By Matthew Gourlie
The John Herdman era opened with a win and an impressive debut in Spain Saturday.
There were plenty of positives in Canada’s 1-0 friendly win over New Zealand at the Pinatar Arena in San Pedro del Pinatar, Spain. However, with wind gusts up to 65 km/h the match wasn’t much of a spectacle as both sides found it a challenge to play attractive soccer.
Herdman saw the win as the culmination of a productive week of training with his new charges.
“I am just happy for the boys because they put in a great shift this week,” Herdman told Soccer Canada after the match.
“I think this is just the start. Speaking to a couple of the lads coming off the pitch they were really excited about a few of the things that were happening out there. And there’s a lot more to come. That’s the great thing about this group, there’s a lot more to come. There’s players that weren’t here as well.
“I think it’s a good foundation for us to build into some big matches coming later in the year.”
Tosaint Ricketts’ second half goal separated the teams, but it was the debut of 18-year-old Liverpool academy product Liam Millar that captured the imaginations of Canadian supporters in a man of the match performance. Deployed on the left flank, Millar was dangerous cutting infield onto his favoured right foot, but also beat his markers wide with his pace. After a strong run in Liverpool’s U18s, Millar has earned promotion into their U23s and appears to be going from strength to strength in his young career.
“I said to him ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.’ He’s been lighting it up in training all week. He’s a shy kid, he’s very young, but he’s very fearless. He is very clear about what he wants to do in a game,” Herdman said. “When you look at the bright prospects of him and Alphonso Davies, it’s exciting what we have coming through and I’m sure we’re going to unearth some more in the future.”
Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye both carried their good form from the start of the Major League Soccer season into the friendly. David Wotherspoon and Marcus Godinho both made their debut and Scottish Premiership players both made a case for future inclusion in the Canadian squad with solid displays.
New Zealand were playing their match for new manager Fritz Schmid and began the game brightly. Michael McGlinchey, one of the few regular starters in the team, struck the post with an effort from just outside the area on nine minutes. McGlinchey then struck the other upright with a header from the subsequent corner.
Herdman expected New Zealand to come out with a lot of energy and pressure Canada into mistakes — particularly under difficult conditions — but he was pleased with how they settled in and grew into the match.
“The first 12 minutes we looked shaky, rusty, and New Zealand really came out, but they weathered it and showed that resilience. Then, particularly in the second half, they took control of the game and could have scored a few goals there.
New Zealand also had a goal ruled offside late in the first half when Jeremy Brockie got on the end of a Clayton Lewis cross and directed it past Milan Borjan in the Canadian goal.
Debutant Kiwi keeper Max Crocombe stopped an Osorio shot and then had to be sharp to get in front of Cyle Larin’s close-range effort on the rebound on Canada’s best chance of the first half.
Canada’s breakthrough came in the 54th minute when Dejan Jakovic had plenty of time to measure a clipped ball over the top. Kiwi’s Sunderland central defender Sam Botherton midjudged the flight of the ball in the wind and Ricketts got on the end of the pass, behind the All-Whites defence and smashed it past Crocombe into the top of the net.
It was Rickett’s 16th international goal which moves him into a tie with Alex Bunbury for fourth on the all-time Canadian list.
The Canadians were able to control the tempo and possess plenty of the ball after taking the lead and nearly doubled their lead when Wotherspoon played Tesho Akindele into space and he sent a low hard ball across the face of goal that Millar just failed to slot home at the back post.
There is a troubling thought that the New Zealand friendly may be the only match Herdman gets until the CONCACAF Nations League qualifying begins in September. After playing 12 matches under Octavio Zambrano and interim manager Michael Findlay in the 12 months following the end of Canada’s qualifying campaign, to go 11 months and only play one game with a new manager in place seems foolhardy — particularly with plenty of pre-World Cup friendlies potentially in the offing.
Hopefully more friendlies can be scheduled in 2018, but in the meantime Herdman is keen to continue building the program at levels and developing some cohesion of vision.
“It’s starting the real work in terms of looking at the structure and strategizing with Mauro Biello at the U23 EXCEL level, looking at some of the restructure at the U20 and U17 levels and going towards how we set out system up. And then making people clear and part of it in our game,” Herdman said. “That’s a huge step we have to take. We have to articulate a very clear EXCEL vision and then get people to buy in. I think there have probably been some doubters over the past couple of months, but the players have bought in.”
Canada 1 New Zealand 0
Goal: Ricketts 54.
Canada: Borjan; Petrasso (Godinho 45+1), Jakovic (Edgar 59), James, Morgan (Adekugbe 59); Piette, Osorio, Kaye (Wotherspoon 46); Ricketts (Akindele 70), Millar; Larin (Edwards 75).
New Zealand: Crocombe; Mitchell (Ingham 13), M. Boxall, Brotherton, Doyle; Lewis (Singh 60), Payne, Howieson, Rojas (Rufer 52); McGlinchey (Bevan 59), Brockie (De Jong 59).
Pinatar Arena, San Pedro del Pinatar, Spain.