John Herdman may be one of the most accomplished soccer coaches on the planet, but when it comes to playing the straight man, his shtick still needs some work.
There was the head coach of Canada's women's national team in front of a media throng on the pitch at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex Monday, outlining the work ahead in advance of Thursday's friendly against the No. 1-ranked team in the world, the United States.
He spoke about downplaying the rivalry to a degree in an effort to take the pressure off his squad, about Canada using the energy of the home crowd and urging the faithful to pick up the girls if their game reaches a lull.
He also announced he had earlier in the day informed the squad who the starting 11 would be against the Yanks, the first game on Canadian soil this season.
'I'm a crier. I hope I don't but with my mom being in the stands for the first time seeing me play live for Canada... It's going to be a special moment for her, a special moment for me'
It was here that Herdman was asked a very basic, but important question: will Winnipeg's own Desiree Scott -- "The Destroyer" to her friends and enemies on the field -- be in that starting lineup?
"No, we've left Desiree out," began Herdman, trying to keep a straight face before grinning. "We thought we'd surprise the crowd."
Insert guffaws and chuckles here...
"Look, I don't want to give the U.S. too much information, but it's pretty obvious she'll be starting," Herdman continued, "and I think the whole of Manitoba would lynch me if she wasn't."
Both the Canadian and American teams worked out Monday at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex to prepare for their second meeting of 2014, the first a 1-0 U.S. win back on Jan. 31 in front of 20,862 fans at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. That result improved the Americans' all-time record against Canada to 47-3-5 and that jaw-dropping number will continue to be one of the key storylines leading up to Thursday.
But the first few days have all been about reconnecting as a team here in Winnipeg and Scott's teammates teasing her about our so-called spring weather. There was also a laser tag session Sunday night and a team meal at a local eatery.
After name-dropping LaserTopia as the gaming host, Herdman was pressed by the media to give a shout out to the restaurant.
"Am I allowed to say that?" he said with a laugh. "We had dinner at Earl's and I recommend the steak.
"Look, the locals have definitely made it known that we're here and are treating us fantastically. I think some of the girls are getting treated like rock stars. It's brilliant."
The biggest rock star this week -- even bigger than Canadian sniper Christine Sinclair or U.S. keeper Hope Solo -- is Scott, the proud product of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba.
Thursday's match will be the first for Scott in front of her mother. She'll also have "hundreds" of family, friends, ex-teammates and coaches in the crowd. Admittedly emotional, Scott will work Thursday night to walk the line of soaking up the atmosphere with readying for a match against their archrival.
"I'm a crier," she said. "I hope I don't but with my mom being in the stands for the first time seeing me play live for Canada... It's going to be a special moment for her, a special moment for me. I'm excited for it."
Asked what moment she might be most looking forward to, she added:
"When they announce the starting lineup and walking out there with my Canada jersey on and just take in that stadium feeling. I think it's going to be an electric crowd and just to be there and know what section my mom is going to be in and my family... it's going to be unreal. The fans are going to be awesome. They're excited to see the whole national team, not just me.
"This is kind of like a mini-Olympics for me. It's a huge game. I've never played in Winnipeg before in front of my family and friends. There's that added pressure, but I'm also going to thrive off that excitement of playing in front of them. I'm pumped for it."
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