‘Ready for change’: John Herdman sees an opportunity to evolve and make Toronto FC a winner again

One of John Herdman's greatest motivations is quite simple: the chance to build a new group and help Toronto FC return to its former glory.

Herdman was officially unveiled as the new head coach of Toronto FC at a press conference on Tuesday. He will take on the new role on October 1.

The 48-year-old Englishman resigned as reserve coach of Canada's senior team on Monday to take over at the Major League Soccer club.

“The resume shows, with the people I work with, that we are drawn to those situations where there are great opportunities,” he said. “This is a huge club with a huge tradition and we all believe that we will do it soon.”

“Coming into this environment is almost perfect for the experiences we are having. We're working with the culture here to refocus and reinvigorate not just the staff, but the players to reach the next level. And that next level is there for Toronto FC, it's a club we know can pull it off.

Herdman spent 13 years with Canada's national teams, initially coaching the senior women's team before taking charge of the men's team in 2018. He led the men to their first World Cup appearance in 36 years in 2022.

Herdman is the first manager to lead both a women's and a men's team from the same country to World Cup qualifying.

He has been open about the challenges at Canada Soccer and the ongoing labor disputes with both the men's and women's national teams.

These problems, in part, led Herdman to switch to association football.

“This is fresh, this is new, it's full of energy and we're ready,” Herdman said. “We are ready for change, you know that as a human being.”

“You go through these processes in your cycle, you just feel it in your stomach, in your heart, with your family and I've had that feeling for a while. It's not something that just crept up on us, but the team is changing, things are moving forward.

Herdman will lead a TFC team bottoming in the Eastern Conference with a record of 3-13-10.

The Reds – who won the 2017 MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield and Canadian Championship – have lost six straight in MLS competitions and eight straight in all competitions under caretaker coach Terry Dunfield.

Dunfield replaced former head coach and athletic director Bob Bradley, who was fired June 26. Herdman said Dunfield will be on his staff.

TFC President Bill Manning called the team's culture “broken” and said he has faith in Herdman's ability to change that.

“When I look back at the clubs that I've worked with, at the teams that have performed really well, there's that sense of unity, there's that collaboration,” Manning told reporters. “John is someone who has that in his DNA.

“He explained to me how he did it at Canada Soccer, both national teams and I think that's what we're going to need with John… I bet John is the right leader for us in the long run.”

Herdman's desire to work together is shared by General Manager Jason Hernandez.

“I never want to act as king of the castle,” Hernandez said. “The process will be 100 percent collaborative.

“The last thing I want to do is force a player or a chance on the manager that doesn't help the team succeed and I think the same is true too: I don't think John would try to get on any.” Chance that would also disadvantage the club in other ways.”

Part of this team building was the question of Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi and their place in the future team. Herdman said this is part of his evaluation process.

“I have Jason Hernandez, who also has some in-depth experience with these players and that will help determine what that roster will look like next season,” Herdman said.

“But for me it's a process now… finding out how committed people are to taking this club to the next level because that's the demand, that's the expectation.”

Sam Adekugbe, a Canada international who now plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps, said he was disappointed with Herdman's departure.

“I think I had my best time with John Herdman as a coach, I had my best moments as a player in my career, I was able to reach the World Cup thanks to the group and especially because of him as a coach,” Adekugbe said.

“Of course I'm very disappointed. He meant a lot to me and the players.”

When asked, the Canadian defender refused to downplay Herdman's tactical skills and stressed his ability as a motivator.

“I think we played the best football in the region at times,” Adekugbe said of Herdman's time as manager.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 29, 2023.

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