Canadian men’s squad assembles in Spain next week in advance of a March 24 friendly with New Zealand with new coach John Herdman. (Photo by The Canadian Press)

Changes already underway in Canada men’s program under new coach John Herdman

TORONTO — While John Herdman’s first squad as Canadian men’s coach assembles in Spain next week in advance of a March 24 friendly with New Zealand, the players have already got a taste of the new regime.

As coach of the Canadian women’s team, Herdman was known for his attention to detail and the culture of his squad. And with just three training sessions expected before the game in Murcia, he has already got the ball rolling.

“There has been a lot of preparation,” Herdman said Monday. “I’ve spoken to every player that has been selected, as well as players that weren’t selected. I’ve had a chance to connect with a leadership group and started some preparations for that team of people.

“And I’ll move into another group of what we call unit leaders. They’ll be meeting with me today (Monday) online, on video conference, where we work through tactics and overview of our culture. So there’s some significant work happening.”

That includes giving the players access to “new online platforms” that allow for preparatory videos and communication with the coaching staff “in ways that are pretty novel for them.”

While mental performance consultant Alex Hodgins is still part of the Herdman inner circle, he will not be in Spain. Former Canadian international Robyn Gayle, who is supervised by Hodgins, will be there. After retiring, she joined Herdman’s staff with the women’s program as a full-time staff member “focusing on effective team culture.”

For Herdman, who shifted to the Canadian men from the women in early January, the goal is to establish what he calls a new high-performance culture. In doing so he has surveyed the players for what needs to be changed to revive a men’s program currently ranked 89th in the world.

Rather than treating the Spanish gathering as a mere pre-friendly camp, Herdman sees it as a chance to “connect and reframe and be clear about how we’re going to approach things.”

To face No. 121 New Zealand, Herdman has summoned a blend of experience and youth.

Experience comes in the form of Atiba Hutchinson, Milan Borjan, Dejan Jakovic, Samuel Piette and Tosaint Ricketts, who account for 249 of the 419 caps spread among the 22 players.

Herdman said, after discussions with their clubs, he opted to leave Vancouver Whitecaps teenage midfielder Alphonso Davies and Cardiff City winger Junior Hoilett with their teams. Both will feature in the future, he stressed.

The roster also includes three newcomers to the senior squad: 20-year-old centre back Derek Cornelius (FK Javor Ivanjica, Serbia), 20-year-old fullback Marcus Godinho (Hearts, Scotland), and 18-year-old winger Liam Millar (Liverpool, England).

Millar, who is playing regularly with the Liverpool under-23 team, has drawn good reviews.

“Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in the world and it’s exciting to see a player that’s plying his trade and getting consistent game time even at that youth level which isn’t easy,” said Herdman.

Cornelius, who was at a Canadian under-23 camp in January, is a left-sided centre back playing consistently for his club in Serbia. Godinho was loaned out by Hearts but is back now with the Scottish side and seeing time as a starter.

Herdman, whose focus is on qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, is looking for young centre backs given the age of the veterans he has at his disposal. And he sees Godinho and Michael Petrasso as young options at fullback.

Also included are key midfielders Scott Arfield (Burnley FC) and Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC) and striker Cyle Larin, who plays with Hutchinson at Turkey’s Besiktas.

Defender David Edgar returns to the national team for the first time since November 2016 after having missed the 2017 season through injury.

There are 10 MLS players in the 22-man squad with Osorio, Jay Chapman, Ashtone Morgan and Tosaint Ricketts representing Toronto FC. Michael Petrasso, Raheem Edwards and Samuel Piette come from the Montreal Impact and Dejan Jakovic and Mark-Anthony Kaye from Los Angeles FC and Tesho Akindele from FC Dallas.

Toronto and Montreal do not play that weekend. Vancouver plays the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Herdman’s squad features 10 players who were picked by former coach Octavio Zambrano for Canada’s last outing, a 1-0 loss to El Salvador in Houston last October.

Fourteen members of the new roster were part of Canada’s 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup team.

The New Zealand match is the first of the year for the Canadian men, who will face the U.S. Virgin Islands in September, Dominica in October and St. Kitts & Nevis in November in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying play.

Canada Roster

Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia); Jayson Leutwiler, Blackburn Rovers (England); Simon Thomas, FK Bodo/Glimt (Norway).

Defenders: Derek Cornelius, FK Javor Ivanjica (Serbia), David Edgar, unattached; Dejan Jakovic, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Manjrekar James, Vasas Budapest (Hungary); Samuel Adekugbe, Valerenga Fotball (Norway); Marcus Godinho, Hearts(Scotland); Ashtone Morgan, Toronto FC (MLS); Michael Petrasso, Montreal Impact (MLS).

Midfielders: Tesho Akindele, FC Dallas (MLS); Scott Arfield, Burnley (England); Jay Chapman, Toronto FC (MLS); Raheem Edwards, Montreal Impact (MLS); Atiba Hutchinson, Besiktas (Turkey); Mark-Anthony Kaye, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Liam Millar, Liverpool FC (England); Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Samuel Piette, Montreal Impact (MLS).

Forwards: Cyle Larin, Besiktas (Turkey); Tosaint Ricketts, Toronto FC (MLS).

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