April 25, 2024

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Canada manager John Herdman front-runner for Toronto FC job: Sources

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Canada manager John Herdman front-runner for Toronto FC job: Sources

Canada men’s national team manager John Herdman is considered the front-runner to be appointed Toronto FC head coach, sources briefed on the negotiations said. This follows The Athletic’s August 14 report that Herdman and Toronto had conversations about the position.

While the possibility of TFC hiring Herdman could still collapse in the final stages, multiple sources briefed on recent events said Herdman met with Toronto FC officials in Toronto in August to discuss the role. Herdman’s representation originally approached TFC with interest in the job, those sources said.

Other coaches on the shortlist with Herdman for the position include Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, D.C. United assistant Carl Robinson and former Queen’s Park Rangers manager Mark Warburton.

Herdman remains at the top of the list. What remains in the air, however, is the possible timing of the hire. According to sources, there remains some debate within TFC and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment about whether to appoint a new coach during the season — which would give the team its third coach this season — or wait until the offseason, when a more comprehensive examination of TFC can be conducted by MLSE.

Sources briefed on the interview process told The Athletic that TFC president Bill Manning wants the next coach to undergo a full rebuild of the team’s roster.

TFC has just nine matches remaining this season and while they are not mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, they are second to last in the Eastern Conference with 19 points after 25 matches. Their 0.76 points-per-game is last in MLS. TFC fired head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley on June 26, naming Terry Dunfield interim manager. Jason Hernandez has since been named general manager.

Any debate over whether the 2023 season is TFC’s worst seems to have ended. With one of the highest payrolls in the league, TFC is in the middle of a 10-match MLS winless streak, during which they have scored just five goals. Their Leagues Cup campaign was a disaster, with the team losing both matches by a combined score of 6-0.

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Toronto last made the playoffs in 2020.

All of which would set Herdman up to try and do what he did with Canada’s men’s national team: build it up to contention from the ground up. It’s that opportunity to have a clean slate and plenty of runway to improve TFC that must appeal to Herdman.

Herdman led the Canada men’s team to the 2022 World Cup, only the second qualification in men’s team history and the first since 1986. A generation of unprecedented young talent led Canada to the top of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but the team failed to earn a point over three games at the World Cup and subsequently lost in the Nations League final and Gold Cup quarterfinal this summer.

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For Herdman, the timing for a move out of Canada Soccer and to TFC lines up well: Canada Soccer has been unable to book any friendlies for the upcoming September international window, citing “financial constraints,” according to interim general secretary Jason deVos.

In July, deVos told The Athletic that Canada Soccer was exploring collaborating with the United States Soccer Federation and the Mexican Football Federation on friendly opportunities. Germany, Ghana and Uzbekistan are all traveling to the United States to play friendlies against both the United States and Mexico during the upcoming international windows, but Canada was unable to secure friendlies with any of these opponents.

The only match Canada has on the books is an Oct. 13 friendly against Japan. With over a month and a half until Canada’s next match, Herdman could see a prime opportunity to make his transition to a new role. And with just one match scheduled, compared to the likes of regional rivals Mexico and the United States, who each have four matches booked for the September and October windows combined, Herdman’s frustration with Canada Soccer’s financial limitations may have driven him away from the federation.

Herdman’s public frustration with Canada Soccer boiled over after the Nations League final loss to the United States in June. He lambasted his own federation for a lack of resources compared to other CONCACAF teams and said Canada Soccer was “not serious” about the chance to win the World Cup they are co-hosting in 2026.

The turmoil in Canada Soccer has not subsided. Contract negotiations with Canada Soccer and the men’s national team are ongoing. On Aug. 18, representatives from Canada’s men’s national team player’s association released a statement, saying that “Canada Soccer has threatened to stop scheduling games, including potentially our CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal matches in November, and thereby eliminate our ability to qualify for the 2024 Copa America, unless and until we agree to reduce our offer even lower.”

Should Canada not participate in official FIFA-sanctioned matches, the men’s national team would be suspended by FIFA. Nevertheless, recent statements suggest an end to the turmoil is nowhere in sight.

And that could, at least in part, be spurring Herdman’s move to TFC.

Herdman has never shied away from making surprise moves. His January 2018 move from Canada’s women’s national team to the men’s team caught many members of the women’s team off guard and came less than 18 months before the women’s team would enter the 2019 World Cup as one of the favorites.

This time around, should Herdman indeed depart, the move might not come as a total shock to the men’s national team. Multiple sources close to the men’s national team told The Athletic that recent results as well as Herdman’s recent tactical decisions have led to the team not being as unified under its coach as it was before the 2022 World Cup.

Hiring Herdman would be a coup for Manning, the TFC president. He has long wanted TFC to be a home for national team players heading into the 2026 World Cup when BMO Field in Toronto will host games. Landing Canada’s national team coach would be a step in that direction. Herdman would be a high-profile hire that would provide promise to TFC fans. He is still lauded by many Canadian soccer fans and having him on the touchline could be seen as a reason for fans to attend TFC matches.

(Photo: Omar Vega / Getty Images)


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