GLENDALE, Ariz. – After being equal to the task of Honduras and Costa Rica, two teams currently battling for spots in the 2018 World Cup, Canada feel that Thursday’s encounter with Jamaica in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal round is entirely winnable(7:30 pm ET | TSN2, RDS in Canada, FS1, UniMás, UDN).
Canada have scored five times in this edition of the Gold Cup, although four of those came against French Guiana. But considering Canada’s lack of offensive output in previous tournaments, the goals are certainly an encouraging sign.
Now, Canada come up against a Jamaican side that’s been stingy, conceding only once in the Gold Cup group stage in a 1-1 draw against El Salvador. Their defense will provide a solid test of Canada's new-found dynamism.
“I think we have a potent enough offense. We have some players that want to score and are encouraged,” said head coach Octavio Zambrano. “Our idea is predicated on the fact that if we can score, then we can manage the game. It doesn’t always happen that way but that momentum that you can build upon.”
Canada haven’t been in the Gold Cup quarterfinals since 2009 and haven’t qualified for the semis since 2007, when they went out to the US in a way that still enrages a section of the Canadian fanbase.
Considering this stage of the competition has been unattainable for eight years, Canada want to extend their presence for as long as possible.
“It’s really something special to be in the quarters. I don’t see it as a quarter or as a tournament anymore,” said veteran Marcel de Jong, one of three Canadians who was on the team in 2009. “I see it as one game at-a-time now. If this is it then this is it, but we obviously want to go to the semifinals and this is what we’re focused on. I don’t want to think too far ahead. I’m just thinking of [Thursday’s] game.”
Canada will draw inspiration from Jamaica’s improbable run to the Gold Cup final two years ago. That tournament was impressive, but the Reggae Boyz have struggled since, failing to advance to the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, making Thursday's match something of an encounter between two teams finding their identities. Canada have shown flashes of excitement under new manager Zambrano, while Jamaica look like a tough team to break down.
“It’s like chess. You cannot go out for the first couple of minutes. You can win the game in the last minute but obviously, you don’t want that,” said de Jong of how he wants his team to handle the knockout round games. “You want to control the game and make the tempo. I think we can do that, I think we have a really good chance. If we control the game and have possession. If they run after us instead of us after them, I think that’s going to be huge.”