John Herdman says his players have been focused on their task since he took over the Canadian men's program in January 2018.
Their vision was clear in his first interviews with them. Leave a legacy. Become heroes. Get to the World Cup.
"They don't need any extra motivation. They don't need to understand history," Herdman said on the eve of Tuesday's match with Haiti in the second-leg of their CONCACAF second-round qualifying playoff in Bridgeview, Ill.
"They've respected the past. But what I've said to them is the present is the only thing that matters. Let's not get ahead of ourselves on the future. Be humble. Act poor when you're actually wealthy and you'll get through this. So the little things that will make the biggest difference — staying in the moment and the present is where I've kept this group.
"I think it's been helpful to have that tunnel vision around them reaching their vision
A draw or victory over No. 83 Haiti at SeatGeek Stadium and the 70th-ranked Canadians advance to the final round of qualifying in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. Canada won the opening leg 1-0 Saturday in Port-au-Prince.
The three second-round playoff winners join Mexico, the U.S., Jamaica, Costa Rica and Honduras in the so-called Octagonal, a final round-robin that kicks off this fall. The top three finishers book their ticket to Qatar 2022 while the fourth-place team takes part in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
The Canadian men have not made the final round of qualifying since 1996-97, the leadup to France '98.
"We've come a long way in a three-year period from when we first got together for that (March 2018) game against New Zealand," said Herdman, referencing his first game in charge. "Either in the players that we've recruited to this team — we've worked hard to recruit players, find players, find the right players, give players caps, bring groups together, testing them by sending split squads into different games and managing minutes. Being able to keep that brotherhood together.
"Look when you're a coach, those are the biggest achievements because they're the ones that matter. Because long-term those are the steps that were taken to solidify the culture, to solidify our identity. And we wants games like Haiti, with pressure, with the type of intensity that they'll bring, just to keep help us grow on the journey.
Herdman said he took particular pride in watching his players sing "O Canada" before the game in Port-au-Prince, citing "the intensity, passion that they've brought to that jersey."
"Someone mentioned it today. If you get to a World Cup, we've to to be a resolute team. We've got to be able to stick together because we're going to play teams like Brazil and France and Germany. We've still got along way to go. but this team's achieved a lot."
Herdman's team had a travel advantage in returning from Haiti on the weekend. The Canadian men chartered back to Chicago directly after the game, complete with massage tables and masseuses on the plane.
"Our boys straight away were in recovery mode. We managed to gain some headway in that space," said Herdman.
In contrast, the Haitians had a 10-hour travel day, he added.
"But what we've said is they thrive on chaos. They make the field chaos," said Herdman. "You sense the chaos in the environment when you're in that country. And they thrive in that."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2021.