SAN PEDRO DEL PINATAR, Spain — The John Herdman era is off to a winning start for Canada’s men’s soccer team.
Tosaint Ricketts’ 16th career international goal in the 54th minute was enough to give Canada a 1-0 win over New Zealand on a tricky, windy day in southeastern Spain.
"You can see New Zealand is a tough team to beat, "said Herdman, who took over the program after Canada parted ways with Octavio Zambrano in January. "We’re putting a bit of trust in certain players that haven’t had an opportunity in some time and they’re stepping up."
With an almost overpowering wind blowing in off the Mediterranean Sea, Ricketts benefited from a strong gust in racing onto a through ball that was more hopeful than anything by defender Dejan Jakovic.
The wind played havoc on the All Whites’ back line which made a meal of handling the situation and the Toronto FC forward maintained composure for a cool finish past goalkeeper Max Crocombe.
For Ricketts, the goal comes after a tough start to the club season with Toronto FC. Ricketts has yet to play a minute for his club after dealing with a thyroid issue.
"It’s big. It was my first game of 2018. I had a rough start with health problems earlier this year," said Ricketts. "So it’s a big step forward in the year and I’m happy to get the minutes. I’m happy to play for my country and I’m happy to show that I can provide."
Ricketts is now tied with Alex Bunbury for fourth all-time on the Canadian scoring list as he chases Dwayne De Rosario’s Canadian record 22 goals.
Playing in the first camp since Herdman made the switch to the men’s program from the women’s team in January, Canada looked shaky in the first few minutes and could easily have fallen behind.
Michael McGlinchey beat Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan twice in the first 10 minutes, first with a shot from outside the penalty area and then with a header. Both efforts come back off the post.
Eighteen-year-old newcomer Liam Millar was a handful for the New Zealand back line as he went the full 90 minutes. Playing on the left side of the Canadian attack, Millar made a few teasing runs and won a few corner kicks.
A few minutes after Canada went in front, Millar had half an opening inside the New Zealand penalty area but a moment’s hesitation allowed a defender to get back and close off the chance.
Millar is in the youth program at Liverpool FC and didn’t show any nerves on his international debut.
"I’m not a nervous guy," Millar admitted. "So there weren’t any nerves. Obviously it’s my debut and a special day for me, but I try to think of it as just another game so I’m calm and relaxed."
Millar was almost on the end of a Tesho Akindele cross in the 79th minute but was just a half-step late for a chance to score from close range.
"He’s ready," said Herdman of Millar. "The senior players have got behind him from the first session. He was fearless. He’s got that X factor. He doesn’t know any other way than to try and terrorize fullbacks. It’s exciting."
After the game, Herdman and the players were congratulated by former national team head coach Benito Floro, who is back in his native Spain after his contract wasn’t renewed by the Canadian Soccer Association in 2016.
Canada’s next scheduled game is a qualifier for the new CONCACAF Nations League competition against the U.S. Virgin Islands in September.