Three things Mauro Biello has to get right in Copa América qualifier vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Amidst the rumblings that they might bring in a new face soon, it looks like the CanMNT won’t be hiring a new head coach for at least the next few months, as they announced Friday that interim head coach Mauro Biello will remain behind the team’s bench heading into the March window.
Because of that, it means that Biello will be on the sidelines when Canada takes on Trinidad & Tobago in a one-off Copa América playoff qualifier in Frisco, Texas on March 23rd, as they try and book their qualification to a special expanded edition of South America’s marquee tournament, to which six Concacaf nations were invited.
Mauro Biello to lead #CANMNT into a decisive March clash with Copa América qualification on the line ⚔️— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) January 19, 2024
"I want us to get back into that mindset, to live great moments in this country" pic.twitter.com/gSSnXeiBs7
Unfortunately for Canada, however, they missed out on their first window to automatically qualify as one of the first four of those six teams, as they fell to Jamaica in the Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals via away goals after drawing 4-4 on aggregate, leaving them to have to participate in the playoff.
As a result, they must now win this match to qualify for their first-ever Copa América or miss out altogether. Considering that would deny them a chance to play in a group with defending World Cup and Copa América champions, Argentina, along with experienced Conmebol sides Peru and Chile, that would be a huge missed opportunity for this Canadian team.
Because of that, it puts a lot of pressure on Biello in this camp, who hasn’t had the strongest start to his tenure as interim head coach, losing his first game against Japan 4-1, before watching his team let multiple leads slip across the tie against Jamaica, which saw them lead Jamaica 3-1 at half time of the second leg.
Especially given that Biello has faced a lot of scrutiny as one of the key factors as to why that lead was blown, with the timing and selection of his substitutions becoming a big talking point post-match, he’ll have to find a way to earn back the confidence of Canadian fans who felt his decisions cost Canada against Jamaica.
Yet, that just shows why this is such a big decision for the CanMNT, as they must now hope that Biello can adjust from what he learned across that Jamaica tie, and get the job done against Trinidad & Tobago, knowing that a loss in that game could be catastrophic for the goals and aspirations of this team.
With that in mind, though, here’s a look at three things Biello will need to do in this game to avoid the mistakes that cost his team against Jamaica, as he looks to put this Canadian team back on track toward their Copa América dreams after their November setback.
Select an in-form squad:
To begin, Biello’s first big task will be to select the right squad for this window.
In particular, there will be one area he’ll need to hone in on when doing so, too - ensuring that the squad he brings is in the best form possible for their clubs.
After picking more of a veteran squad in his last two camps, to mixed success, it could be a huge difference-maker for him, especially when it comes to later on in games.
Just take the second leg of the Jamaica tie, for example. There, when turning to his bench, Biello’s preferred options were Jonathan Osorio, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Junior Hoilett and Liam Millar.
The latter three were all in solid form for their clubs, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to see them coming on, but given that Osorio hadn’t played in weeks after Toronto FC missed out on the playoffs, while Kaye was coming off a red card suspension with the New England Revolution, one would have wondered if Canada could have turned to a more in-form midfield option to help shore up the middle of the park instead of both of those two, for example.
Especially as Canada tried to adjust to a Jamaican team that had started to dominate the midfield in the second half, it could’ve helped them counter that, instead of getting overrun as they eventually did.
Because of that, it’ll be important for Biello to turn to players in the best form when the March window comes around.
For example, with it coming so early in the MLS season, which starts at the end of February, he’ll have to be careful with how he handles some of those players, as some of them could be battling rust, which could be a key factor.
It won’t make a huge difference across the entirety of the game, as most of Canada’s top players and usual starters are playing regularly in Europe at the moment, but it could help when it comes to substitutions, and that can sometimes be the difference between losing and winning a close game, something that Biello knows well from the Jamaica tie.
Prepare a substitution plan:
Speaking of substitutions, that’ll be something that Biello will want to hone in on in this camp, especially after the second leg of the Jamaica tie.
There, his substitutions caused quite a controversy, as not only did he turn to some out-of-form players, but he put them in at the wrong time, too, hurting Canada’s flow in the game.
There's no other way to put it: absolute disaster from the #CanMNT— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 22, 2023
Shocking way to miss out on direct Copa América qualification, as they were up 3-1 but didn't adjust as 🇯🇲 woke up
Now, they're eliminated from Nations League, and need a one-off game to make it to Copa América
Instead of reacting to a half-time adjustment from Jamaica, who moved centre-back Damion Lowe up to midfield with the design of slowing down a high-flying Canadian attack, who could’ve been up 4 or 5-1 on aggregate with how they were playing in the first half, Canada chose to sit idle as Jamaica started to take back control of the game.
That ended up costing them, as instead of making a reactive change earlier while the tie was still 3-1, their first subs didn’t come until the tie was 3-3, and by then they were swimming up the tide in the game.
Because of that, Canada will need to ensure that they can avoid doing that against Trinidad & Tobago. Especially given that they’ve got an edge in terms of their depth in that matchup, making the right substitutions could prove to give them a boost in a close game, or help them create a bit of separation if they do get a lead.
In a one-off game like this one, Canada must be ready to deal with the unpredictability that may occur, if not they could rest getting taken by surprise like they were against Jamaica, and that could prove to be costly.
Get ready for Trinidad & Tobago’s threat:
Lastly, Biello’s big task will be to ensure that Canada is best prepared for the threat that Trinidad & Tobago can provide, because while Canada will be favourites to win in this game, this T&T side is no slouch and can cause all sorts of damage.
Just ask the US, who fell 2-1 to them in the second leg of their Concacaf Nations League quarter-final in November. Fortunately for the Americans, they’d won their first leg 3-0, so that loss didn’t cost them, but that gives an idea of how dangerous T&T can be.
Because of that, Canada will need to be wary of what the Soca Warriors might try to do in this game, as they’ve got a few weapons to watch out for.
Final in Trinidad. pic.twitter.com/hoszESgVV3— U.S. Soccer Men's National Team (@USMNT) November 21, 2023
For example, offensively, they can be quite dangerous, as they’ve averaged 1.82 goals in official competitions per game over the last calendar year. Considering they typically only average 45%, 8 shots and 1.21 xG per game, that shows that they do a good job of being efficient with opportunities, even in games when they don’t have the ball as much, which is important to note for a Canadian team that likes to control possession.
Yet, a big reason for that is because T&T averages a shot every three corners on average, which helps explain the discrepancy between their actual goals and expected ones. Along with their ability to generate chances on the counter-attack (50% of their counter-attacks turn into shots), those are two key areas to watch out for.
They do have some weaknesses to keep an eye on at the other end of the pitch, such as the fact that they’re allowing 2.19 xG and 2.18 goals per game defensively, but that could be an encouragement for them to sit back and play more defensively to try and fix that.
And considering that Canada has had mixed records against low blocks, that’ll put pressure on them to try and break them down in possession, which could play into T&T’s favour, on both sides of the ball.
So overall, while Canada will be favoured in this tie, as they’re the higher ranked side, have the deeper and more talented team, and have a strong record in these sorts of games over the last five years (Jamaica tie aside), they’ll have to be wary to avoid an upset.
Yet, this just shows why this is a huge camp for Biello. In the Jamaican tie, Canada matched up quite evenly with the Reggae Boyz, so it meant that the smallest of decisions could make a difference, as it ultimately did.
In this T&T tie, however, one where Canada has the edge in a lot of areas, it will take a disaster to make Canada stumble, so it’s now up to Biello to ensure that doesn’t happen, steering Canada back on track.