MATCH ANALYSIS: CanMNT show impressive mental toughness to earn big win against Jamaica in Nations League quarter-final first leg

Final Score: Jamaica 1-2 Canada
Goalscorers: Nicholson 56′; David 45+1′, Eustáquio 86′
2023-24 Concacaf Nations League Quarter-finals — First Leg

Match in a minute or less

For the first time in 35 years, and only the second time in history, the Canadian men’s national team won in Jamaica, defeating the Reggae Boyz 2-1 on Saturday morning in the first leg of their 2023-24 Concacaf Nations League quarter-final.

Jamaica were dealt a significant blow in the early going, as star attacker Michail Antonio had to be removed in just the 17th minute as he pulled up with injury. Despite that, they really should have opened the scoring in the 40th minute as Canada left Leon Bailey all alone on a set piece, but the Jamaican attacker hit the post.

Canada, however, rebounded well, scoring the opener during first-half stoppage time as Cyle Larin did incredibly well to bring down a ball in the Jamaica box, before turning two defenders and squaring for Jonathan David. It was David’s 26th goal for Canada, only Larin has more with 28.

The Reggae Boyz equalized through a quickly taken set piece in the 56th minute. Shamar Nicholson’s effort was initially deemed to be offside, but VAR overturned the decision, making the score 1-1.

But despite being the road side, Canada kept pushing, and in the 86th minute found their winner courtesy of some brilliant work from Richie Laryea down the right flank, who squared the ball to Stephen Eustáquio. The Canadian midfielder’s calm finish delivered Canada the 2-1 win.

Canada now hold a significant advantage, with both the lead in the tie and two away goals, heading into the second leg at BMO Field on Tuesday, November 21. CanMNT has never lost to Jamaica on home soil.

Three Observations

Canada deal well with the rigours of playing away in Concacaf to pick up massive road victory

When Mauro Biello said in his pre-match press conference that away matches in Concacaf often come down as much to mentality as they do to tactics, he likely couldn’t have anticipated the half of what his team was about to endure.

Initially set to play the match on Friday night, kick-off was twice delayed by rain and thundershowers at Independence Park, before being officially postponed to Saturday morning. That brought with it a whole new set of challenges, as Canada were now forced to play on a still waterlogged pitch in incredibly hot Jamaican weather.

The difficulties that came with the pitch were on full display on the few occasions Canada got in behind the Jamaican backline, but the ball held up on them. After a shaky start, however, Canada opened the scoring just before halftime and looked to be cruising to a solid away win.

They were then posed another challenge in the 56th minute when Jamaica scored against the run of play from a controversially quickly taken set piece, one which Canada were entirely not ready for. Frustration could have easily gotten the better of the team at this point, but instead, they dug deep and kept pressing.

Canada were rewarded for their resolve in the 86th minute, when Richie Laryea made an outstanding run down the right flank, before squaring the ball to Stephen Eustáquio who showed incredible composure to finish off the movement. How Laryea even found the energy to make a run like that, and how Eustáquio did the same to join him, after having played close to 90 gruelling minutes in the Jamaican heat is a clear testament to the heart that Canada showed in this match.

“That was very difficult for us, waiting around yesterday the anxiety of is the game on, are we going to play, as a player you try to keep your focus, your calm in your preparation,” said interim CanMNT head coach Mauro Biello. “Finally the decision is made and now you are playing early morning and it is a totally different environment, totally different conditions. You know the fans obviously, even the heat. They are experienced guys, they are guys that have gone through this and you ask for their experience to come through in these moments, so I think that’s what we saw from the team.”

After Eustáquio’s goal, Canada did brilliantly to calmly see out the rest of the match. They didn’t force things when they were in possession, calmly knocking the ball around and killing the clock.

Canada now goes into Tuesday’s second leg with a significant advantage, as their two away goals, as well as the fact that they are outright winning the tie at the moment, will give them plenty of confidence as they look to secure their spot in the Nations League Finals, and the 2024 Copa America, at BMO Field.

“It is about the same focus, the same mentality,” said Biello. “It will be about our fans behind us so we know that we’ve got to get the job done, play our way of playing, in our home field and with the right mindset and taking care of the rest of the mission, because we are halfway there.”

Larin and David link up as Canada’s clinical finishing the difference

Over the past few years, Canada have been a dominant force in Concacaf largely off the back of having two of the most lethal attackers in the region. Cyle Larin, after all, led World Cup qualifying with 13 goals, while Jonathan David finished second with nine.

To start their respective club seasons, however, both Larin and David have been anything but lethal, which was a major concern for Canada coming into this match as David has not scored in his last nine matches for Lille in Ligue 1, while Larin has yet to score a league goal for Mallorca in Spain this season.

Wearing Canada colours, however, always seems to bring out something different in these two. That was certainly the case on Saturday morning as Larin and David confidently led the line for Canada, and brilliantly linked up for the side’s opening goal.

In first-half stoppage time, Larin brought down a ball in the Jamaican box, held off his man, and then turned two defenders before laying off to David who calmly slotted the ball into the open net.

Larin and David, who in the past have perhaps been guilty of occupying the same spaces in attack when played together, were able to co-exist brilliantly against Jamaica, pressing well without the ball, and being consistently dangerous when they had it. Larin often sat a little bit deeper, and had four key passes to go with his assist, as well as doing a tremendous job of holding up the ball. David, meanwhile, found moments to get in behind as he had four shots on target and scored his 26th goal for his country.

After the match, Biello said that Canada’s ability to be clinical with their chances was a big difference-maker in the result. Jamaica had their share of opportunities, generating four big chances and hitting the woodwork. But Canada did a better job of getting their opportunities on target, forcing Blake to make five saves on top of their two goals. David and Larin combined for five of those seven shots on target.

Jamaica tests Canada backline with direct, decisive attack

The Reggae Boyz have had a clear attacking identity in recent matches, in particular looking to generate chances from their directness, with an emphasis on getting in behind opposing backlines.

Considering Canada’s recent defensive deficiencies, especially in this area, this was always going to be a big test for a team that were ripped apart in transition by Japan in their most recent match, a friendly in October. Jamaica wasted absolutely no time in looking to exploit this weakness, with several balls over the top through the opening part of the match.

Canada was actually quite lucky in the early going that Jamaica, and in particular Leon Bailey, were not able to make them pay for a few moments they were able to get in behind the backline. Jamaica in particular found joy from balls played in behind from out wide, when one of Canada’s fullbacks was pushing up higher to try to cover that channel.

After the rough start, however, and probably helped by an early injury to Antonio, Canada did well to adjust and drop back when Jamaica won the ball. The lone goal they ultimately conceded came off a quick free kick, one which Canada were expecting to hear a referee’s whistle to indicate it would be taken. Otherwise, their defensive concentration was solid.

“I think sometimes in those moments you’ve got to be a little bit more focused and not allow those things to happen but credit to the team, credit to Canada to fight through it and come back and score a great second goal,” said Biello.

That was the last real chance that Jamaica had, however, as Canada did incredibly well to not let them build on what could have been a game-changing moment. The fullbacks, in particular, did an excellent job at using their speed and awareness to cut out chances played over the top as both Laryea and Sam Adekugbe got back on a few occasions. This in itself certainly validated Biello’s decision to play a more traditional back four. Player of the Match

Stephen Eustáquio, Canada

The engine of this Canadian team, Stephen Eustáquio delivered the match’s decisive moment with a well-taken late goal. He was also quietly influential in just about everything Canada did well in this match both on and off the ball, completing 47 of his 53 passes.

What’s next?

The second leg of the quarter-final will be played on Tuesday, November 21 at BMO Field in Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT). Tickets are still available for that match, which will also be available on OneSoccer.