Canada has it all to do going into its final group stage game at the CONCACAF Gold Cup following a 1-0 loss to Jamaica in Houston on Saturday evening.
The Reds were moments away from recording their second consecutive clean sheet and earning a valuable point. But Rodolph Austin dashed Canada’s hopes in the cruellest of fashion, scoring in the dying seconds of injury time to give the Reggae Boyz the victory.
With just one point, Canada sits third in Group B and more than likely will need a victory against Costa Rica, one of the top teams in CONCACAF, next Tuesday in Toronto in order to advance beyond the group stage.
Here are my thoughts on Saturday’s match…
Questionable team selections, tactics
Canadian coach Benito Floro raised eyebrows when he started Kyle Bekker alongside Samuel Piette in central midfield in Canada’s opener against El Salvador. With Julian de Guzman healthy, Bekker was relegated to the bench against Jamaica, but there was still no room in the starting 11 for either Russell Teibert or Jonathan Osorio, who both came on in the final 10 minutes against El Salvador and breathed new life into the Reds.
Piette started against Jamaica, and while he had a decent opening half—it was his ball that released Tosaint Ricketts on goal in the 12th minute—he faded after the halftime break. Piette picked up his second yellow card, which means he’s suspended for the Costa Rica game.
That could be a blessing in disguise as it might finally force Floro to start either Teibert or Osorio. In both games at this tournament Canada has looked stale in midfield (no surprise with Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson missing), and in desperate need of a touch of creativity. Both Osorio and Teibert can provide that, as well as some much-needed pace.
Also, one wonders why Floro has played with the handbrake on, and only deployed one striker in a 4-1-4-1 formation against two beatable opponents in El Salvador and Jamaica. Why not show a bit more adventure, play with two forwards and put more pressure on the back line of teams that aren’t exactly CONCACAF powerhouses?
With 11 minutes to go against Jamaica, Floro withdrew Piette and replaced him with defender André Hainault, as clear an indication as any that the Spaniard was going to play for the draw and not go for the win. But even with three centre backs on the pitch, Canada couldn’t close it out, and ended up conceding in the dying moments. Even before that substitution, though, Canada appeared to be content to keep what they had, and not taking any chances. Jamaica, on the other hand, pressed forward and pressured the Reds before netting the late winner.
Fortune so often favours the brave. On this night, Canada wasn’t brave—it was cautious. Jamaica was brave, and they deserved to win.
Larin, Akindele go missing in action
Cyle Larin and Tesho Akindele showed a great deal of chemistry in last month’s pair of World Cup qualifying wins against Dominica. Both scored for the Reds, and they effectively linked up with one another, offering a glint of a hope for a Canadian side that has historically struggled to score goals.
It’s genuinely unfair to heap the goal-scoring burden on these two youngsters (Larin is 20, Akindele is 23, and between them they have fewer than 15 caps). But despite their inexperience, they are Canada’s best goal-scoring threats, and the brutal truth is if Floro’s side is going to go deep at this tournament (and make any kind of run in World Cup qualifying) than both Larin and Akindele will have to produce and consistently be among Canada’s best players.
They haven’t been at this tournament—far from it. Larin’s comical miss against El Salvador could be forgiven if he responded with a strong effort. Against Jamaica, though, he was a passenger. No doubt Larin was deprived of quality service, but he also created little for himself and made no impact whatsoever. Little wonder, then, that he was subbed out at the start of the second half.
Like his young cohort, Akindele failed to impose his will on the game, and again like Larin he was subbed out for a second straight match. These two have to be better—much better.
Positives: Stamatopoulos and Edgar
For the second straight contest at this tournament goalkeeper Kenny Stamatopoulos put in a man-of-the-match performance for Canada, making keys stops at crucial times and, just as important, holding onto the ball and not giving up valuable rebounds off difficult shots.
Stamatopoulos did very well to stop Simon Dawkins’ low, driving shot from just inside the box in the 10th minute. He also showed sure hands in not spilling the ball and giving away a rebound with another Jamaica player hovering.
The Canadian ‘keeper came up big later in the half to deny Kemar Lawrence, he astutely acted as a sweeper and rushed off his line in the 81st minute to stop Darren Mattocks after the Jamaican speedster got in behind the defence, and he made a decisive fisted clearance inside a crowded penalty area off a corner kick to see off the danger.
David Edgar, too, in the centre of defence had a strong game for Canada, making timely tackles and interceptions, but also in showing great poise in carrying the ball out from the back. Edgar was very comfortable in possession and ventured forward in attack more than he did in the opening game against El Salvador.