Canada lost a heart-breaker at BMO Field on Tuesday night in the pouring rain, falling 3-2 to Jamaica.
Alphonso Davies extended Canada’s lead from the first leg to 3-1 in the 25th minute, but Shamar Nicholson scored twice within a three-minute spell beginning in the 63rd minute and despite Ismaël Koné putting the Canadians back in the driver’s seat with his header three minutes later there was another twist in the tale yet to come.
A controversial penalty kick was awarded to the Jamaicans for a handball on Stephen Eustáquio and Bobby Reid converted from the spot in the 78th minute.
With the series level at 4-4, Jamaica advanced to the Concacaf Nations League Finals next March on away goals.
“A massive disappointment, for sure,” said interim head coach Mauro Biello post-match. “They made an adjustment with [Damian] Lowe coming into midfield. They were a little bit more aggressive; we were a little bit too casual playing out, we lost easy balls.”
“We didn't put it away,” he continued.
“We could have. We could have put it away in the first half and we allowed them to climb back into the game.”
Jamaican goalkeeper, Andre Blake, of the Philadelphia Union, made two massive saves inside the opening 15 minutes, denying both Davies and Cyle Larin from close range.
“The first half was good,” said Biello. “In different moments we looked really good, we created opportunities. They didn't really have much in the first half. We're in control. We got the goal that put us ahead.”
“Second half, you can’t make mistakes. We made mistakes: we gave them the ball, we gave them the first goal, and all of a sudden momentum starts to turn and they start to grow. At the end of the day, we put ourselves in trouble,” he underlined. “We came back into the game, we made changes, and then we give up a penalty and there's the game. They're disappointed in that room, that's for sure. That's where we're at right now.”
The disappointment was palpable.
“We have too much quality on this team to find ourselves in this position,” said Mark-Anthony Kaye in the BMO Field tunnel. “The guys did really well in the first half and we let it get away from us in the second half.”
“We need to do better at understanding how to manage games,” he continued. “Mistakes happen, that’s part of football, but how do we respond to them? How do we adapt when a team is pushing the tempo? We didn't do a good enough job today. It's frustrating.”
Eustáquio, who was caught in possession leading to Jamaica’s lifeline, agreed: “[Kaye’s] right. We have a lot of quality; we have a lot of experience. After my mistake it’s time to regroup, see what's going wrong, and then not let it slip.”
“They gained momentum and it was hard for us to come back. We scored, but the penalty was really bad timing,” he continued.
“We still have a shot to get to Copa América. As I said before, our goal is to win trophies and it’s bad that we’re not in the final four.”
In an uncertain world the clarity that would have been provided by seeing out the result is a costly loss.
The Concacaf Nations League Finals in March, Copa América in June, then the next batch of Nations League Quarterfinals in November. That is a framework of matches against strong competition on the calendar, something to build around.
Instead, uncertainty awaits.
What galled Biello the most was that Canada “did the hard part.”
“We won over there. First half, it should have been two or three,” he continued. “Blake made some really good saves to keep them in the game and then we shot ourselves in the foot. In those moments, we weren't able to be strong enough to hold them off.”
A year ago Canada was preparing for their first men’s World Cup appearance since 1986.
“The team is going through a transition,” said Biello. “We’ve got to get out of it. We’ve got to continue to build. March will be an important window.”
“Everybody's disappointed,” he continued. “You’ve got to look at yourself, everybody – the staff, the players – what could we have done better? How could we have finished off this game? You’ve got to come up in those moments.”
“We weren't able to manage those moments in the right way. The minute we took a goal, you saw a little bit of uncertainty,” Biello closed. “That needs to change, that mindset needs to be stronger going forward. It's going to take some time to get out of it.”
Kaye put it squarely on the players.
“It's how we show up every day, how we train, our mentality when we come together. That's what it's about,” he replied, asked if the stop-start nature to the year’s schedule was a factor. “There's too much quality to be like, ‘we missed a window and now we're not cohesive.’”
“We played how many games together in the last year-and-a-half with relatively the same team. We know each other,” Kaye laid out. “It comes down to wanting to work. It comes down to being savvy, understanding the game, and in this moment we let it get away from us. We didn’t manage the game as well as we could.”
Canada will face Trinidad and Tobago on March 23, 2024 in one of the 2024 Copa América qualifying playoffs at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. Costa Rica and Honduras will meet in the other with the winners moving on to the tournament.
Circle the date.
“It’s the only priority,” said Jonathan David. “It’s the only thing we have to play for now, so we’re going for it 100%.”