Canada and Jamaica played to an exciting 1-1 draw in the opening match of semifinal round in CONCACAF qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The draw continued two disappointing trends for the Canadian side. It marked the third consecutive time that Canada has failed to win its group stage opener, and the Maple Leafs are now 2-4-6 in their last 12 group stage and final stage World Cup qualifiers held on their home soil.
As for Jamaica, the 52nd-minute goal from Real Salt Lake's Andrew Williams, just five minutes after Julian de Guzman gave Canada the lead, clinched a valuable road point for the Reggae Boyz. Jamaica is now 2-0-3 in group stage opening matches since CONCACAF adopted its current qualifying format in 1992.
Dwayne De Rosario and Pat Onstad of the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas' Adrian Serioux made the Canadian lineup, while Toronto FC's Greg Sutton and Jim Brennan were on the bench. The only MLS regular in the Jamaican starting XI was Real Salt Lake's Williams, with Colorado's Omar Cummings on the bench and TFC's Tyrone Marshall sidelined with a hip injury.
The opening minutes were largely uneventful, as both teams held the ball while testing for cracks in the opposing defensive formation. It took eight minutes for the game's first shot, a mild effort from Canada forward Rob Friend that was easily handled by goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
While the action on the field was quiet, the opposite was true in the stands. A large Jamaican contingent at National Soccer Stadium loudly supported their side, which only compelled the Canadians in attendance to root harder for their boys. It seemed at times to be close to a 50-50 split in terms of allegiances between the 21,978 fans on hand in Toronto.
The Canadian fans had the most to cheer about when Canada picked up the first significant chance of the game in the 13th minute. A De Rosario free kick bounced off a Jamaican player's head and flew dangerously close to the open right side of the net before going out of the bounds. The subsequent corner found the goal area but was easily cleared away by the Jamaican back line.
While Canada was the side pushing the pace and mostly controlling the ball, it didn't translate into any further scoring chances in the first half-hour of play. The Reggae Boyz did a quality job of clogging the middle to break up passes, while the Canadians did a bit of self-sabotage by picking up needless fouls, the most significant of which earned De Rosario a booking in the 25th minute.
The Jamaicans, meanwhile, began to come alive on attack. A cross attempt just missed the head of striker Deon Burton in the 33rd minute, and less than a minute later, another cross sailed dangerously deep into Canada's territory before being cleared away in front of the net.
A closely fought first half came to a close with one final quality chance in extra time. Williams was booked for a foul just outside the area, which gave Canada a free kick from 25 yards out. De Rosario lined a solid high kick over the wall but also over the Jamaica net as well.
The second half began with a bang as it took just two minutes for Canada to capture the first goal of the game. A De Rosario cross found Tomasz Radzinski on the left side of the net, and it initially looked as if Radzinski wouldn't be able to control the ball. The striker managed to get a foot on it, however, and made a back pass to Julian de Guzman, whose shot eluded Ricketts and found the right side of the net. It was the fourth career international goal for de Guzman, who stars for Deportivo La Coruna of La Liga in Spain.
The Reggae Boyz came right back with the equalizer just five minutes later. Williams took a corner from the left side that curled towards the net and seemed to confuse Onstad. The ball bounced off of the 'keeper's chest and into the net. It was the 13th career international goal for the RSL midfielder, who has been a fixture for Jamaica since the Reggae Boyz appeared in the 1998 World Cup.
With two goals scored in a five-minute span, the atmosphere became even more electric as the Canadian and Jamaican supporters raucously cheered on their respective sides. Jamaica nearly scored again shortly after the Williams goal, as a booking given to Serioux resulted in a near-miss free kick.
The momentum was beginning to swing in Jamaica's favor, but the Maple Leafs responded with a great scoring chance in the 71st minute. De Rosario held the ball in the Jamaica end, and the former two-time MLS Cup MVP attempted to find a crossing partner. After one attempt was blocked, De Rosario got the ball back and centered a pass that bounced off two bodies and ricocheting to Ricketts. The midfielder was on the spot a few moments later, this time, receiving a cross, but De Rosario's header was stopped at point-blank range.
Desperate for the go-ahead goal, Canada head coach Dale Mitchell inserted the red-hot Ali Gerba into the match in the 78th minute. Gerba scored three times in two games against St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the previous round of qualifiyng.
Pressing late, Canada nearly scored on a booming shot from de Guzman, but the midfielder's shot sailed just over the net and the outstretched hands of a leaping Ricketts. In the 90th minute, De Rosario was nearly able to capitalize on a fumble from Ricketts, but defender Ian Goodison was in position to clear the ball.
As the game moved into stoppage time, it was Jamaica who threatened with a number of crosses and shots that evaded the Canadian back line, but no serious shots were taken.
The next matchday in CONCACAF qualifying is Sept. 6, when Canada will play host to Honduras in Montreal and Jamaica will host Mexico in Kingston.
Mark Polishuk is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.