The Canadian men’s national team, now led by interim manager Mauro Biello, takes another step on their road to the 2024 Copa América on Saturday morning as they visit Jamaica for the first game of a two-leg series in Concacaf Nations League quarter-final action.
A country that Canada holds an all-time record of 10-6-7 against, the Reggae Boyz are stronger than ever with English Premier League talent, such as Michail Antonio and Demarai Gray, recently switching allegiance to the island nation.
Jamaica have made changes in their own technical area as well since the last time the countries met, hiring Icelandic manager Heimir Hallgrímsson in September 2022.
Canada’s Biello, with only one match of experience as manager of the Reds, spoke in a virtual press conference on Thursday on what are a crucial pair of matches for his country.
On Canada’s past difficulties playing in Jamaica:
“We know that this is going to be a difficult place to play, we haven’t won there in 35 years. For us, it’s understanding that, contextually, we’re going to be facing a difficult opponent, but at the same time, we know what we’re capable of doing and we’ve shown it in the past … When we had to dig deep in qualifying, when we knew it was hard, whether it was the fans, whether it was the field, whether it was the weather, so it’s all things that we had to deal with going into these environments, and this is why there’s an experienced group that has lived those moments, to help us and glue everything together to allow us to be ready.”
On fixing some of Canada’s defensive woes:
“Just the other day, we had some metrics come out of the World Cup, and eight of the 10 teams that went through to the round of 16 and beyond were the teams that were the most compact [defensively]. So, it just goes to show you that closing spaces down, and being patient are things that we’re gonna have to continue to work on. But, when you’re super tight, you got to expect that ball in behind and I think that’s one of the things that we learned from the Japan game. We want to be super tight, so they won’t play through us. But at the end of the day, when they don’t see that space through, they’re going to go try to go behind. So, we’ve got to be ready for that ball and win all those races in behind and make sure that they’re not getting any success in the channels.”
On taking over from John Herdman and finding a new identity:
“You don’t have much time, really, as a coach to implement some big changes, but there will be some. I think players are starting to see the way I work, starting to see what my message is, starting to understand what I want from them, and I think that clarity for me is important. It’s with games, it’s with experience, it’s with going through things in training that players start to get that clarity that we need. We know that these two games will be tough. And, you know what, these could be two games that the tactics don’t mean anything and it’s about fighting, it’s about battling, because going into these kinds of conditions, we’re expecting a lot of rain and who knows what that field is going to look like. So, I have to prepare the team, not only tactically, but I have to prepare their mindset to be ready for that. I think that will be crucial.”
On Jonathan David and Cyle Larin’s recent league form:
“I think they’re excited to come here … They’re both mentally very strong. And sometimes when you have a different environment, your mind refocuses on what they have in front of them … They’re two players that have done extremely well for this country. They know that, the players know that, they know what they could bring to the table, and like I said earlier, sometimes it’s not the goals. It’s what you could bring more. It’s Cyle holding up the ball for us, allowing us to move up the field, keeping us in possession. [Jonathan] reading the spaces, working off other players, getting on the ball, gluing us together … If they’re able to do that and bring that, then the goals will come and they know that.”