In a month’s time, Toronto FC and incoming head coach John Herdman will officially embark on a new era after the Englishman put pen to paper on a multi-year deal to take the job at TFC.
It isn’t every day you see a national team coach make the switch to the club game and given Herdman’s experience within Canada’s borders as national director and head coach since 2018, his introduction could see a shift in the transfer philosophy in Toronto.
Herdman has been working with Canada’s men’s program since 2018, giving him years to identify and work alongside the country’s premier talents. After getting a few games to directly manage personnel at the tail-end of this current season, Herdman and General Manager Jason Hernandez will use the offseason to reshape a roster that has largely been fitted to serve the now-departed Bob Bradley. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Herdman leans on his international coaching experience to ease his transition in Toronto.
Today we’re going to look at four CanMNT players Herdman could try to bring to BMO Field, with some uncapped honourable mentions sprinkled in at the end.
Junior Hoilett (59 caps)
Position: Left wing
Status: Free agent
A reliable and crafty winger for the national team, Hoilett is currently without a club after seeing his contract at Reading run out after the 2022-23 season and could be an astute free agent signing for TFC’s new bench boss.
Hoilett appeared in 42 matches under Herdman, playing in all three of Canada’s World Cup outings and most recently taking on a lead role during his country’s 2023 Gold Cup run. In that tournament, Hoilett started all four matches and even wore the captain’s armband after Milan Borjan left the squad midway through the competition.
Not getting any younger at 33 years old, the time could be right for the Bramptonian to return home after spending nearly two decades in English football. A one or two-year contract with his hometown Reds could make a ton of sense for both club and player, especially if Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi don’t stick around for 2024.
Lucas Cavallini (40 caps)
Club: Club Tijuana
Lucas Cavallini is without a doubt one of Herdman’s guys.
A somewhat divisive figure in Canadian soccer circles, the former Vancouver Whitecap has maintained a role with the national team ever since Herdman took the Canada job. Even though he has taken a back seat to David and Cyle Larin in recent years, Cavallini led the line for Herdman in his early days at the helm, netting 16 goals in his first 13 games under the Englishman.
Currently with Club Tijuana of Mexico’s Liga MX, after leaving Vancouver at the end of the 2022 MLS season, Cavallini hasn’t quite found the same success in Mexico’s northwest after a fruitful couple of seasons for Club Puebla between 2017-2019.
Striker remains a position of need for TFC and even if Cavallini isn’t the long-term solution up top, the Toronto native could still be a helpful piece for Herdman, especially if the club is unable to bring in that star forward that fans have been clamouring for. With C.J. Sapong and potentially Ayo Akinola leaving the club in the offseason, Prince Owusu so far unproven in MLS, and Adama Diomande often injured, Cavallini’s arrival would spell an upgrade in the forward department for Herdman’s TFC.
Dominick Zator (2 caps)
Club: Korona Kielce (Poland)
Far from a regular for Herdman’s Canada, Korona Kielce defender Dominick Zator has still been part of every Canada squad since making the jump from the Canadian Premier League to Poland’s top flight in December of last year. Zator became the third CPL player to earn a nod from Herdman back in 2019 but had to wait four more years to get his debut, coming on for a couple of short cameos during the 2023 Gold Cup.
Zator enjoyed a really impressive first season in Europe, becoming an integral member for Korona Kielce as they narrowly escaped relegation from the Polish Ekstraklasa. The 28-year-old captained his club for the first time in his team’s last outing, notching their first victory of the season to mark the occasion.
With Korona Kielce already flirting with relegation and his contract running up at the end of the current campaign, Zator could be a useful pickup for TFC if he were to end his European adventure after two seasons.
Having played most of 2022-23 at right-back, Zator has featured in the centre of defence to begin 2023-24. He was more of a centre-back during his time with York United before moving overseas and he would likely suit up there for TFC if he ever signed for the Reds given the lack of options at the position and Kobe Franklin’s emergence on the right.
Maxime Crépeau (15 caps)
TFC shot-stopper Sean Johnson is signed on for one more year at the club, but what if the American international looks to move on before then? The former MLS Cup MVP probably expected to do a lot more winning north of the border so maybe he uses the offseason to look for a trade elsewhere in the league.
If that’s the case, Toronto would be looking for a new number one between the sticks and Canadian Maxime Crépeau could be a great option to take on shot-stopping duties under his former national team head coach.
Crépeau is returning from a serious leg injury he suffered in the 2022 MLS Cup final between his Los Angeles FC and the Philadelphia Union and has yet to appear in a league match since that game. He has though returned to the pitch for LA’s MLS Next Pro side and has been on the substitute’s bench for his club’s last two MLS fixtures.
With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Crépeau would be a good pickup for any club in MLS in need of help at goalkeeper. As things stand TFC aren’t one of those clubs, but if something were to change between now and then, Crépeau could get a call from his old coach.
Karifa Yao has already been on the books at CF Montréal and Vancouver Whitecaps, so why not complete the Canadian trio? The 22-year-old has found it difficult to keep his spot with the Caps’ first team this season after being snapped up by the West Coast club in the MLS Re-Entry Draft but he could have a better chance of cracking Toronto’s roster given the lack of top centre-backs in the squad.
Daniel Nimick of the Halifax Wanderers is a frontrunner for CPL Defender of the Year for 2023. A long-range passer who can get in the goals, the Whitecaps draft pick has the required tools to develop as a quality centre-back in MLS. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if his first season in the CPL ends up as his last.
Sean Young reportedly garnered interest from three MLS sides after his hot start to the 2023 CPL season for Pacific FC. The 22-year-old box-to-box midfielder has since slowed down a bit but has shown that he can create for others and get into good goalscoring positions. Physically strong and just 22 years old, Young could be a potential difference-maker in the TFC midfield.