Wins never come easy on the road in CONCACAF. Canada were forced to wait more than 15 hours to kick off in Kingston, but it was well worth the wait.
Canada beat Jamaica 2-1 on Saturday morning to return home with the advantage in their CONCACAF Nations League quarter-final. It’s the first time Canada have won in Jamaica since 1988, and man will it feel good to fly home after a Saturday morning game that they were not expecting to play.
It wasn’t the smoothest performance we’ve seen from Canada over the last few years, but it was much better than last month’s showing in Japan. All that really matters is that CanMNT did enough to get the job done in the hot Jamaican sun thanks to goals from Jonathan David and Stephen Eustáquio.
The biggest question after Saturday morning: where did all the water go?
Torrential rain in Kingston on Friday turned Jamaica’s Independence Park into an aquarium, forcing the match to be postponed until Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. ET. While you and I might’ve enjoyed having a meaningful morning match to enjoy with our breakfast in the absence of a regular slate of Premier League action, the players certainly did not appreciate playing a morning fixture in the Caribbean sunshine. Canada Soccer really couldn’t have flipped the kit selection so the players didn’t have to wear the all-black fit in the searing heat?
Despite taking the lead in the first half, it looked like Canada were set to leave Jamaica even after a controversial equalizer and then some generally fatigued play left the match level at 1-1. That was until Eustáquio reminded everyone that he’s not only a defensive midfielder.
Related read: Stephen Eustáquio affirms status as Canada’s most important player in CanMNT’s Jamaica win
The FC Porto man was the beneficiary of some great work and patience by Vancouver Whitecaps right-back Richie Laryea, who took the ball down Jamaica’s right side and had the patience and vision to pick out Eustáquio at the top of the box in the 86th minute. The Leamington Legend picked his spot perfectly, leaving Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake without a chance.
The grass was slow and long, just as the Jamaican team would’ve wanted. But given that the pitch looked like an aquarium 14 hours before, it was pretty remarkable a match was played on that ground at all.
There were a few concerns for Biello and his staff to address. Canada looked vulnerable with the ball being played over the top and from set pieces. It did catch them out, albeit controversially, in the second half when Jamaica took advantage of what seemed like the absence of the referee’s whistle to catch Canada out and cancel out David’s first-half goal.
In truth, Canada were very lucky not to be trailing at half-time.
If Jamaican forward Leon Bailey was more clinical in front of goal, Jamaica could’ve taken a three-goal lead into the half-time break. The Aston Villa man had three first-half chances, with the best coming at the 40-minute mark after a good spell of pressure from Canada where it looked like the visitors would strike first. Thankfully for Biello’s men, Bailey mishit the inswinging corner kick which he just needed to tap past a helpless Milan Borjan, but instead put his effort off the post.
Related read: Mauro Biello and Canada’s ‘brotherhood’ proud of unity after overcoming weather and doubts to beat Jamaica
In the 14th minute, Bailey had pulled a low shot just wide of Borjan’s net, with the type of shot that prior to Unai Emery‘s arrival at Villa Bailey would frustrate fans with all the time. He’s been much better under Emery, but thankfully for Canada, he left that form back in Birmingham.
A big narrative coming into the first leg was how Biello would use out-of-form forwards Cyle Larin and Jonathan David. The pair started up front, in a starting XI that did not include Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio, and rewarded their gaffer for his trust with a clever bit of work to open the scoring in first-half stoppage time.
David tried his luck for a second goal from long range just three minutes into the second half. The Lille man hit a strong low ball forcing Blake to stretch to his right and push it aside for a Canada corner, which they failed to capitalize on but continued to make Jamaica uncomfortable from set pieces.
West Ham star Michail Antonio was forced to leave the match with a lower-body injury in the 16th minute. It was a big break for Canada’s back-line who were expecting to have their hands full with Antonio all morning. There was no immediate word on his availability for Tuesday’s second leg in Toronto.
Tickets are still available for what could be another crowning moment for the Canadian men’s program. Advancing to the Nations League semi-final stage would also clinch Canada’s place in next summer’s expanded Copa América, which will feature six CONCACAF teams.