"We need to humble ourselves": CanMNT left searching for answers after disappointing Nations League exit
Simply put, it’s hard to quantify it as anything other than a disaster of epic proportions for the CanMNT.
Now, a chance to play in the 2024 Copa América is at risk, and a 22-year trophy drought is guaranteed to extend into next summer, all due to 45 minutes of madness at BMO Field.
“It’s a disappointment,” midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye glumly admitted after 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
Yet, up 1-0 at halftime in the second leg of their Concacaf Nations League quarter-final against Jamaica, and 3-1 on aggregate after a big 2-1 win in the first leg, Canada was cruising.
They were playing like it, too - their confidence seemed to ooze into the attacking moves they were putting together, as they were all over Jamaica, and probably should’ve led by three or four goals at half time if not for some heroic saves by Andre Blake. Because of that, it was hard to see a scenario in which Canada would throw that away, allowing them to cruise into the semi-finals of the Nations League, as well as into the guaranteed berth into the 2024 Copa América that awaited them if they did so.
All of a sudden, however, the tide shifted. It started slowly - first, Stephen Eustáquio was uncharacteristically caught in possession in the 62nd minute, and Jamaica pounced, leading to Shamar Nicholson powering the ball home from close range.
At that point, though, that was still just a warning shot - Canada did lead 3-2 on aggregate at the time, and even if they allowed another goal, that’d still be enough to bring the game to penalties.
In the 66th minute, however, disaster struck. There, Ismaël Koné was tackled in the Jamaican half, with Canada having sent all sorts of numbers forward despite the precarious nature of their lead. As a result, it led to a Jamaican counter-attack, and they made no mistake with it, carving through the Canadian backline before Nicholson finished home for a brace.
With that, it put Canada on their heels, as what had been a comfortable lead had quickly evaporated into a tie. Then, to add insult to injury, Jamaica actually now had the advantage, too, as the next goal they scored would put them ahead on away goals.
To be fair to Canada, they then showed some important fight - Alphonso Davies, who had one of his best games in a Canadian shirt, then put a ball on a platter for Ismaël Koné, who nodded home from close range to make it 4-3 for Canada on aggregate. That put them back in the driver’s seat, albeit temporarily, giving them some time to find their legs and try to hold onto their slender advantage.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t last long - Jamaica would win a penalty less than 10 minutes later, and Bobby Decordova-Reid made no mistake in calmly putting it away, putting them up on away goals.
GOAL 🇯🇲🇯🇲🇯🇲— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 22, 2023
Bobby Decordova-Reid scores from the penalty spot to give Jamaica a 3-2 lead on the night (4-4 on aggregate)#CanMNT need a goal – a agg. draw won't do it anymore 😬
🔴 Watch LIVE on OneSoccer pic.twitter.com/VO7dsDNYA3
And from there, that left Canada to try and throw the kitchen sink at Jamaica, as they tried to claw back the game. They were handed some golden opportunities to do so, as well - Jamaica’s Demari Gray was sent off in a moment of madness, while Jonathan David had a clearcut chance in extra time that he headed well over - but other than that, Canada failed to take advantage of it, and fell in the end.
Because of that, Jamaica was soon able to celebrate a monumental result, one that will certainly be remembered by the Reggae Boyz for years to come.
Despite that, make no mistake - while Jamaica can be proud of their resilience across this tie, this loss falls firmly on the shoulders of the Canadians, who somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
“We’re disappointed because our first half was very good,” CanMNt’s interim head coach, Mauro Biello, said afterwards. “But we didn’t put the game away when we could’ve in the first half, and we allowed them to climb back into the game.”
“We were in control,” he added. “We were ahead, but then you just can't make the mistakes that we made. We gave them the ball on the first goal, and all of a sudden momentum starts to shift, they start to grow, and we put ourselves in trouble.”
The worst part? It was all so avoidable from Canada.
The worst part about this is that it was so avoidable— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 22, 2023
Jamaica took over the game in 55' with the aggregate score at 3-1. How did the #CanMNT not make subs until it was 3-3 in the 74th minute??
Fresh blood is needed for this side
To begin, there’s the fact that they didn’t lock the game up at half time. Given that they were up by two goals on aggregate, they should’ve been playing with far more caution than they were, instead of sending numbers forward as aggressively as they did.
Especially against a Jamaican team that has a lot of speed and attacking quality, they were almost asking to get punished by doing so, as they did so well on that second goal.
“We have to manage the moment,” Biello said. “When you're feeling that pressure, you've got to know how to manage those moments, knowing when to build out, when to get the ball up, when to move the team forward, and that comes back to managing the game.”
Secondly, there’s the fact that Canada didn’t adjust as Jamaica took over the game. Over on the sideline, Biello could’ve made substitutions as soon as the 60th minute with how the game was trending, as Jamaica had taken over for the first 15 minutes of the half after pushing centre back Damion Lowe into midfield, and didn’t seem like slowing down as they chased an opening goal.
Then, even if Biello missed that window to adjust as Jamaica scored that opener in the 62nd minute, he still had time to tweak something before their next goal, at least.
Instead, Canada’s first subs didn’t come into the game until the 74th minute with the tie knotted up at 3-3, and by then, it felt like too little, too late.
“You’ve got to play that game, right?” Biello said of his substitutions. “They were able to score right when we wanted to stabilize the midfield, then we had to readjust when they scored again and not take out any offensive players because we needed to score, so we had to readjust on the fly there based on the quick back-to-back goals.”
Lastly, the substitutions themselves didn’t add the jolt that Canada needed to bring into the game, either. Liam Millar and Junior Hoilett were lively, but beyond them, it was surprising not to see someone like Ali Ahmed, who has been in great form for the Vancouver Whitecaps, or Samuel Piette, who could’ve helped lock things down in midfield, come in to bring something on both sides of the ball.
Instead, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan Osorio and Jacen-Russell Rowe came in, but given that Kaye hadn’t been in the CanMNT pool since March, Russell-Rowe has had just 78 minutes to his name with the program, and Osorio has been battling to find his form on a struggling Toronto FC side, it was always going to be a lot to ask of them to come in and provide the energy that Canada needed front hem.
Yet, all of that can only help explain what went wrong in this second half for Canada, but it doesn’t take away from the bigger issue at hand - Canada is in a worrying position right now.
Less than two years removed since they qualified for their first World Cup in 36 years, it feels like they’ve taken a big step back from where they were at the start of 2022, where they seemingly could do no wrong as a team.
But from a trio of painful losses at the World Cup, to heartbreak in the Nations League final, a frustrating Gold Cup, and now this, things have been trending in the wrong direction for a while now.
Not only that, but they’ve seemed to lose their swagger, too, and look out of their depth tactically, stagnant, and have lost the element of surprise that made them so dangerous back in 2021 and 2022. And, most importantly, they’ve seemed to lose the chip on their shoulder and togetherness that defined them before.
“We need to humble ourselves,” Stephen Eustáquio bluntly explained.
“We know that collectively, we need to step up as a group because we had this game in our hands and we let it slip.”
Eustáquio on next steps for #CanMNT: “We have to humble ourselves and get better. We will get better.”— Charlie O'Connor-Clarke (@charliejclarke) November 22, 2023
Because of that, what’s next will be what’s key for this team.
Despite all of the doom and gloom, the sky hasn’t completely fallen for them yet, somehow. They still have a chance to qualify for Copa América in March, in a one-off playoff against either Trinidad & Tobago or Costa Rica, and are of course co-hosting the 2026 World Cup in less than three years.
Plus, with a young and talented core, they’ve got pieces to build around, and have names who are on the bubble who can join them.
Now, however, they must find a way to take that next step. As these past 13 months have shown, Canada has hit a ceiling, and other teams are starting to pass them as a result.
Instead of looking ahead and planning for what they could look like in 2026, Canada has remained too loyal to what got them to 2022, and that approach has reached its ceiling.
Because of that, they need to be ruthless with their next steps, ensuring that they can maximize their potential at the 2026 World Cup.
“Yeah, the team's going through a transition,” Biello said. “There was a coaching change, there have been some tough situations, but we’ve gotta get out of it and continue to build.”
To do that, it’ll take a full refresh of their squad, a hard look at the coaching staff to determine what the best way forward is in the post-John Herdman era, and a potential rejig of their overall tactical identity.
Did Mauro Biello do enough to earn the #CanMNT job full-time? 🇨🇦— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 22, 2023
Or should Canada Soccer's new General Secretary bring in some new faces into the coaching staff instead?
WATCH (FULL) ▶️https://t.co/mGP36pmeR5 pic.twitter.com/28Awub2BtV
If not, results like this could become commonplace, much as they were before this magical run from Canada.
And given the opportunity that they have in front of them, that would be a huge disappointment, so hopefully this result can serve as a wake-up call for that.
It’d be one thing for this loss to be just a one-off disaster that Canada will want to forget, as those happen sometimes in this sport. But seeing the direction in which Canada is trending, it’s a warning sign to act now, and not answer the call by the time it's too late.
“We’ve got to sit down all together, look each other in the eyes and see what went wrong,” Canada’s goalkeeper and captain, Milan Borjan, said afterwards. “This is unacceptable, for us (to be as talented) as we are and to do something like this, it’s not acceptable.”
“I’m very, very angry. As a captain, I'm sorry to our nation that we didn’t go to the semi-finals of the Nations League.”
“Now, we got another chance in March to qualify for the Copa América, and we'll try to do everything to bounce back and make our nation happy again.”