TORONTO - Canada head coach John Herdman has talked of ‘will to win’ and desire, as team preparations concluded at the final training session yesterday afternoon at BMO Field.
He’s acutely aware of the recent history between the sides - Canada hasn’t beaten their great rival since winning in Vancouver in 1985 - but despite an air of confidence and belief in his charges, played down what many feel is Canada’s best chance in over 30 years to defeat a USA side under fire from fans at home.
“I think firstly the USA looked ok against Uruguay last month. Don’t know if anyone has seen the statistics in that game, but I think fans sometimes write their teams off, pretty quickly. This is a team that got to the Gold Cup Final and were narrowly beaten by a very good Mexico, so ...
“The biggest danger for us is you get ahead of yourself. We’re just on process. It’s clear. We know what we need from this game, and then we’re on to process. Out-defend them, out-attack them, win every ball. You know, it’s the basics, coming right back to that.
“What I will say is we’ve got a big ‘Why’. A big ‘Why’ for playing ... and the motivation is, you know, with a result, we really can ignite our country.
“That’s what every player and coach hopes for, that you can get a game where you can do that. We know we’ve got talent in the team. So if people are saying it’s one of our best chances [to defeat the USA], maybe it is, but at the end of the day, we can’t be thinking about that.
“It’s just about whatever happens when that whistle goes, that at the end of it, we all look each other in the face and say, ‘Everything was left out there’.”
The battle in midfield will be key in an area where experience and youth combine for Canada in the form of Rangers’ Scott Arfield, and the younger players from MLS, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Samuel Piette.
All will relish what should be an intense struggle against a US engine-room likely to see the return of Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley. Bradley has not played for his country since that Gold Cup Final defeat, however his nous and familiarity with the surroundings should ensure a recall.
Scott Arfield, experienced in games where the rivalry factor reaches fever-pitch talked of a high intensity approach which his side will need to bring into the game. His coach agrees.
“Look, it’ll be blood, guts and thunder from us regardless. You know this is a game where every tackle’s going to matter, every physical contact’s going to matter. Our boys will want this a lot, there’ll be bodies on the line, so I think you can expect the physical context.
“You know tactically, we’ve some ideas and a plan of how we want to approach it, but right underneath this, it’s a physical contest, and one that someone like Sam Piette will absolutely relish.
“I always say this. Tactics in a game like this, while you’ll have tactics, it’ll never be won on that [alone]. In some games tactics are everything, but in games like this it’s who most imposes their will, and you know if that’s one of the tactics, it might be something we use, yeah.”
Herdman, sat alongside Samuel Piette in the press conference, cut a composed and focused figure, keen to play up what ‘a result’ could mean for Canada. His speak, reminiscent of an old, English, never-say-die coach about to lead an underdog into battle, defiant yet controlled.
There was a calmness that suggests the Haiti collapse, the pain of which lingers and remains acute, has become a driver, a harsh and valuable lesson on the developing journey of his young team.
“It’s all going to happen between the white lines. It doesn’t matter what I say now. Everyone has their own opinion of where the two sides are. We’ve put our preparation in this week, the players are as focused as I’ve ever seen them.
“That’s all that matters now. Whether we think we stack up [against USA] or we don’t, it’s just clear, they want to play for Canada, they want to represent this flag. And hopefully inspire a nation.”