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New women's coach, players, would like to see a return to more physical style

09/16/2011 07:03 EDT | Updated 11/16/2011 05:12 EST
John Herdman, Canada's new women's soccer coach, would like to see his team return to the more physical style for which it was once known.

The Canadians play the United States on Saturday in Kansas City, Ka., in the first of two friendlies against the World Cup runners-up, Herdman's first appearance on Canada's bench and the team's first game since its disastrous World Cup performance.

The coach spent much of this week getting to know his new squad, and the common vision for a playing style is a blend of might and finesse.

"I think the general feeling is that they want to bring back the physicality," Herdman said in a conference call Friday. "They want to be able to combine the technical side of the game but also to impose themselves on teams more.

"I think, from what I've been led to believe and from what I've seen when I've studied the team is, that we have a really powerful team here that could probably impose itself some more."

The Canadians played a straight-forward style under coach Even Pellerud, getting the better of opponents with their sheer physicality. They finished fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Italian coach Carolina Morace implemented more of a finesse style of passing and moving when she was hired to succeed Pellerud, but the 47-year-old Italian resigned after Canada was dispatched in the opening round of the World Cup in Germany without winning a game.

"Carolina's style was a modern approach, if you look at football around the world internationally, there was a certain way of playing and that's the way the game's evolved based on the capabilities of players today," the 36-year-old coach said. "I think what I'll be continually doing is just evolving with the game with the future trends and taking them on board."

Herdman has 15 players in camp this week that played at the World Cup in Germany. The one significant absence is longtime captain Christine Sinclair who said she needs a break following the World Cup and Women's Professional Soccer season. Sinclair was named MVP of the WPS final after leading the Western New York Flash over the Philadelphia Independence.

"Like anyone, you'd love to have Christine here, and I'm sure the players would as well, but she's had a big year, and I think like most players, they do need time to regenerate, both mentally and physically," Herdman said. "I think it's been a positive step, having Christine being able to just take some time out. I think that's good for her and probably good for Canada soccer."

Herdman said he encouraged Sinclair to take the break in what he said was a "good conversation" with the team's all-time leading scorer.

"She wished the girls all the best of luck and reached out and if there's any advice I needed as captain, she's reached out and said she'd lend an ear at any time," the coach said.

The Canadians face a stiff test against the Americans at Livestrong Sporting Park in the first of a two-match exhibition series. The second game is Thursday in Portland, Ore.

The Americans fell to Japan in a penalty shootout in the World Cup final, and the games were arranged as a thank-you to U.S. fans for supporting the team's run in Germany.

"They're going to have to roll their sleeves up, it's against the world No. 1 team, we know that there's a certain standard that we're going to have to live up to," Herdman said. "That's not a bad thing for this team at the minute. It's a part of our internal goals that we've been setting this week, it's about just feeling connected and connecting back with each other and connecting back to playing for your country.

"There's certain things the players want to set right, never mind kicking a football around the pitch. Just some things that they want to focus on to make sure they feel like an international team again."

While Herdman said he's still in the early portion of the getting-to-know phase with his players, the coach added he'll know plenty more after Canada battles the U.S.

"It's when the pressure comes on, and this is a massive game for Canada, it always is when you play the U.S.," Herdman said. "I'd like to see who then stands out in that game, that's the exciting part of coaching. What happens in training can often be very different from what happens in a game."

The Americans will have all 21 of their players from the world cup playing in the two matches.

Sinclair and her WPS teammate Candace Chapman are expected to rejoin the Canadian squad next month in Vancouver where Herdman will hold a pre-Pan American Games camp. The Pan Ams are Oct. 14-30 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Vancouver will also host the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in January, where the Canadians must finish top-two to earn a berth in the London Olympics.

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