As we look back on the full calendar year of 2018, you have to go all the way back to Jan. 8 to find the biggest news-maker for Canada’s women’s national team.
In a move that sent shock waves not only through women’s football, but the Canadian sports landscape, it was announced that John Herdman would be leaving his post as head coach of Canada’s women’s national team coach.
If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, Herdman’s new appointment certainly was. He was announced as the new head coach of Canada’s men’s national team.
Previous assistant Kenneth Heiner-Moller was named as the new women’s national team coach. The 47-year-old had previously managed Denmark from 2006-2013 before he joined Herdman’s coaching staff in 2015.
Not only were fans and media completely blindsided by Canada Soccer’s coaching re-shuffle, but so were some shocked Canadian women’s players who seemed puzzled. Steph Labbe, Allysha Chapman and Christine Sinclair all took to social media in amazement.
— ????????? ?????́ (@stephlabbe1) January 9, 2018
Just to clarify, John did speak to me before the announcement was released. Still shocked and saddened the man who changed soccer in Canada and my life won't be leading #canWNT any longer. There is no doubt he will succeed in this next chapter as well. pic.twitter.com/iRTvGiofKA
— Christine Sinclair (@sincy12) January 10, 2018
There had been no previous inkling that Herdman was itching to move up to manage in the men’s game. Yes, he had been linked as a candidate to replace England women’s manager Mark Sampson, but that did not materialize.
As the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France nears, one question remains: Is Canada better off without John Herdman?
In the near-year since that Heiner-Moller has been in charge, Canada have a record of 8-4-0 and they out-scored opponents 34-0 while posting clean sheets. Sinclair led the way for the red and white, scoring eight goals and two assists in 12 international matches. Sinclair finished second on Canada with 979 minutes played in 2018.
If you looked closer at the quality of opponents Canada defeated in 2018, a 2-0 win over Japan, and a 1-0 win over Brazil stand out as highlights. Canada’s remaining victories came over Russia, South Korea, Jamaica, Cuba, Costa Rica and Panama.
Sweden, France, Germany, and the United States provided the toughest of challenges for Canada. In those particular matches, Canada were out-scored 9-3 in four losses.
While Canada can certainly dominate most Concacaf opponents, there is a gap that needs to be closed when they take on other tier one opposition teams. The World Cup will feature the best of the best and Canada is going to have to step up with some big wins.
It’s still too soon to determine the long-term effect that Herdman’s departure had on the team. Canada simply doesn’t play enough matches — especially at home — to really gauge what Heiner-Moller is doing to lift and improve Canada before the World Cup.
Canada will begin the World Cup in Group E against Cameroon, New Zealand and the Netherlands. They faced the latter two teams they also faced at the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
There is no margin for error at the World Cup. That’s when we will truly know if Canada can capture the enthusiasm, spirit, togetherness, and confidence they so often displayed with John Herdman at the helm.