Canada get "dream progression" to Copa América 2024

Jacob Shaffelburg - Canada sider

When the final whistle sounded Saturday at Toyota Stadium, Canada had averted disaster.

After calling up a younger roster and omitting several veterans that got them to the 2022 World Cup, interim head coach Mauro Biello helped steer a 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago to earn a Copa América 2024 spot.

Despite some nervy moments, Canada have secured at least three all-important competitive matches this summer – highlighted by the tournament opener against reigning World Cup champions Argentina on June 20. In Group A, they’ll also face Peru and Chile.

“I'm super happy for all our fans,” Biello said postgame. “First and foremost, what this means to us and all of our fans is huge – to be in Copa América and play against the world champions is what all the soccer fans and sports fans want to see. It's a dream progression for these guys to say they will play in Copa América.”

While Canada dominated from kickoff, with Jonathan David operating as an attacking midfielder, pulling strings behind Cyle Larin and Iké Ugbo, they struggled to develop clear-cut chances until the second half.

On their 12th shot of the match, former Orlando City SC striker Cyle Larin (61’) opened the scoring with a deft left-footed finish past goalkeeper Denzil Smith. Nashville SC winger Jacob Shaffelburg (90+1’) sealed the result in second-half stoppage time, smashing the ball into the top corner after bursting up the left wing.

In navigating a tougher match than expected, Canada did what they needed and got themselves to Copa América, clinching vital preparation matches ahead of co-hosting the 2026 World Cup on home soil.

Mission accomplished

Since going three-and-out at Qatar 2022, the CanMNT’s struggles in subsequent Concacaf Nations Leagues, plus off-field challenges for the federation, had dented the team’s public image.

Yet, with Saturday’s victory and recent appointments within the federation, including the hiring of CEO and general secretary Kevin Blue, there’s new energy as the 2026 World Cup approaches.

“We had that experience in Qatar, and now we get to build on that,” Biello added. “Now, we have the opportunity to play some of these high-level teams, allowing the players to gain that experience, and that’s something we wanted to achieve.”

While Canada’s victory may have been more difficult than anticipated, former MLS stars Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan showed maturity in wide areas. Buchanan especially found one-on-one opportunities and isolated opposing defenders.

“He's been working hard, and things are going well over at Inter Milan while he's super snappy and waiting for his movements to get into playing time as a midfielder,” Biello said of Buchanan. “For us over here, he is an important player who can obviously make a difference.”

Critical summer

Saturday’s result also proved vital for several players looking to solidify their roles within the national team.

Shaffelburg continued the form he showcased with a recent brace against Inter Miami in Concacaf Champions Cup action, indicating he could play a starting role in the future. There was also a senior debut for 18-year-old Fulham center back Luc De Fougerolles, whose late-game cameo solidified him in the CanMNT picture moving forward.

“It was very important [to give him minutes] and that cap,” Biello added in French on the teenaged defender. “He did very well in training and progressed a lot. We got the chance to play him today. He has great potential.”

With the result secured, Canada have plenty to look forward to in the coming months, getting a chance in Copa América while also adding importance to a June 6 friendly against the Netherlands.

Now, pushing towards a critical summer, the result potentially paved a path towards Biello earning the full-time role as Canada’s manager.

“It was a tough loss to Jamaica [in the Concacaf Nations League quarterfinals], and I think there was a lot more time and preparation behind the scenes to prepare this team for this,” Biello said. “We want to savor this victory right now.”