Now, Samuel Piette knows. Now, Tesho Akindele knows. Now, Cyle Larin knows. They have stumbled upon a truth about CONCACAF that is hard to convey to those that do not follow it closely: CONCACAF is tough, man. For Canada, that truth is coated with a layer of heartbreak.
These elements have been on full display at this edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Canada’s reasonable expectation of winning in their first match was cut down by an El Salvador squad who came to play and held them to a draw. That’s the “CONCACAF is tough, man” element. The heartbreak came in knowing Cyle Larin hoofed a sitter into the stands, a goal that might have been enough to win.
In last night’s match, Canada faced a strong Jamaican team that had held Costa Rica to a draw, but it was also battling some difficult elements with 32°C weather in stifling humidity. Despite another baffling starting lineup from head coach Benito Floro (Teibert and Osorio on the bench again? Really!?!?), Canada started the match playing the style Floro has drilled into this squad since taking over. It was beautiful to watch. Crisp passing, smart positional play, solid defence. This would not last.
You could practically see the energy drain from the Canadian player’s legs around the 25th minute. The problem with a possession style of play sprinkled with aggressive pressing is that it’s taxing on the body. In conditions like yesterday’s in Houston, it catches up to you much quicker. Canada has a lot of experience in this domain, since it sees it regularly in World Cup qualifying when it travels to Central America.
Jamaica’s players were not immune to these conditions, but seemed to have a bit more fuel in those legs, especially in the latter parts of the match. Despite the advantage, Canadian centre back David Edgar kept intervening at just the right moments to prevent Jamaica’s chances from developing. Houston Dynamo forward Giles Barnes looked especially dangerous as he was essentially playing a home match in which he’s conditioned to the weather. Derby County’s Simon Dawkins also caused a number of problems for Canada, and New York Red Bulls left back Kemar Lawrence gave Nik Ledgerwood more than he could handle for most of the match. Canada’s keeper Kenny Stamatopoulos looked solid for most of the evening, commanding his area and making a number of key saves.
Once the energy-sapping humidity had done its work, the match slowed considerably. For long stretches it looked like the match would end in a draw as neither team seemed capable of providing that one extra little spark to take the lead. The draw almost happened, but this is the Canadian Men’s National Team; heartbreak is always begging to be subbed on.
Late on Jamaica seemed to sense that they could enforce their will on Canada, and began to press forward for the win. More and more, Canada got pushed back into their end of the pitch until there was nowhere else to go – a full on siege was established.
Three minutes of extra time was flashed on the board. At this point, any thought of winning was gone: what mattered was holding on to that solitary point. Have I mentioned heartbreak? You should be ready for some heartbreak: Just. About. Now. Boom, Adrian Mariappa received the ball on the right flank, Julian de Guzman did not quite get there before Mariappa sent a perfect cross into the area, where Jamaican captain Rodolph Austin’s bald head was flying through the air to meet it. 1-0 Jamaica. Game over.
So that it’s, right? One point from two matches for Canada, eliminated from the tournament? Oh no, Canada fans, that’s not how this works. Canada still has plenty of opportunity for disappointment. Now all they have to do is beat Costa Rica and they’re through to the quarterfinals, because CONCACAF is tough, man, and Costa Rica ALSO drew against El Salvador! Cue the heartbreak in Toronto on Tuesday night.
Man of the Match: David Edgar, Canada
Next Match: Tuesday in Toronto v Costa Rica, 20:30 (Sportsnet World/360, Fox Sports 2, Unimas)