John Herdman acknowledges that the book on the U.S. Virgin Islands is pretty thin.
He also knows that his Canada side is expected to win handily on Sunday when the two face off in a CONCACAF National League qualifying match at Bradenton, Fla.
For once the 79th-ranked Canadian men are the Goliath against the 199th-ranked David from USVI, who as the underdog likely will look to stop goals rather than score them.
“We’re expected to really rack up a scoreline,” said Herdman, who expects the USVI to offer direct and physical opposition. “And the other sides to that are … it can breed a level of frustration.
“You have to really get that mind right,” the Canada coach added. “We’ve been looking at the rhythm of our game. We’ve been looking at [having] the focus on us and our tactical identity and really focusing on our processes so we’re not seduced by the scoreboard.”
Goals are important, however, with Canada looking to climb the CONCACAF Nations League ladder.
Goals difference and goals scored are the second and third tiebreakers after points.
“The players are aware, they’re well aware,” Herdman said of the importance of goals.
The four-game qualifying round sets the stage for a three-tier competition complete with promotion and relegation, that kicks off in the fall of 2019 in the confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The Canadian men host No. 177 Dominica on Oct. 16 at Toronto’s BMO Field before playing at No. 135 St. Kitts & Nevis on Nov. 18 and entertaining French Guiana on March 26. French Guiana, while a member of CONCACAF, is not part of FIFA so is unranked.
The top six teams out of qualifying will join Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, the United States and Trinidad and Tobago in the top-tier League A. Those six countries skipped qualifying by virtue of reaching the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.
Those six will also qualify automatically for the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which increases to 16 teams from 12, along with the top 10 countries from the CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.
The CONCACAF Nations League B will feature 16 teams, while League C will have 13.
So Canada is up among some 30 other countries bidding to earn their way into the remaining six spots in the top tier.
“I know, Canada, we desperately want to be in Nations League Group A,” Herdman said during a media conference call on Friday.
Saturday marks Herdman’s first competitive match at the Canadian senior men’s helm. Herdman, who switched from the women’s to the men’s program in January, saw his team defeat New Zealand 1-0 in a March friendly in Spain.
The weekend contest was originally scheduled to be held in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but was switched to the IMG Academy in Bradenton because of the lack of a suitable venue in the hurricane-ravaged USVI.
The U.S. territory, a string of islands located 1,775 kilometres southeast of Miami, has a population of a little more than 100,000.
Herdman has five teenagers at his disposal including Bayern Munich-bound Vancouver Whitecap Alphonso Davies. The 17-year-old is joined by goalkeeper Alessandro Busti, winger Liam Millar and forward Jonathan David (all 18) and 19-year-old fullback Zachary Brault-Guillard. Defender Derek Cornelius is just 20.
“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” said Herdman, repeating a line he used often while in charge of the Canadian women’s team. “Some of those boys are doing it for their first teams in top European leagues.”
Veterans on the squad include goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade), defenders Dejan Jakovic (Los Angeles FC) and Marcel de Jong (Vancouver Whitecaps), midfielders Scott Arfield (Glasgow Rangers), Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City), Samuel Piette (Montreal Impact) and Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC) and forwards Tosaint Ricketts (Toronto FC) and Cyle Larin (Besiktas).