Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team took on Jamaica in Kingston for a crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Sunday. Here’s what stood out from that one, as both teams combined for a 0-0 draw that they both might soon want to forget, for different reasons.
It might have been the same result as their previous game, yet it felt so different.
For Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team, who were riding a high after picking up a big point in a 1-1 draw away to Mexico in the Octagonal, the final round of World Cup qualifiers, just a few days ago, it certainly felt like they were on the right track to then go and beat a struggling Jamaica side in Jamaica a few days later.
So for them to then go out and then combine for another draw, this time a 0-0, in their clash with Jamaica on Sunday was tough, because while it was a hard-earned point away from home, which in CONCACAF, should never be taken for granted, it still felt like they could’ve gotten so much more from this game.
“I think the Jamaican team was solid today,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, said after the match. “They’re a pretty formidable group when they commit their minds to defending and playing in transition, they’re a tough team to play against. So they did well to stifle us to a point.”
Faced off against a Jamaica side sitting last out of 8 teams in the Octo, a position they maintained with this result, it felt like they were a side that was ripe for the picking heading into this one, especially considering that they were missing a lot of their best players, and were playing this game in front of no fans.
Even though Canada were short-handed themselves, missing a few players, and were playing this game in tougher conditions than they’re used to playing in, they were favourites for a reason, but they just couldn’t find a way to get a win out of this one.
Because of that, it feels like Canada dropped 2 points here, instead of gaining 1, leaving them to wonder if this was a missed opportunity for them as the Octo continues.
Having now dropped to 4th in the Octo standings, out of the top 3 that qualify for the 2022 World Cup, instead finding themselves in the playoff spot, this isn’t where Canada wanted to be after this game, making it a tough one to stomach.
The good news out of all of this, though? Canada takes on the team directly above them, Panama, at home this Wednesday, and if they win that one, they could climb as high as first, depending on results elsewhere, and will at the very least be back in the top 3, where they believe they belong.
Considering that the goal is just to make it to the World Cup at any cost, this point is a good way to help them continue on that quest, because while it hurts in the short-term, they add up in the long-term, especially if they can find a way to win their home games, along with 1 or 2 more on the road jammed in there.
“The boys showed their spirit in wanting to play,” Herdman said. “We came away with a good point, we’ll rue missing 2, but I think coming out of this, Mexico’s a tough place to get a point, Jamaica’s a tough place to get a point, and we’re on our way back home now for 3 home matches, so this is what we’ve been waiting for.
But at the same time, they still can’t afford many more games like this Jamaica one. As good as a result is in the overall context of things, if you want to make a World Cup, you need to not only find a way to get results in tough games, you have to win the ones that you are favoured to do so in, and unfortunately for Canada, they weren’t able to do that in this one.
So with all of that in mind, here’s what stood out from this Jamaica game, one that Canada will want to flush out and move on from, as they now get to take on Panama in a massive clash up in Toronto this Wednesday.
Canada survives sloppy first half:
But while the result wasn’t ideal for Canada, when you looked back at how this game began, that should’ve been a warning sign that this game could be heading that way.
To start the game, control would be hard to find for either side, as the game quickly adopted what could be best described as a chaotic game state, which for a Canadian team that likes to control games, isn’t exactly what one would deem to be ideal.
From the sloppy pitch, which started to dig up less than 5 minutes into the game, to the physical tackles that were delivered by both teams, it looked more like a rugby game than a World Cup qualifier, making that first half a bit of a slog.
“It was difficult,” Herdman said. “We’re a team that with the type of players that we got, we rely on our build-up strategies, we rely on our transition work, and I think the Jamaica style is very direct, second phases, and then break your lines, so I think they tailor their style to the conditions here, and I thought they did well at that.”
“I think for Canada, we have to adapt (to that), we said we needed to get things in behind a bit quicker, and I think we could’ve been better there, especially in this first half.”
There were still chances to make something of the game, as Alphonso Davies came close for Canada with an effort from distance after a nice Liam Millar run in the 15th minute, while Kemar Roofe nodded a header just wide for Jamaica in the 23rd minute, but otherwise, it just wasn’t much of a game for offence as a whole, as the scoreline demonstrated.
That was best reflected in the fact that both teams combined for just 7 shots, none of them on target, through 45 minutes, as neither side really managed to find a way to test their opposing number in goal.
Along with a high number of duels and fouls, to go along with subpar passing numbers, neither team had really found a way to get much control in the match to start off, and that was reflected in those numbers.
The good news for Canada, though, was that they survived that half still tied, which gave them time to reflect on how they needed to break the game open in the second half, a lot more doable of a task than, say, trying to figure out how to come back, as they’ve had to do a few times this year.
With the conditions of the field, it felt like a game where whoever would score first would get a huge advantage, and heading into the second half, it just felt like Canada needed to find a way to get that opening tally, allowing them to break the game open.
Jamaica clearly wanted to play this way, and Canada had time to adjust to it, so it was all about figuring out how to beat it as they got set for a big 45 minutes of action.
“I thought it was what we expected,” Herdman admitted. “We knew that the Jamaican team had been taking a bit of heat from their (prior) performances, so we knew that they were going to come out firing, and I thought we controlled that well, those first 45 minutes.”
“We were in control, but we never really threatened them at the levels that we could.”
Second half opens up, but goals remain elusive:
So from there, it was nice to then see go and try and do that as the second stanza kicked off, as Canada looked to get something out of this game.
Right from the first minute of the second half, Canada came out with the intent to try and win the game, as they tried to desperately fashion some chances out of what was available to them.
Because of that, they nearly came close off of a free kick in the 46th minute, as Davies whistled a ball right past the post on a free-kick, nearly granting them their wish.
They then got a stark reminder of what could happen at the other end if they weren’t careful, as Jamaica’s Junior Flemmings then nodded a wide ball off of the post in the 49th minute, but then, it’d be all Canada for a good chunk of the action.
And through that, Canada then got their first massive chance of the game. After a fantastic run from Davies, he managed to square the ball across the face of Jamaica’s goal, where he’d find a wide-open Liam Millar, who seemed to have the goal at his mercy.
From there, he managed to redirect the shot on target, all but scoring the opening goal.
Or so everyone thought.
Somehow, Jamaica’s Andre Blake managed to get himself to Millar’s side to throw himself at the shot, and he’d manage to get his body in front of it, keeping it out with a fantastic save. Without a doubt, it was the biggest chance of the game for either team, but Jamaica managed to survive it without any damage.
“It was a game-winning save,” Jamaica’s head coach, Theodore Whitmore, admitted after the game.
And with that, Jamaica seemed to grow with confidence, too. After Canadian second-half substitute Stephen Eustaquio came close with a header in the 72nd minute, Jamaica then nearly scored a worldie through Kemar Roofe in the 80th, showing that they were still very much in contention to win this game.
But then, after that, the game would surprisingly somehow go on to finish without much further fanfare, other than a late strike from Jamaica’s Kemar Lawrence that forced a save out of Canada’s Maxime Crepeau, as neither team would be able to conjure up what was needed to grab a win.
As a result, it left a point as the fair result, because while both teams certainly had chances to make the game go either way, they weren’t clinical enough to make anything happen with that, hence the 0-0 scoreline.
On another night, maybe that would’ve changed, but it just clearly wasn’t meant to be in this one, leaving both teams to wonder where they went wrong on Sunday.
“In that second half, again, I thought we had some good control,” Herdman said. “They can always catch you on set pieces, and counter-attacks, and we had to be pretty resilient in some moments.”
Cornelius and Henry come up big:
Otherwise, while Canada’s offence certainly could’ve done a lot more to help win this game, it’s good to see that at the other end of the pitch, their defence held up their side of the bargain, putting up a big performance to help keep Jamaica at bay.
Obviously, the clean sheet will be what stands out, but there’s also the fact that Canada held Jamaica to just 9 shots, only 1 of them on target, as they did a pretty good job at keeping their opponents quiet at home.
And 2 players that played a big role in making that happen? Doneil Henry and Derek Cornelius, the two former Whitecaps defenders who were reunited together at the heart of Canada’s defence in this one.
Making their first start together for Canada since September of 2019, they did a good job in helping Canada keep things relatively tidy in this game, especially considering the circumstances.
Plus, considering that they both have Jamaican roots, this was also a sweet game for other reasons, too, making it a memorable one for them to look back on in the future.
So for Cornelius, it was a sweet return to the National Team, as he was making his first appearance for Canada since January of 2020, and showed flashes that helped remind people why he was arguably Canada’s best centre back in 2019, recovering from a shaky start to put up a commanding performance at the back.
He might not have been making the flashy plays, but he did such a good job of doing what he needed to do, mopping up chance after chance that Jamaica tried to fashion up.
Thanks to that, he made a claim for more minutes with Canada going forward, because while he only made it back into this squad due to injury, his form over at his new club in Greece, Panetolikos, where he’s on loan, has suggested that he should stay here, clawing his way back into the Canadian centre back rotation.
Otherwise, it was business as usual for Henry, who wore the armband in this one, putting up a good shift despite shouldering that responsibility.
After a good appearance last time out against the United States in the September window, he hardly set a foot wrong in this one, showing what he can do when called upon.
He might be a bit flashier than Cornelius at times, with a desire to make a big tackle at least once per game, but in the right set-up, he can thrive, and today was a prime example of that.
So thanks to their standout performances, Canada was able to do what they needed to do in this one defensively, allowing them to get the point.
It might not align with what the perception of this team is, but Canada’s defence is a lot stronger than people realize, as they’ve only given up 3 goals in 5 games this Octo, and 9 in 16 games through 2021, and this performance was the latest example of that.
Canada’s depth continues to grow at the back, game-by-game, as there are a number of players who can step up on any given night to help keep things tidy, and in this one, Cornelius and Henry dutifully obliged in that role.
Shifting our attention elsewhere, it’s interesting to look at the sort of tactics that were employed by Canada in this one, because while they probably mostly got things right in terms of what they were expecting from this game, their game plan felt a bit lacking at times.
To start, defensively, they pretty much got things spot on, as they chose to go with more of a back 4 than we’re used to seeing out of them, and that was a good choice, as they did a good job of nullifying the Jamaican wide threat.
They could’ve easily done the same in a back 3, to be fair, but given the tough heat that this game was played in, having that back 4 just gave them the extra bit of stability that they needed, and that made a big difference, helping them keep the clean sheet.
That didn’t mean thing were perfect, as they didn’t always close down the Jamaican midfielders quick enough, allowing them to get some good shots off, and struggled with balls in from wide areas, particularly off of dead balls, but other than that, they did what they needed to, and the score reflects that.
Where they could’ve done a lot better, though, is on the offence, where they just couldn’t really get anything consistent going throughout the game.
They had flashes here and there, but those mostly came from individual bursts, instead of any set patterns, as they just couldn’t fashion together any of the sort of passing sequences that they were able to execute so well in their last 2 games against Mexico and El Salvador.
“They had to settle it down tonight,” Herdman said. “It just slowed the game down, you could see at times they were overthinking their touch, and it just meant that we couldn’t shift the ball as fluidly as we normally would.”
To be fair, the pitch played a large part in that, but at the same time, it wasn’t as if they were playing on gravel, so they could’ve still exercised more control than they did.
If anything, they just seemed a step off in terms of their decision-making in the final third, and in conditions like the one this game was played in, you just can’t afford to do that. On a good playing surface, you can think a little longer sometimes and get away with it, but on a surface like this, overthinking can be so deadly, and that impacted Canada tonight.
Looking at their set-up, using more of a 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 hybrid seemed to get guys into good positions, something that they didn’t have a problem with, but their execution was the big problem here, and that’s something they need to sort out for future games, especially those that will be played on the road in tough conditions.
On another night, they score some of their good chances, and this point is rendered moot, but at the same time, with the talent that they’ve got at their disposal, you’d like to see them control play every time they play, making it a bit disappointing that they weren’t able to keep up what they showed against Mexico into this one.
“I thought we had some good moments,” Herdman continued. “With a little bit more quality, we could’ve taken all 3 points tonight, I think Jamaica had a great opportunity off of a set-piece, but outside of that there wasn’t much going on.”
“I think for us, there was good control of the game, but we just couldn’t find that half a yard to get a shot off, or we were just trying to settle the ball for a cross that would bobble up.”
In the Mixer:
Lastly, here are some other bits and bobs that stood out to us from this one.
- Hopefully Junior Hoilett is okay for Wednesday. Originally supposed to return for this one after missing the Mexico game over travel restrictions, he apparently picked up a knock in training this week, which kept him from playing in this game. He was on the bench for this one, so he could’ve theoretically been an option if needed, but seeing that Herdman didn’t use him in a 0-0 game, it gives an idea that it was a bit worse than expected. Because of that, fingers crossed he can make a speedy recovery ahead of the Wednesday game, as the last thing that Canada needs right now is another injury.
- Shout out to Maxime Crepeau for the clean sheet, his 2nd in these World Cup qualifiers, as he continued his strong run of form for both club and country as of late. He didn’t need to do much, but he did what he needed to, including making a key late stop, and that’s all you can ask for him in this game. Along with his ability to play with the ball at his feet, he’s been nice to have in goal in Milan Borjan’s absence, as he’s put up a pretty good audition towards potentially remaining as Canada’s #1 goalkeeper when both are healthy.
- Interestingly enough, this was only the second time in 32 games under John Herdman that Canada was shut out, which shows how rare this is. But having been shut out in 2 of their last 8 games, compared to none in 24 before that, it adds credence to the idea that Canada’s offence is playing a step behind in terms of where they could be at. Obviously, playing better teams has also contributed to that, but even then it just feels like Canada has more to give, and has the talent to avoid being shut out on any given night.
- Lastly, full credit to Alistair Johnston for becoming Canada’s minute leader this Octo with his 90-minute shift in this game. Considering he only made his Canada debut this year, it’s been quite the journey to see him go from someone no one knew about to a locked-in starter, yet he’s done so without much fanfare, just continuing to put up solid shift after solid shift, and this game was another example of that.
Ultimately, though, while it was a game to forget for Canada, at the same time, this point could prove to be huge in the long run, provided they can pick up some wins in future games, and none more important than the Panama one this Wednesday.
As the old adage goes, there’s no bad away points in CONCACAF, so while Canada might disagree with that notion at the moment, it could ring true in the long run, as long as they find a way to take care of business at home, and find a way to keep picking up points away.
Because of that, all attention shifts to Toronto now, as Canada will look to erase the sting of this Jamaica result against a Panama team rolling at the moment, fresh off of beating the US at home, in what will be a huge game for both sides.
So with that being said, it’ll be interesting now to see what ends up happening in that one, as that game could have massive implications on how this Octo ends up shaping up, making it one that both sides will desperately want to win, as they now shift their attention to that.
It’s been a decent window for Canada so far, but they can make it a good one with a win there, and they’re aware of that, so they’ll look to respond accordingly in front of their home fans on Wednesday.
“We’re aware that our fans are behind us,” Herdman said. “We’re going to feel that on Wednesday at BMO Field, we’re going to feel what it’s like to play in front of a packed house”
He added: “It’s time to take it to another level now.”
Up Next: Canada vs Panama, Wednesday, October 13th, 2021, 16:30 PDT, 19:30 EDT (BMO Field, Toronto)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer