada to try and prove that wrong and make the most of this situation, one that no one saw coming just months ago.