A 12-month period full of big games for the Canadian men’s national team comes to an end with two more starting next week.
After the 2022 World Cup, the 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League finals, and the 2023 Gold Cup all ended somewhat disappointingly in some fans’ books, the two-legged tie against Jamaica is another big test of where CanMNT are at.
Win on aggregate over four days later this month, and Canada qualify for the 2023-24 Nations League finals and the 2024 Copa América.
Mauro Biello knows how important it is and, as he explained to Canadian media on Wednesday, that’s why he’s calling on Canada’s experienced “brotherhood” to get it done.
“Obviously, there are great benefits to doing well in this window,” Biello said. “I want a group that has been in these moments before, a group of players that have a strong brotherhood, have been through a lot, and have been able to react in these pressure moments…
“There are players here who you may not see down the road in 2026… There are players who have given a lot to this country, come into every camp, and done their utmost to get this team to where it is today. That brotherhood helped us get through qualifying and was at the core of our success.”
Biello’s squad, announced earlier on Wednesday, is certainly reflective of that.
The usual suspects are all there, and 20 of the members of Canada’s 2022 World Cup squad are in the group. That score includes the returns of mainstays Stephen Eustáquio and Tajon Buchanan, both of whom missed the 4-1 friendly defeat to Japan last month with injury. Biello said having that duo back will be “a big help.”
While some fans might have liked to see more experimentation and focus on the future, Biello insisted it’s a delicate balance.
“Transitions are done gradually, and you can’t just cut the player and say OK, this guy is old and this guy’s young and just make the change…” he noted. “The young players have to prove that they’re ready… There will be chances for the younger guys in other competitions, but for now, we have to win these games.”
That means the likes of CF Montréal player of the season Mathieu Choinière is not included after making his national team debut against Japan.
Biello still sees the Quebecer as a big part of the team’s future, but explained the omission was down to the fact CFM missed out on the playoffs. Choinière has not played since that substitute cameo against Japan 26 days ago.
“It’s so important at these levels to have players that are in rhythm,” said Biello. “When you don’t play for five or six weeks, it’s not easy to just turn on the switch in these games. So it’s important in these squads to have players who are playing.”
It’s interesting to note that Choinière’s club teammate Samuel Piette and Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio, neither of whom has played in nearly three weeks, are both in the squad.
So, too, is Mark-Anthony Kaye, who left TFC for the New England Revolution last spring and has played just 90 minutes spread across two games since October 8.
“Mark has had that experience, he’s gone to a World Cup and gone through the qualifying,” Biello noted. “I think there was a resurgence when he left Toronto. The staff at New England are very positive about him.”
Finally, Biello touched on a few other of the regular inclusions.
Asked about Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, who have both been struggling for goals for Lille and Real Mallorca, respectively, so far this season, Biello brushed off any concerns about their form.
“When players go through certain moments, it’s about going back to basics and doing the little things right because those goals will come, we’ve seen that from them,” the interim head coach said. “Cyle is doing everything right but just missing that goal. Jonny will continue to work hard and the goals will come.
“They have experience, they’ve been in those moments. Once the goals start, they come in buckets. I’ll reiterate that to them in camp. It’s not only the goals they bring, it’s everything else they do: their work, their movement.”
Meanwhile one of the big questions from fans has been about the goalkeeper situation.
Many onlookers might have expected Canada to move on from Milan Borjan as their go-to No. 1 ‘keeper after the summer, but the 36-year-old held down the spot against Japan. Biello seemed to confirm the Slovan Bratislava stopper will be between the posts against Jamaica.
“This is someone who has done a lot for this country,” Biello concluded. “He’s at a certain age but he continues to perform for club… We’re focusing on experience to come through these next two games, and then as we transition into 2024 and beyond, some of those opportunities can open up for other goalkeepers.”
Canada have just over a week before they get their vital two-legged tie started. The first face the Reggae Boyz in Kingston, Jamaica next Friday, November 17, before returning home to BMO Field for the second leg on Tuesday, November 21. Both games will be aired live on OneSoccer.
If Canada win, they qualify for the 2024 Copa América as one of six CONCACAF teams going to the tournament in the US next summer. If they lose, they’ll have one more shot: a single-elimination play-off in March.
Hopefully, it won’t come to that.