Canada crumble vs. Jamaica in Nations League, miss automatic Copa América spot


TORONTO – In 16 minutes, it all came crashing down for the Canadian men’s national team Tuesday night at Toronto FC’s BMO Field.

Leading 1-0 after a confident first half, Les Rouges surrendered three second-half goals against Jamaica, losing 3-2 in the second leg of their Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal and on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate deadlock. They're now out of the regional competition's 2023-24 edition and have missed an automatic berth to the 2024 Copa América, hosted across the United States next summer. 

For a national team program that 363 days prior went toe-to-toe with Belgium at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, this setback will cloud the foreseeable future.

“I can't believe what just happened. That's a disappointment. We have too much quality on this team to find ourselves in this position,” New England Revolution midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said postmatch.

 “We didn't do a good enough job today. It was a little too late to try and save ourselves, and it’s frustrating.”

Canada entered the home fixture up 2-1 on aggregate after a historic win at Jamaica last Saturday. They carried that momentum into the early stages, dominating play through the opening half and looking comfortable in their approach.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC homegrown export Alphonso Davies made it 1-0 before halftime, and Jonathan David thrived in an attacking midfield position behind former Orlando City SC striker Cyle Larin, a new look for him in a Canada shirt.

Yet, it didn’t take long for things to unravel. Jamaica adjusted and entered the second half determined, beating Canada in nearly every aspect and highlighting the hosts' weaknesses. For a group that topped 2022 Concacaf World Cup qualifying, confidence was lacking.

Reggae Boyz striker Shamar Nicholson scored in the 62nd and 66th minutes to take a 2-1 lead, and while ex-CF Montréal midfielder Ismaël Koné tied the game at 2-2, the visitors remained in control. Eventually, Jamaica scored a 78th-minute winner from Bobby De Cordova Reid's penalty after a handball call on Stephen Eustáquio.

“We were too casual, a little bit too casual, now we've lost easy balls. They took some momentum and were able to score. We weren't able to forget ourselves and climb out of that,” CanMNT interim head coach Mauro Biello said postmatch.

“We did the hard part, went over there and won in Jamaica, and played a great first half here. ... Then we shot ourselves in the foot and gave them momentum.”

While Eustaquio's handball will be debated at length, Canada weren't good enough on the night and now must deal with the consequences. They're eliminated from the Nations League and can't auto-qualify for the 2024 Copa América, but will chase a last-ditch berth alongside other quarterfinal losers in March.

The result stunned supporters off the pitch, many of whom had jumped on the CanMNT bandwagon over the last several years amid the nation’s rise in Concacaf and world soccer.

“Everybody is disappointed,” Biello said. “You got to look at yourself and at everybody, from the staff to the players, and what could we have done better? How could we have finished off this game knowing the situation we were in?”

What now for Biello?

After three halves of four against Jamaica, Biello might have convinced certain observers that he's the right man to succeed John Herdman. Yet, substitution decisions in the final 45 minutes and an inability to see out the job might leave Canada Soccer leaning elsewhere. 

Particularly, a triple-change at the 74-minute mark fell under scrutiny as the quarterfinal hung in the balance.

“We had a substitution plan going into this game, and obviously, the state of the game changed a lot of things,” Biello said. “We had tied it up at two and we needed to stabilize at that point.”

As Biello's future is decided, Canada Soccer initially prepared to name a head coach in early 2024. That's an even more critical appointment with a must-win, last-chance Copa América qualifier approaching. 

“I’m disappointed. I know there’s a process, and I did everything I can,” Biello said. “I know I'm the coach, and when you lose the game, it's the coach. But at the end of the day,  I know there's a process.”

As Canada chase progress, Tuesday's heartbreak vs. Jamaica will linger. They showed some positives, but lacked composure and don’t look ready to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best on home soil at the 2026 FIFA World Cup. 

For most of the series, it looked like the once-rising CanMNT were back. Alas, all it took was a halftime break, a free-flowing Jamaican team and 16 minutes for everything to turn pear-shaped.