Rudi Schuller: Herdman has Canadian women playing without fear

Head coach John Herdman has led Canada's women's side through an amazing transformation in just 11 short months in charge.
The ghosts of Germany 2011 have been exorcised.

No matter what happens when Canada's women's side faces the United States in the Olympic semifinal on Monday, it's apparent that the demons of a massive failure at last year's Women's World Cup have been slayed.

Much of that has to do with John Herdman, the team's current head coach. He took over from Carolina Morace last year, after Morace had led the women to a disastrous last-place finish at the World Cup.

Just a year after that monumental collapse - Canada, which many saw as a darkhorse to challenge for the title, lost all three group games while only scoring one - Herdman has done what many thought impossible in restoring the team's confidence and getting his squad to play to its potential.

But if you listen to the man himself, he'll tell you that he had little to do with Canada's stunning transformation. It was much more of a team effort.

“We aimed to develop a ‘grow culture’," Herdman said after Canada's 2-0 win over Great Britain on Friday. "They [the players] work harder off the pitch than most teams. They study themselves, they study their opponents. They take responsibility for that. They put destiny in their own hands.

"Previously, the coach was at the centre – the foundation of knowledge. Now they’re at the centre and they are the foundation of knowledge.”

It's that shift of responsibility, from the coach as the be-all-and-end-all in the past to the players taking ownership of themselves, that has marked the short Herdman era. Instead of managing a team playing scared, the coach has instilled a confidence in his side that has grown in stature with each passing game.

And while there have been hiccups - the Olympic opener versus Japan exposed flaws that will need to be corrected if Canada is to have any hope of disposing of the juggernaut Americans, as did a sloppy win over South Africa - the aim of improving from match to match has proven to be a realistic and successful goal for Herdman and his squad.

“That was the theme before the tournament about rising to the challenge and that’s a big part of what we’ve done," the coach explained. "We knew it would be a tough start and it was about growing through the tournament, becoming more connected front to back and side to side. Tonight we showed real discipline, we were well organized. We can handle the big moments."


The biggest moment comes when the Canadians face the top-ranked U.S.A. for a spot in the gold medal game. In keeping with the theme of realistic goals, Herdman made no qualms about what his side is up against.

“It’ll be a really tough game," Herdman stated. "If you look at the stats, we’ve lost 46, won four and drawn five against them. We won in Kansas last year. It was 1-1 until the 86th minute.

"We don’t fear the U.S. We’re going in as underdogs, but underdogs rise up in these tournaments. We’re in a great space to take on the world number one.”

It was a long and arduous road to get to this point after the abject failure of 2011, and the thrilling Olympic experience may come to an end against the Americans. But many doubted Canada's ability to even get this far, and much of the credit for that has to go to Herdman, even if he'll tell you otherwise.

Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Canada.