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  • Herdman, as always, looking at the big picture as 2013 wraps up


    So, where to begin?

    If you'd have bet me, a year ago, that in November 2013 we'd be looking at a women's national team roster that included Kara Lang, Josée Bélanger and a 16-year-old that could very well start at fullback... well, you'd be a few cans of soda richer (I only wager in soda, all other gambling is immoral).

    Of course, if you'd bet me a year and a half ago that Canada would win a medal in women's soccer at the 2012 Olympic Games... well, to be honest, you'd be several cases of soda richer.

    Now, here we sit, on the verge of Canada playing a game at Vancouver's B.C. Place (against Mexico on Sunday) and John Herdman, the architect of the aforementioned improbable occurrences, is talking (albeit subtly) about the prospect of his team playing in that same stadium on July 5, 2015 -- in the final of the next Women's World Cup.

    Anybody like soda?


    The eternal pessimist that lives deep within the heart of any long-time Canadian soccer fan would immediately dismiss such dreams. After all, this team finished dead-last at the 2011 Women's World Cup! They only won bronze in London because Melissa Tancredi played out of her mind in the group stage and France got terribly unlucky in the third-place game! They're only ranked top-10 in the world because of a shallow pool of competitive nations!

    Et cetera, et cetera.

    Of course, Herdman having his contract extended through to 2020 earlier this year has given him the liberty -- some would say the mandate -- to look at the big picture.

    So, sure, playing games at home (the CSA has pledged that the women's national team will play at least once in every host city prior to the Women's World Cup) is nice for the fans -- but the real aim is to get the players accustomed to those facilities, to give them that little edge should they need it in 2015.

    And sure, neither Lang nor Bélanger will be fit to play Sunday (Bélanger injured herself in training, while Herdman pegged Lang's ideal return date as the first quarter of 2014), but integrating them into the team can give them -- and their teammates -- a profound psychological boost.

    (Plus, as Herdman said, Lang and Bélanger are precisely the types of players Canada needs in the short term to diversify their Sinclair-reliant attack. Herdman was the one who brought both back in the fold, saying he's been "constantly bugging" Bélanger for two years -- including flying to Sherbrooke just to meet with her.)

    And sure, players such as Kylla Sjoman and Selenia Iacchelli may not fit into the long-term plans... but the only way to know for sure is to provide them with an opportunity to prove themselves. Herdman had good (Sjoman has "some of the characteristics we're looking for [left-footed, willing to get into attack] in a fullback"; Iacchelli is "having a bit of a [career] renaissance") but not-overly-committal things to say about the pair during a media conference call on Wednesday.

    And sure, the teenagers of today won't necessarily be integral parts of the senior women's national team in time for the next Women's World Cup or Olympics (with the possible exception of Kadeisha Buchanan), but that doesn't mean Herdman's not constantly concerned with their progress.

    Sura Yekka, 16, is back with the squad after earning her first senior national-team cap against South Korea last month. Herdman -- who's spoken over and over about wanting "modern fullbacks" -- spoke glowingly about the youngster: She's "calm" on the ball, she's got "that urge to go forward" and, like Buchanan, she's got "no fear, no mental scars of past failure".

    Herdman also oversaw the Under-17 women's squad successfully qualify for next year's U-17 Women's World Cup earlier this month, and praised the work of the provincial associations in providing head coach Bev Priestman with plenty of "technical" players. He singled out captain Jessie Fleming as a player who could soon make the jump to the U-20 program, and lauded the team's ability to stick to its control-based game plan in situations where Canadian teams, in the past, may have resorted to a more rudimentary hoofball approach.

    That U-17 camp and tournament -- like all elements of the youth program -- are now following the national curriculum, the foremost goal of which is "to produce players for the women's national team that can compete in the international women's game in five years' time."

    Five years' time? But what does that have to do with the 2015 Women's World Cup? Or, more pointedly, this Sunday's friendly against Mexico?

    Directly, not much. But we do know that barring something unexpected, Herdman will actually be able to see those plans come to fruition. He'll be able to take the experiences of getting to the Olympic podium with one highly-talented generation of Canadian players and -- hopefully -- be the one to pass the metaphorical torch to the next generation.

    Will the likes of Sinclair, Lang and Bélanger be a part of that "next" generation? They won't.

    But they're all a part of the holistic ecosystem that Herdman has created within the women's national team program. Whether it's Sunday's friendly, the World Cup in two years' time or the Olympics seven years from now, it's all under Herdman's jurisdiction. The micro and the macro aren't always intertwined -- but being in control of both can allow one to identify the ways in which they might be.

    The retirement of long-time national-teamer Melanie Booth earlier this week is perhaps the first indication that the transitional period is fully coming into effect. One well-placed source has told me that Herdman will go into full-on talent search mode in the new year, suggesting that Booth's retirement may be the first of several we'll see in the coming months.

    Then again, Kara Lang was retired from the national team as of a year ago. So was Josee Bélanger.

    Everything is in flux for the women's national team program, in the most exciting and terrifying of ways. But one thing has become crystal clear -- there's very little that's falling outside of John Herdman's big picture.

    And if reaching the final of the 2015 Women's World Cup is in Herdman's sights... well, are you going to bet against him?

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