TORONTO — John Herdman has spent more than a decade successfully leading Canada at the international level.
Now the longtime soccer coach faces perhaps his most challenging task of all: restoring moribund Major League Soccer club Toronto FC to its former glory.
Herdman stepped down as head coach of Canada's national men's team on Monday was named head coach of TFC. He will take over from interim skipper Terry Dunfield on Oct. 1.
Canada Soccer stated that its coaching search will begin immediately.
His decision to move on from the men's team comes about a year after it made its first World Cup appearance in 36 years at the 2022 event in Qatar, and three years before Canada co-hosts the massive soccer showcase alongside the United States and Mexico.
"I am keen to start this new opportunity with Toronto FC," Herdman said in a statement. "Personally, it's the right time for me to step into a new challenge in my career, and the structure of a club environment is a context I've aspired to operate in.
"Having access to connect and collaborate with the staff and players daily allows for a different depth of development and connection, both on and off the pitch."
Always game for a challenge, the 48-year-old Englishman will certainly get one in Toronto FC.
He inherits a club so far removed from its peak in 2017, when it won the MLS Cup, the Supporters' Shield and Canadian Championship, that it is almost unrecognizable.
Toronto (3-13-10) has been dreadful this MLS season. The club is winless in 13 games (0-10-3) and has just one win in its last 19 outings (1-14-4) in all competitions.
Its high-priced Italian stars, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, have largely underperformed and have been lightning rods for criticism, with Bernardeschi going on record earlier this season to voice his dissatisfaction with the club's playing style.
And the coaching situation has been unstable since Greg Vanney resigned after the 2020 season to join the Los Angeles Galaxy. Chris Armas, Javier Pérez and, most recently, Bob Bradley have failed to recreate Vanney's success.
Bradley, a former U.S. national team coach whose son is Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley, was fired June 26 with Toronto sporting a 3-7-10 record. TFC has lost all eight games in MLS and Leagues Cup action since Dunfield took over.
"There's work to be done, and we recognize that transformational change takes time," Herdman said. "We understand what it will take to make a difference, and I am committed to getting this city and club where it belongs."
Toronto hopes to find that stability at the helm in Herdman, who comes to Major League Soccer after 13 successful years coaching Canada at the international level. He is the first manager to lead both a women's and men's team from the same country to World Cup qualification.
He took over Canada's national women's team in 2011 after Carolina Morace resigned following a poor showing at the Women's World Cup.
Under Herdman's guidance, the Canadian women posted a 62-32-14 record from 2011-2018 and won Olympic bronze medals in 2012 and 2016.
Canada's 1-0 win over France in the 2012 bronze-medal game came on the heels of a dramatic semifinal against the archrival United States, which saw the Americans overcome a Christine Sinclair hat trick and win 4-3 in extra time.
Herdman moved to the men's national team in 2018 and has been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the club.
Canada qualified for the World Cup for just the second time, and first since 1986, when Canada topped the table in the third round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region. Results included a win over Mexico in Edmonton and a draw with the CONCACAF powerhouse at daunting Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, and a win over the United States in Hamilton.
While Canada lost all three of its games at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, it was the better team in large stretches in a 1-0 loss to then-No. 2 Belgium and Alphonso Davies scored the country's first World Cup goal in a 4-1 loss to semifinalist Croatia.
It's final game was a 2-1 loss to Morocco, another semifinalist.
Canada was ranked 95th in the world when Herdman took over the men's team and climbed to an all-time high of 33rd in February 2022. It is currently ranked 43rd.
“I am grateful for the incredible opportunity to have represented Canada for the past 12 years, for the moments I’ve been able to share with the players, the staff, and the supporters,” Herdman said.
"The goal was always to leave the game in a better place and I’m confident that goal has been achieved for Canada.”
But, perhaps due to the financial uncertainty facing Canada Soccer, Herdman has decided to move to club football and give up a chance to coach Canada at the 2026 World Cup, which it is co-hosting with the United States and Mexico.
Earlier this year, Herdman pleaded with the governing body for resources.
"We've got to figure this out financially,'' he said the night after Canada's 2-0 loss to the U.S. in the CONCACAF Nations League final. "We've got to get serious about winning a World Cup. When you play at home, you get a chance to win it. You get a chance to get to a semifinal, a quarterfinals, semifinal, and then get on the road to win it.
"And we're not serious. We've brought a World Cup to our country and we're not serious about winning it.''
Both Canadian national teams are in a bitter labour dispute with Canada Soccer. Players on the men's team recently expressed their disappointment at not having any matches scheduled for the upcoming FIFA international window.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 28, 2023.
The Canadian Press