On Monday afternoon, the Canadian men’s soccer team returned to train at the cold but familiar confines of BMO Field, one year to the day since an emphatic victory over Jamaica took them to their first World Cup in 36 years.
So much has happened since then — good and bad, on and off the field — the anniversary felt less like a chance for happy reflection, and more like a time to settle accounts.
Head coach John Herdman might have preferred to focus on Tuesday’s match against Honduras. A win or a draw will see Canada through to the CONCACAF Nations League finals in Las Vegas in June. A loss means the Hondurans will go to the desert instead.
But the conversation soon turned to the ongoing institutional crisis at Canada Soccer.
Herdman, who coached the Canadian women before he coached the men, was asked how he felt when he heard that now-departed president Nick Bontis had referred to Christine Sinclair’s demands for equal pay and treatment for the women as “bitching.”
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Herdman took a long time to answer. His face went hard, and his eyes went black.
“I think frustrated,” he said. “Really frustrated.”
He was then asked what it has been like to coach through relentless off-field drama, including boycotts, real and threatened, by both national teams; protracted contract negotiations over World Cup compensation and other matters; the departures of Bontis, chief marketing officer Sandra Gage, and, this week, communications director Richard Scott; and reports that Herdman himself was on the verge of leaving to coach New Zealand’s men.
“It’s not easy,” Herdman said. “Given I think everything that everyone has put into the program over the last 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20 years … There’s a lot of people who’ve sacrificed a lot. We’ve worked hard to get to this moment — really hard to get to this moment.
“It should be different.”
Victorious return to action
Last Saturday, the men played their first game since their three losses at the World Cup in Qatar, a steady-if-uninspired 2-0 Nations League victory over Curaçao that set the table for Tuesday’s group-deciding match. That win also guaranteed Canada a place in this summer’s Gold Cup.
It should have been celebrated as the start of a new and potentially historic cycle, the kickoff to a fresh World Cup campaign. The men have a guaranteed place in the 2026 tournament, which Canada will co-host alongside the United States and Mexico.
Instead, clouds obscured the fireworks.
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Perhaps a victory over tough Honduras will prove a better reset: a chance to remember the heights that this team reached not so long ago and start dreaming about what might yet come. A damp early-spring day made it hard to imagine, but the eyes of the world will turn to a summer-warm BMO Field in a little more than three years.
“We will keep on the path and focused,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. “That starts with winning the game tomorrow.”
Alistair Johnston, who is a member of the leadership group that’s been negotiating with Canada Soccer on behalf of the rest of the team, has fought to balance the demands of a professional move to Scottish giant Celtic with his desire to improve every aspect of Canada’s national program.
“It’s about finding that balance,” he said. “You’ve got to focus on your club, but at the same time, we understand it’s not just about our national team — it’s about all of Canada Soccer.
“At the end of the day, we know that if we take care of what we need to take care of on the field, it helps everything off the field as well. We want to be a world class organization on the pitch and off the pitch, and if we can really take care of business on the pitch, it makes everyone’s life a little bit easier. And puts pressure on other people to run the business like a world class business.”
It’s a hopeful, appealing idea — that success will begat success, and the players can set an example with their on-field performance that their governing body will be inspired to follow.
The weight of years of institutional failure, much of it unresolved, sits heavy on that belief.
There is only one way to know whether winning will prove the remedy, and a new Canada Soccer will emerge in time for 2026: First, beat Honduras on Tuesday night.
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