Returning home from the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Head Coach John Herdman says that building for the future remains a top priority for the Canadian men’s national soccer team.
2022 was Canada’s first return to the World Cup since 1986 — it was a moment 36 years in the making. While Canada had an early exit after losing its first three matches to Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco, John says this experience is still a win for the team. They’re coming back more knowledgeable, hungry, and ready to prove themselves come the 2026 World Cup hosted jointly by Canada, US, and Mexico.
When asked if he was disappointed with Canada’s results during an interview, John quickly responded with, “I’m proud. I’m proud of what these lads have shown here. You know, I think you’re always gonna walk away from this, and it’s going to sting. But there isn’t a game that we’re not proud of.”
“There’s a qualitative gap at all levels, and we’re trying to close that,” he continued. “That’s what we’ll be doing, and that’s where we’ll go … We got four years to build. But this is our first step into the big unknown and we found a lot of things out in that this team has got quality, we can compete. And we were close.”
During their final game of the World Cup, Canada came close to drawing 2-2 against Morocco. Unfortunately, the last goal did not completely cross the line.
“They were two inches away from scoring the first points for Canada. I think everyone thought that ball was gonna cross the line. We were willing it, but it didn’t,” John said in a post-game interview. “So, I think you’ve seen that resilience. You’ve seen our quality. This is a Moroccan team that’s just won the group, and I thought we showed that spirit, that Canadian grit that we came here to show.”
Canada’s Historic Moments at the World Cup
John’s team still made history with Alphonso Davies scoring the first FIFA World Cup goal for Canada in their game against Croatia. We also saw astronaut Chris Hadfield cheering the team on side-by-side with John during the opening game against Belgium.
John invited Chris to speak to the team ahead of their first game. In an article with CBC, Canada’s captain Atiba Hutchinson was quoted saying, “That was a special moment for all of us. Just basically him taking us through what it took for him to be in the right mind frame to go and do what he did. Everything he spoke about was exactly what we were going through, so we could relate to it so much.”
“I don’t think there’s any better person that could have been in that room to get us prepared for that game,” Atiba continued.
John told CBC that he invited Chris to the game not only because he knows what it means to represent his country on an international level, but also because he personifies what being a pioneer means. John first met Chris through Speakers Spotlight, as we represent both of them on our roster. When speaking to the press, John said:
“…I thought I was at least a half-decent motivational speaker and then I watch him onstage playing a guitar and singing. Man, he can do it all.
“But he said some things that really resonated with me at the time. A few pennies dropped around his story, the nine-year-old kid that dreamed of walking in space. And then how deliberate he was to go on that journey. I wanted a pioneer in that [dressing] room, a true pioneer…
“He knows what it means to represent his country. He knows what it means to put his body on the line, to put it all on the line. And I told the lads I want people like that in this room. But I didn’t bring him here for that. I brought him here to share his pioneering story of being that man that did what he did. And it was brilliant. He’s just an amazing, amazing human being.”
Being a pioneer is at the forefront of John’s coaching and leadership philosophy. He explored how the pioneering mindset was crucial to the team’s success in our most recent Virtual Speaker Series event. John said:
“When you take on a group that hasn’t had success for 36 years at the international level, you know that performance cage is going to be there. As a coach, your job is to unlock and open it… The pioneering mindset was critical to us. From the first team meeting I said, we’re qualifying for 2022. You have to make those big statements to get them thinking this way, and then underneath this, do the work to unravel the mindset limitations and blockages that have been holding them back.”
Planning for 2026
Looking ahead to 2026, John is optimistic with some of his team members having already been recruited to international soccer leagues. These players will get a tier 1 experience on the field, he says, and bring that knowledge back to Canada’s national team.
“The one thing you’ve seen from us, is we’ve always come back stronger,” John said in an interview after Canada’s final game in reference to the Canadian women’s team. They went from finishing eighth at the 2008 Olympics to winning back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games to the historic gold medal at Tokyo 2020.
John said if this is Canada Soccer’s foundation, he’s excited what the next four years will bring and for Canada’s return to the World Cup in 2026.
John Herdman is the first coach to qualify both a women’s national team and men’s national team for the World Cup — a feat that has made him internationally renowned. In his riveting talks, he shares his proven performance philosophies, showing the importance of vision, passion, and discipline in achieving success, whether it’s on the field or in the office.
Contact us to learn how you can bring John to your next event and hear more about his World Cup experience alongside his proven leadership and performance strategies.