GLENDALE, Ariz. – The road ends for Canada at the quarter-final stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup after Jamaica opened up a two-goal lead and just hung on for a 2-1 win on Thursday night.
Shaun Francis and Romario Williams staked Jamaica a two-goal advantage early in the second half. Junior Hoilett put Canada on the board in spectacular fashion just past the hour mark.
Hoilett nearly scored another goal about ten minutes later but was denied by Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake, who was at full stretch diving to his left to tip away a goal-bound shot.
“The first goal kind of kills us and the game plan kind of can’t come to fruition,” Canadian midfielder Scott Arfield said. “It was hard to break them down but I think once we did in the second half, you think by then you’re going to get a second. It’s a horrible way to go out.”
Canada now has little to play for in the foreseeable future with no World Cup qualifiers to speak of and no Gold Cup for another two years.
As automatic entrants into this tournament, Canada doesn’t have qualifiers like Central American or Caribbean teams, and valuable ranking points as wins and draws count for much more in the official FIFA rankings than friendlies do.
Draws against Honduras and Costa Rica will help Canada jump up a few spots in the next FIFA world rankings, but with just a win over French Guiana in this tournament, it won’t make a big jump just yet.
It’s a shame that there isn’t much on the horizon because, while far from the finished product, this side featured a few young players who look to be quality internationals for years to come.
“I think these guys are very coachable and resilient players and they have, in a short period of time, understood a lot of things that sometimes take much longer to understand,” said Octavio Zambrano, who lost for the first time in his five games as Canadian head coach.
“The idea to try to play good football and attacking football, I think they now have that chip in their heads and we just need to feed that.”
It wasn’t the best start by Canada. In the sixth minute, Jamaican speedster Darren Mattocks crossed from the right side and the Canadian defenders failed to pick up the San Jose Earthquakes player before he unleashed a volley that went off the bar and nestled into the back of the net.
Jamaica sat deep after that and Canada had plenty of possession, but it couldn’t break down the numbers behind the ball. Canada either dribbled the ball into the clogged area in front of goal or took long-range efforts that were blocked and off target.
Forward Cyle Larin connected on a header just a few minutes on an Arfield free kick moments after Canada conceded, sending his attempt just wide of the post.
Minutes into the second half, Williams wasn’t closed down and he unleashed a ferocious effort that just eluded the outstretched fingers of goalkeeper Milan Borjan.
Hoilett, who hadn’t had much of a look all game, brought Canada to life when his curling, long-range effort that snuck into the top corner past Blake, who was otherwise outstanding for Jamaica.
“I think we showed that we have a lot of character going down 2-0. I think we only gave up two chances and they scored two goals but we have to take the positives,” said midfielder Samuel Piette, who had a very good performance in the defensive midfield role in breaking up Jamaican forays forward and help springing teammates into the counter-attack.
“I think we have a very talented and young group here and I think we showed CONCACAF we can do good things with this squad and this coaching staff.”
Jamaica sat very deep as the game wound down and Canada had scoring opportunities. Arfield had a chance on his own late, and substitute Lucas Cavallini also had looks but they all went begging.
In the end, Canada exits after reaching this stage of the competition for the first time in eight years.
Canada will play Jamaica at BMO Field in a friendly in September, but there’s nothing else on the calendar.
Showing some encouraging signs is one thing. Now Canada has a long time to build for its next round of important games. If they can’t be successful for then, all the positivity from this tournament will have counted for nothing.
Now the real grind begins for Zambrano. with nothing but friendlies for the foreseeable future. Now the work really begins.
For his part, Zambrano wants Canada playing the top teams in the world.
“We’re going to try to play the best teams in the world that we can possibly play,” the Canadian coach offered.
“We need to face Brazil. We need to face Argentina, Uruguay. We need to face Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico. All the best countries.”