MATCH PREVIEW: Everything you NEED to know ahead of CanMNT vs. Jamaica
The journey towards Copa América officially begins this week for the CanMNT, as they get set to take on Jamaica in the 2023-2024 Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals.
With those quarter-finals also serving as Concacaf's qualifiers for next year’s Copa América, in which the region has six spots as part of a joint venture with Conmebol to hold the tournament in the United States, this upcoming two-legged tie with Jamaica will serve as Canada’s first chance to book their spot in that competition, too.
Along with a chance to advance to the semi-finals of the Nations League for a second straight edition, in which Canada will look to bring home their first trophy since 2000 next March in Texas, that puts a lot at stake for them in this window.
Of course, the big priority remains to qualify for Copa América, so they’ll be pleased that this isn’t their only opportunity to book one of the six Concacaf spots available at that tournament, but they’ll want to lock up their spot as early as possible by winning this tie, especially seeing that there’s a trophy at stake, as well.
Because of that, this will make for a crucial week for Canada, who will first travel to Jamaica for the first leg of this tie on November 17th, before playing the second leg at Toronto’s BMO Field on Tuesday, November 21st.
Especially given that they’re up against a dangerous Jamaican side that is quietly rising in Concacaf, it’ll make for a stiff test for this Canadian side, one that they’ll need to be up for.
After what has been a mixed year for Canada, who lost in the 2022-2023 Nations League Final to the US, and only made the quarter-finals of the 2023 Gold Cup, this is a chance to finish things off on a high note ahead of 2024, too.
Sometimes, there’s no better cure to an ailment than winning, and Canada will look to get their hands on that magic medicine across these two games.
Speaking of, here’s what to watch for across this tie.
Re-building confidence a must for Canada
For better or for worse, the beauty of sports is that things can change quickly.
One second, you can be on top of the world, and then just weeks later, everything can be falling apart.
The CanMNT has seen that first-hand over the last couple of years.
Just look at where they were the last time they played Jamaica, which came at BMO Field on March 27th, 2022. There, Canada had a chance to book their spot at a men’s World Cup for the first time since 1986, capping off an exceptional 12-month run of World Cup qualifying, and they did so in pretty emphatic fashion, too, claiming a dominant 4-0 win over Jamaica.
At the time, there was no doubt that Canada had not just arrived in Concacaf, where they felt they could threaten Mexico and the US’s duopoly on the region, but also compete on the world scene, given that they were heading to the big dance later that year in Qatar.
Fast-forward 18 months to now, however, those fortunes have changed for Canada. After failing to win a game at the World Cup, along with some frustrating results within Concacaf and against some other top nations, it led some to wonder if Canada’s run between 2021 and 2022 was a flash in the pan, instead of a sign of what was to come.
While that may feel like an exaggeration, it just shows how quickly things can change, as a few results can swing the pendulum so heavily, in both ways.
Because of that, it shows why this window is so key for Canada.
If they can get through this tie against a Jamaican team that many feel will soon join Concacaf’s big boys (if they haven’t already), Canada can remind teams that they’re still one of the top sides in the region, which a second straight qualification to the Nations League semi-finals should help them do.
Along with the ability to be able to book their spot at the 2024 Copa América, a tournament that will feature some of the best teams in the world in the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay and more, that will also provide them with the sort of competitive tests that they sorely need to push themselves forward.
Despite the year it’s been for Canada, they’re still a top team in Concacaf - the only two losses they’ve had within the region this year have been to the US, who are undoubtedly the top dog at the moment - with their bigger issue being to figure out how to beat non-Concacaf top 20 opposition.
But before they can focus on that, they’ll need to take care of business against Jamaica, allowing them to build up that confidence that they had when they last took on the Reggae Boyz 18 months ago.
Dangerous Jamaican side primed to rock up Concacaf hierarchy:
Yet, one of the big reasons why confidence is so low for many Canadian supporters heading into this tie is that this isn’t the same Jamaica side that Canada faced on that cold March day at BMO Field.
Just compare the projected lineup for the Jamaican team expected to see the field across both games to the one that saw the field in that match.
Our Squad to Face Canada in the CONCACAF Nations League 🇯🇲 pic.twitter.com/3Xl96zmH7e— Official J.F.F (@jff_football) November 12, 2023
To begin, Jamaica has a new coach, Heimir Hallgrímsson, who famously led his home country of Iceland to the 2016 Euros and 2018 World Cup despite having one of the smallest populations of any country in Europe.
Then, on the pitch, some potential starters in this camp who weren’t in that squad include English Premier League players Amari'i Bell, Ethan Pinnock, Bobby Decordova-Reid, Leon Bailey and Michail Antonio, as well as a couple of other players playing in the top five leagues in Shamar Nicholson (Ligue 1) and Trivante Stewart (Serie A), and someone not far removed from playing in the Premier League in Demari Gray (who currently plays in Saudi Arabia).
Along with a crew of players playing in the second and third flight of England, it’s an impressive roster, one that on its day can be among the best in Concacaf. Especially in terms of their attack, they can go up against anyone in the region with their attacking options of Antonio, Bailey, Gray, Stewart, Nicholson and Decordova-Reid, while defenders like Bell and Pinnock have given them good stability at the back.
Really, their lone worry has been in midfield, which has put pressure on their defence (there’s a reason why they’ve scored 23 in 12 games against Concacaf opposition in 2023, but also allowed 12 goals), but other than that, they can go up against anyone in this region right now.
They’ve proven that as of late, too - they drew Mexico twice in a pair of Nations League A clashes in the 2022-2023 edition of the tournament, and have only lost two games against Concacaf opposition since losing to Canada in 2022.
Playing in a no-nonsense 4-4-2, they push numbers forward in the attack, and can hurt teams in open play, in transition and on set-pieces, with their wide players playing a big role in all of that.
Because of that, it feels like Jamaica could very well soon start to challenge the likes of the US and Mexico at the top of Concacaf, pushing the likes of Canada, Panama and Costa Rica to get into that discussion.
To do that, however, they need a statement win, first. They thought they’d get it in last year’s Nations League cycle, but narrowly missed out on the final four with a draw to Mexico on the last day (they led twice in that game, with a win being enough to get them through), and then lost 3-0 to Mexico in this year’s Gold Cup semi-finals, so they’ve missed their last few opportunities to claim that.
If they can beat Canada across two legs, however, that could make up for that disappointment, especially if they can then go and push for the Nations League trophy, so they’ll know what’s at stake in this tie.
Therefore, while Canada remains the favourite in this tie based on most metrics, Jamaica’s not your typical underdog, which is why many see them potentially being able to overcome Canada in this tie.
The return of some key faces a big boost for Canada:
For what it’s worth, however, while a lot of the unease about Canada’s form comes from the fact that they only played one of a possible four friendlies in the September and October windows, which happened to be a 4-1 drubbing by Japan, they’ve got some good news heading into this window.
And that’s the return of Stephen Eustáquio and Tajon Buchanan, who both missed out on that Japan game due to injuries.
In particular, Eustáquio was sorely missed, as Canada typically does better when he’s in the lineup.
That’s worth noting, as Canada has only lost by two or more goals in three games in which he’s started - a 2-0 loss in a friendly against Uruguay in September of 2022, their 4-1 loss to Croatia at the World Cup (in which he came off with an injury at half time with the score only 2-1), and a 2-0 loss to the US in this year’s Nations League final, showing how he was missed against Japan.
For a Canadian team that is a bit light in depth beyond him, and still has some holes defensively, Eustáquio’s presence in the lineup usually helps paper those over, reflected in the fact that Canada has never allowed more than two goals in a game where he goes 90 minutes.
As for Buchanan, his return should help inject some life into Canada’s attack, which struggled against Japan, only scoring a late consolation goal via Junior Hoilett.
With Jonathan David and Cyle Larin struggling to score goals for their clubs, Buchanan could be leaned upon in the attack, as he’s had three goals and three assists for Club Brugge this year across 1200 minutes despite playing as more of a full back.
Given that he could either play as a wing back or even up front for Canada this camp, that should allow him to be even more dangerous, helping inject some life into this Canadian attack.
Therefore, keep an eye out for both Eustáquio and Buchanan, as Canada will be boosted by being able to start them, Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Ismaël Koné together for just the second time this year. Given that the only other time they’ve done that is a 4-1 win over Honduras back in March, being able to potentially do that could be beneficial for interim head coach Mauro Biello, helping him put Jamaica’s defence under pressure.