Canada returns home to BMO Field on Tuesday night with a lead.
Jonathan David and Stephen Eustáquio scored either side of a Shamar Nicholson goal for Jamaica in the opening leg of their Concacaf Nations League Quarterfinal against Jamaica.
Originally scheduled for Friday night, the game had to be moved to Saturday morning due to heavy rains. Just another familiar curveball from playing in Concacaf.
“We knew coming in here would be very difficult,” said interim head coach Mauro Biello post-match. “But we were able to deny them some of those opportunities early on and we stayed patient throughout the game, got our chance, took our chance at the end of that first half.”
“[Jamaica] got themselves back into the game in the second half,” he continued. “Sometimes in those moments you’ve got to be a little bit more focused and not allow those things to happen, but credit to the team to fight through it, come back, and score a great second goal."
"Very proud, very proud of the team. Really good character from the group.”
Canada took the lead on a deft passage of play from Cyle Larin who corralled the ball, turned and burst through a crowd of defenders before squaring to his strike partner David in first-half stoppage-time. Jamaica responded with a quickly taken free kick that caught Canada napping in the 56th minute, but a trademark bursting Richie Laryea run up the right creating an opening and he picked out Eustáquio in the heart of the box as the clock ticked down.
It was a patient, professional performance on the road.
“We knew that we had to be careful,” reflected Biello on Monday. “In a moment they could cause problems, they could put us in danger. We knew our moments would come and we took our moments. It's something that we discussed and worked on during the week and we were able to execute in the game.”
The result – a lead, two away goals – sets up Canada well to get the job done in Toronto.
“We wanted to come out of here with a result,” said Biello post-match. “We knew that if we're able to achieve that, it would put us in a good position for the game back in Toronto. The first phase mission accomplished for us, but we know that we'll have a difficult game in Toronto. Now we switch our focus to recovery, get the players ready and focused to perform in that game.”
The game-winner from Eustáquio was massive.
“It felt amazing to be honest,” said the midfielder on Monday evening. “Obviously, it's a very important goal.”
“We knew that if we did a good job in Jamaica that things would be easier in Toronto because we know how strong we are here,” he continued. “But there's still a second half to play. The guys are locked in and we're going to do everything to seal the victory.”
The first leg of a two-legged series always comes with a lot of uncertainty. Teams can be tentative, playing to set up the second leg. With 90 minutes played and knowledge of what result is needed to advance there is more clarity for Tuesday night.
Both sides will adapt to the experience of having just played.
“We've got to be ready,” urged Biello. “They're going to adjust things, they're going to change things, we’ve got to be ready for that.”
“At the same time, we’ve got to be able to control the game and put the game on our own terms,” he continued. “We’re playing at home. It's about imposing our identity, our rhythm on the game and then being very careful of some of the threats. As you saw in Jamaica, there's three or four players there that we need to pay some special attention to.”
Not only does victory ensure a spot in the Concacaf Nations League Finals next March, but a spot in the 2024 Copa América, a valuable chance to play against South American competition ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, is on the line.
“It's a very important tournament,” said Eustáquio.
“Inside the locker room, we know how big [Copa América] is. In terms of passion, quality, intensity, it's one of the best tournaments in the world.”
“We still have to qualify, but I'm very happy that Concacaf is involved,” he continued. “I’ve been talking with Oso [Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio], Colombian background, for him it would be very special to play a tournament like this.”
BMO Field has been a fortress for Canada.
Tuesday will be the 26th match the Canadian Men’s National Team has played at the stadium since 2007. They have lost just once: a friendly against Peru in 2010.
Canada is unbeaten in the 22 matches since and has won 13 of the last 16.
The most common opponent: Jamaica, who will be playing their fifth match at BMO Field. The most recent visit was the 4-0 Canada win in March 2022 that sent the men to their first FIFA World Cup since 1986.
The two sides drew the first meeting in 2008; Canada has won the three since.
“Every time we play here we feel our fans behind us,” said Biello.
“That means a lot. It means a lot to the players. They're able to feel those emotions in the stands.”
“When you combine that with this group of players that have had success, you start to build this momentum here at the stadium,” he closed. “Hopefully we can continue that tomorrow and make a lot of fans here proud.”