For many Canadians, watching Team Canada’s women’s soccer team defeat France to bag the bronze at London 2012 might be the defining moment of the Olympic Games.
For others, watching them lose to the U.S. in heartbreaking fashion may take precedence.
For John Herdman, both moments will have lasting implications, each for their own reason.
Hours before being honoured at BMO Field prior to the Canadian men’s soccer match over Panama on Friday, the coach of the women’s national team spoke of both games as significant tipping points in the future of women’s soccer, starting with the bronze medal match.
“[Diana] Matheson’s goal [in extra time to beat the French team 1-0], and the work from certain players to get the ball to Matheson just epitomized what this team came to do, which was to change the profile of women’s football forever,” Herdman told Sportsnet Radio the Fan 590.
Considering the circumstances surrounding their final game, just getting to that bronze medal match had been a tough affair.
Three days earlier, the Canadian team had lost a controversial semifinal game to the American squad, leaving them mentally exhausted. What helped bring them out of that funk, according to Herdman, was the stellar support system surrounding the women in London.
“We put a great staff around this team,” the England-born coach said. “We had a mental trainer in Ceri Evans … He looks at these sorts of emotional traumas and his psychiatry skills came into play. He was able to work with the team and with individuals to revitalize them.”
In the end, the 37-year-old coach insists that coming off the heels of the devastating defeat in the semifinals made the victory over France that much sweeter for the Canadians.
“Sometimes winning a bronze means a little bit more than a silver because you actually go win a bronze but you lose a gold.”
Though Herdman described having to re-watch the semifinal match as “torture,” he understands the wider significance of that loss.
“There was no dishonor in that U.S game,” he said. “If the girls had come off and said, ‘listen, we were rubbish today. We didn’t play our best. We blew it,’ then it would have been harder going into that next game.
“Even if we had beat the U.S., there may have been [the thought that] ‘well we’ve hit the pinnacle of women’s football,’ and there would have been a bigger challenge to try and get them ready for the gold medal.
“I think either way, the travesty of that game has given us a bigger future. We’ve still got to beat the U.S. in a major competition and I’m hoping the 2015 [FIFA Women’s] World Cup [in Canada] will be our time.”
Aside from the bronze medal, Herdman suggests that the Canadian women’s soccer team took something from London that may be more valuable in the long run, especially as his team looks ahead to that prestigious 2015 tournament.
“We have actually got a group of players with some great experience now,” he said. “When you’ve been to that level, you know what it takes and I’m sure you can achieve it again.
“I think it’s about keeping this group together … and hoping that we can unearth some great talent out of this team in 2015.”