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Herdman looks to CPL grads for CONCACAF games but wants league to get younger

Canada to face Curacao and Honduras later this month
Men’s national team head coach John Herdman says the Canadian Premier League is “the springboard to the next level.” MARK HUMPHREY, THE CANADIAN PRESS

National men’s soccer team coach John Herman named two Canadian Premier League alumni to the roster for upcoming ­CONCACAF games at Curacao on March 25 and against ­Honduras at BMO Field in Toronto on March 28, and described Canada’s ­fledgling domestic pro league as an important jumping off point. But he wants to see the league get even younger.

“The younger the better because the CPL is a springboard out to the next level,” said Herdman, in a Zoom conference call Thursday with Canadian sports media.

Herdman said he would like to see more “U-21 players picking up minutes in the CPL.”

Island-based Pacific FC plays out of Starlight Stadium and is a charter member of the CPL, which opens its fifth season April 15.

Named to Canada’s roster Thursday alongside heavy hitters such as Alphonso Davies from Bayern Munich, Jonathan David from Lille and Tajon Buchanan from Club Brugge KV were former CPL players Victor Loturi and Dominick Zator.

Loturi, 21, played two seasons in the CPL for his hometown Cavalry FC and now plays for Ross County in the Scottish Premiership. Zator also played two seasons in the CPL for Cavalry FC and is now with Korona Kielce of the Polish top-league Exstraklasa. They follow in the cleat-steps of CPL alumni Joel Waterman (Cavalry FC) and James Pantemis (Valour FC) being on the Canadian World Cup roster for Qatar 2022 and former Pacific FC defender Lukas MacNaughton being invited to the final pre-World Cup training camp last year.

“The CPL has certainly ­created a foundation for ­players to build on that is really ­important,” said Herdman.

“It has advanced players to Europe, where they are getting minutes.”

Meanwhile, it’s all hands on deck with all the top players such as Davies, David and Buchanan mustered because the games against Curacao and Honduras are crucial to qualifying for the 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League Final and also the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer. In many ways, these are the first steps along the road to co-hosting the 2026 World Cup at B.C. Place and BMO Field after ending a 36-year World Cup drought by qualifying for Qatar 2022.

“We have had time to breathe, reflect and review [the World Cup performance],” said ­Herdman.

“But the reality hits that we are still in competition and there is so much to play for in March. We have to pick up where we left off. We want to push beyond the group stage in 2026. For that we need Tier 1 players and it takes time to develop players like that.”

After being the underdogs in the World Cup, Canada is among the overdogs in ­CONCACAF after topping the table in regional qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

“We have to assure there is no complacency because we are the hunted now [in CONCACAF] and the other teams the hunters,” said Herdman.

“It wasn’t too long ago that Canada struggled to get ­CONCACAF wins. Now we will be facing teams considered underdogs and very motivated to beat us.”

In the lead-up to a host berth in 2026, however, Herdman said Canada needs to think beyond CONCACAF to more exhibition games against Tier 1 soccer nations.

Of the recent controversies swirling around the men’s and women’s national team and their relationship with Canada ­Soccer regarding issues such as pay equity, Herdman said: “The behind-the-scenes stuff has taken an emotional toll in what should be a celebratory time in Canadian football history. But provocation and change is important, too.”

Now it’s time to concentrate again on on-field matters.