As Toronto FC President Bill Manning said, John Herdman is a man who needs no introduction to Canadian soccer circles.
Herdman, the now former Canada Men’s and Women’s National Team coach, was welcomed to his first press conference at the BMO Training Ground on Tuesday afternoon a day after it was officially announced that he would be joining the club.
“I never thought I’d be leaving that maple leaf behind, but swapping it for a Toronto FC jersey is a huge privilege,” said Herdman. “Moments will come in your career where an opportunity comes up and it seems to hit the bullseye with everything that you align to, what motivates you and drives you, and this was that opportunity. I get the chance now with my staff to get on the grass every single day, work and develop players. That's been a dream of mine and to be able to do it in a club of this stature is nothing but special.”
The aim is simple.
“We know the size of this club, we know the potential of this club, we know what it means to the players like Jonathan Osorio to bring it back to the glory of what we experienced. That's the mission,” outlined the new head coach. “To bring it back to winning.”
“That will take a little bit of time – I'm hoping it doesn't take a great amount of time,” he continued. “For me it's 'seek to understand before you're understood' – we've really got to understand what it is going to take to evolve, but it's exciting. Any coach in North America would give an arm to work for this organization.”
It was a four-hour meeting between Herdman and the TFC front office – Manning and General Manager Jason Hernandez – that put him atop the list of candidates.
“I remember walking out of the room, Jason and I looked at each other, and I'm not sure who said it first, but we said, ‘That’s our guy,’” recounted Manning. “I've known John a long time, always had a really good relationship. He was different from everyone we came across. He’s more than just a coach, he's someone that wants to build a culture, not only in the locker room, but within the club. We've had a great culture and we don't have that right now.”
“John is the personality and the leader that Jason and I think we're in need of,” he added. “That's how it came together: as simple as a few texts and conversation started from there.”
Said Hernandez: “John exudes a manager, a first team coach.”
“When you sit across the table and talk about ideas, philosophy, a plan, a culture, a club, and what it's going to take to not only build, but build something sustainable, something repeatable, he can speak to those things very well,” he continued. “When we left the room, we understood there's a front runner.”
Leaving the Canada Soccer Association – Herdman joined in 2011 – after so long was a big decision, but having led the men to their first World Cup since 1986 last winter in Qatar, the time, even with Canada co-hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup, was right.
“When you look at the cycle of my journey – five years with the New Zealand Women's National Team, [seven] years with the Canadian Women's National Team, and five years with the Men's National Team – you go through these cycles as a coach. You get that feeling coming out of Qatar, the motivation and the excitement of what you experienced there and the potential, but you also feel that there's another level to come. It needs freshness. It needs a different voice,” explained Herdman. “The organization is undergoing a leadership change and for me this is the time.”
“You feel that in your gut, you feel it in your heart, that it's time to step off and go and fulfill another dream,” he added. “Coaches want to be working with players, with people, consistently because that's where you get the biggest improvements.”
Herdman will have that opportunity when he assumes the role on October 1.
Toronto will have three matches left in the MLS regular season after that, a valuable opportunity for Herdman, his staff, and the club to get a head start on preparations for 2024.
“It's a huge advantage,” assessed Herdman. “The first week we'll be breaking down the details. That’s a critical assessment period of the high-performance team around the team and then the steps to see these players, to see them in training, to see them around the environment, to start the process of conversations.”
“We’re very process-orientated,” he continued. “We’ll be coming in to really gather the information that's going to help us work with Jason and Bill to make the right decisions as we move into an off-season.”
He will work closely with Hernandez in particular, the two lending their expertise to each other on this new journey.
“MLS is a unique beast,” said the TFC GM. “I'm an MLS lifer, spent almost 20 years in and around the league. And with John, his experience in coaching at some of the highest levels. I’m still cutting my teeth in the executive role and he's cutting his teeth in club football. We both come from the foundational point of having all to work for to take this opportunity and make the most of it – even though we come from different areas, we are approaching it in the same vein.”
“There's going to be a lot of work to do. He's not shy to that and neither am I,” Hernandez added. “So we're looking forward to [using] these next couple of weeks to really get a lay of the land on what needs to be done in the short term and the medium term to give us success.”
One of the key facets, as Manning highlighted, will be on building the culture of the club.
“John's track record speaks for itself,” said Hernandez. “The teams that have had the best success that I've been on or been around the culture was great, the culture was self driven – it’s driven by the changing room, it's driven by the team. There needs to be certain steps taken to build the foundation and the framework for that culture to thrive on its own and he's shown clearly that he can do that.”
For Herdman, it will be “a winning culture.”
“That's it. That's what TFC is here to do. It's a winning club. There’s an expectation to win in the city and for the fans, the staff, the players,” he continued. “It's inculcating that winning culture that you've seen in the Canadian Women's Team or the Canadian Men's Team, that sisterhood, that brotherhood, that goes beyond the field, that family dynamic that gets players trusting each other, making each other feel safe to rise their performance levels.”
Former Canadian international Robyn Gayle will be a key piece of his coaching staff in that regard.
“It's a daily process,” he highlighted.” To establish routines, rituals, that keep teams together.”
Herdman confirmed that interim head coach Terry Dunfield will also be a part of his staff.
“Quite frankly, I'm not sat here if I hadn't met John Herdman in 2018. He helped spark my coaching journey,” said Dunfield earlier in the day as he prepares the side for Wednesday night’s match against the Philadelphia Union. “When Bill called ten weeks ago to say, ‘Terry, we need a hand,’ I was beside John and I said to him, ‘Bill should be calling you.’”
“It's funny how the universe works,” he closed. “There aren't unicorn leaders, but John is as close as there can be to one.”