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Herdman eyes opportunity to develop, build TFC back into a winner

John Herdman Toronto FC John Herdman - The Canadian Press

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

Herdman was formally introduced as Toronto FC's new head coach at a news conference Tuesday. He will take on the new role starting Oct. 1.

The 48-year-old Englishman stepped down as the bench boss for Canada's senior men's national team on Monday to take over at the Major League Soccer club.

"The resume outlines with the staff that I work with — that we gravitate to this type of situation where there's a huge opportunity there," he said. "This is a massive club with a huge heritage and we all believe that we'll get there pretty soon.

"So coming into this setting is almost perfect for the experiences that we have, working with the culture here to refocus, reinvigorate not only the staff but the players to get to that next level. And that next level is there for Toronto FC, it's a club that we know can reach it."

Herdman spent 13 years with Canada's national teams, initially coaching the senior women's team before taking over 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 men's team from the same country to World Cup qualification.

He was candid about the challenges at Canada Soccer and the ongoing labour disputes with both the men's and women's national teams.

Those issues, in part, led to Herdman's move to club soccer.

"This is fresh, this is new, it's energetic and we're ready," Herdman said. "We're ready for change, you know that as a human being.

"You go through these processes in your cycle, you just feel it in your gut, in your heart, with your family and I've had that feeling for a while. It's not something that's just crept up on us, the team has been changing, things are progressing."

Herdman will lead a TFC team that sits in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-13-10 record.

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

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

TFC president Bill Manning referred to the team's culture as being "fractured" and said he trusts Herdman's ability to change that.

"When I look back at the clubs that I've been involved with, the teams that have really done well, there's this sense of unity, there's this collaboration," Manning told reporters. "John is someone that has that in his DNA.

"He walked me through how he did it with Canada Soccer, with both national teams, and I think that's what we're gonna need with John … I'm betting that John is the right leader for us in the long term."

Herdman's desire for collaboration is shared by general manager Jason Hernandez.

"I don't wanna ever operate as a king of the castle kind of thing," Hernandez said. "The process will be 100 per cent collaborative.

"The last thing I would want to do is impose a player or an opportunity on the manager that doesn't help the team succeed and I think the same would be true is, I don't think John would wanna try to move forward with an opportunity that would put the club at a disadvantage in another way."

Part of that team-building came with the question of Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi and their place on the team going forward. Herdman said that would be part of his evaluation process.

"I've got Jason Hernandez who's had some deep experiences with these players as well that will be helping guiding what that roster will look like in the new season," said Herdman.

"But for me, it's a process now … to find 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 Canadian international now playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps, said he's disappointed with Herdman's departure.

"I think I had my best spell 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 because of the group and most importantly him as a coach," Adekugbe said.

"I'm obviously very disappointed. He meant a lot to me and a lot to the players."

The Canadian defender, when asked, refused to downplay Herdman's tactical skills and emphasized his expertise as a motivator.

"I think at times we played the best football in the region," Adekugbe said about Herdman's time in charge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.