Thursday didn’t go according to plan for the Canadian men’s national team. What was supposed to be a historic and monumental night turned sour when they lost 1-0 to Costa Rica and saw Mark-Anthony Kaye sent off after 34 minutes.
Canada fought valiantly in the second half and arguably deserved an equalizer. But sports are cruel, and having gone undefeated through the first 11 games of the Octagon, the Canadians were due for a setback.
The silver lining is Les Rouges can celebrate qualifying for its first World Cup since 1986 in front of their home fans at BMO Field on Sunday. All that stands in their way is an experimental Jamaican side who are already eliminated from contention.
🍁#CANMNT back in action on home soil!
🆚: #CANMNT v Jamaica
📅: Sunday 27 Mar 4pm ET / 1pm PT
🏟: BMO Field, Toronto
📺: @onesoccer @Sportsnet @RDSca
#⃣: #CANMNT #ForCanada #WCQ #WCQ22 pic.twitter.com/umvRjfASiF
“[Costa Rica] was like the gut punch we needed to get back down to earth,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “Get your feet on the ground, let’s get this done. Let’s just get back to business. We can talk about little improvements and wanting to play a style of football but at the end of the day, a group of men have got to put Canada into a World Cup and they are going to have to work for it, and hard, [on Sunday] against Jamaica in really tough conditions.
“I think it’s going to be good for us [to play at home],” said midfielder Stephen Eustaquio. “The whole country is playing tomorrow; not only us and there is no Panama game [on Wednesday], this is our last opportunity, this is what we are thinking of.
The anticipation is building. The dream is within reach. Now it’s just a matter of locking in mentally and getting the job done.
It promises to be a special night in Toronto, but despite Canada being the favorite, there are some intriguing lineup questions entering the game.
Sam Adekugbe and Doneil Henry return from suspension which should bolster the back line, especially if center back Steven Vitoria doesn’t pass a late fitness test. Henry is the usual Vitoria replacement while Adekugbe has been a revelation at left fullback since the November window.
However, Mark-Anthony Kaye’s suspension coupled with Atiba Hutchinson logging 90 minutes on Thursday leaves potentially two open spots in the midfield. If Herdman opts for a 4-4-2 with a double pivot, then Jonathan Osorio and Stephen Eustaquio might be the go-to options.
Since Jamaica is likely to start with three central midfielders, it would behoove Canada to utilize a trio of its own. That could present an opportunity to 19-year-old Ismael Kone to start alongside Osorio and Eustaquio.
"I'm buzzing to be here and I'm here to help these guys fulfill the dream."
As far as times to get your first call-up, 19-year-old Ismaël Koné has picked his moment pretty well. 🇨🇦📞#CANMNT #WCQ #ForCanada pic.twitter.com/YD4Ktc7sfv
The CF Montreal man debuted for the national team in Thursday’s loss with a confident and proactive performance in around 20 minutes of action. Kone’s box-to-box abilities, specifically his vision and progressive passing, would benefit Canada in a game where it will be expected to take initiative and break down Jamaica’s compact blocks.
Normally, handing a start to a young, inexperienced player would be perilous. Yet Kone isn’t your standard youngster. In around 500 minutes as a professional, he has already started at Estadio Azteca against Cruz Azul in the Concacaf Champions League, earned his pro debut against Santos Laguna in the Round of 16 and scored his first goal in that second leg, been leaned on heavily in MLS play and notched his first Canada cap in the cauldron of Estadio Nacional against Costa Rica in a marquee World Cup qualifier.
If there is anyone who is up to the challenge, it’s Kone.
It is a conundrum up front as well. Cyle Larin and Jonathan David have regained their chemistry together, while Tajon Buchanan and Junior Hoilett were incredibly impactful in that second half in San Jose.
Given Richie Laryea’s importance to the team and the likelihood of him returning to the right flank, Buchanan and Hoilett will be duking it out to start. Perhaps Herdman leans towards “picking up where they left off” when determining his forwards.
Two games to go in Concacaf World Cup Qualifying. pic.twitter.com/bG9vUqPaGe
It’s a terrific problem for any coach to be forced to choose between three talented attackers and it’s possible that Herdman will need all hands on deck to secure that vital result for World Cup qualification anyways.
“We have got to get back to humility, the tactical excellence and then bring a mentality to really push a level of intensity that shows why we are No. 1 in Concacaf at the minute,” said Herdman.
“It has got to be front foot from the first whistle.”
To think that Canada’s qualifying campaign began about a year ago to the day in front of an empty stadium is mind-boggling. Going from a dead atmosphere against minnows to a sold-out home crowd in a World Cup-clinching scenario is a turnaround no Canadian fan could have anticipated at this stage.
But it’s real, and it’s inevitable. Get the champagne ready.
Watch Canada vs Jamaica and USA vs Panama with special guests and the crew from Extratime