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Day-After CanMNT thoughts following a tough 0-0 draw against Jamaica in Kingston
The CanMNT took on Jamaica in a crucial World Cup qualifier on Sunday night, drawing their Caribbean foes 0-0 in a cagey affair. Here are some day-after reactions from that one.
It was a much-needed reality check.
After the thrill of a big 1-1 draw against Mexico in the Azteca, the CanMNT returned back down to earth with a 0-0 draw against Jamaica in Kingston on Sunday, as they just couldn’t find a way to take care of business against a Jamaican side who currently sit bottom of the Octagonal, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Feeling pretty good about themselves after the Mexico result, a game that they felt they could’ve even won, Canada were expected to be able to waltz into Jamaica and pick up all 3 points on Sunday, putting themselves in an excellent position through 5 games of the Octo.
Instead, though, they got an important reminder that there are no easy games in CONCACAF, leaving them to settle for a draw, which wasn’t quite the easy victory that some were projecting them to leave with.
But that’s CONCACAF for you. Jamaica might have represented an easy victory on paper, especially seeing that they were missing a handful of star players and were playing this game in front of an empty stadium, but they entered the game with desire in their hearts and a clear game plan in their head, which allowed them to battle for the draw.
So with that, Canada are now left with just 7 points through 5 games of the Octo, putting them 4th out of 8 teams at this stage. Considering that’s enough to put them in a playoff spot, they’re in a pretty decent position, but there’s a feeling that they should be among the top 3 teams, which for those unfamiliar with the Octo, will all qualify directly to the World Cup should remain in one of those spots in 9 games time.
At the same time, though, considering that they’re also undefeated through 5 games, with away points against what could arguably be considered their top 3 opponents on paper in their pocket, things aren’t that bad for Canada, either.
Should they have more points? Probably, but they’ve been full value for the 7 that they’ve got, and despite what it feels like, they’re still on track to finish top 4 in the Octo, and have a prime opportunity to get back on the path towards the top 3 this Wednesday.
Facing off against a Panama team that has surprised onlookers this window, sitting 3rd in the Octo with 8 points, Canada has a chance to leapfrog them with a victory at home, putting them in a great position heading into the last 8 games of this final round.
While this Jamaica game could’ve put them in an excellent position, the sky isn’t falling down quite yet for Canada, no matter what it might feel like at the moment. The pressure might have slightly increased for the Panama game, but that was always going to be a must-win, no matter what happened against Jamaica.
Are there problems to address? For sure, but it was still a good away point in CONCACAF, and knowing Canada’s history, that’s never something to scoff at.
Stats paint tough picture:
To start, though, it’s worth diving into the question that’ll be on the minds of many after this game - did Canada struggle, or Jamaica play that well?
And when looking back at the game, the answer is probably both.
Just take a look at the counting numbers from this one (Canada is on the right)
Canada did well to hold an impressive 63% of the ball, yet they only outshot Jamaica 10-9, and only mustered up 2 shots on target, despite that. Plus, the big chances were even at 2-2, as well, showing that Jamaica were able to do just as well as Canada at generating chances, despite being starved of the ball at home.
The advanced numbers back that up, as Jamaica actually won the Expected Goals (xG) battle 1.09 to 0.98, showing how little that Canada were able to provide offensively when they did have the ball.
And that’s frustrating. Canada held nearly 2/3rds of the ball, and had a whopping 10 corner kicks (along with a few good free-kick opportunities), yet Jamaica were able to match them offensively despite just having 1/3rd of the ball, 3 corners and barely any free-kick opportunities.
Yes, playing on a pitch that more closely resembled a cow pasture than a soccer field didn’t help, and the game was allowed to be a lot more physical than Canada would’ve liked, but at the same time, those conditions impacted both teams.
When you hold that much of the ball, and generate that many dead-ball opportunities, you need to do better than Canada did on the day, as they were just unable to make much happen beyond little flashes here and there.
Despite all of that, though, it’s worth noting that there’s a silver lining to all of this - the defence.
For all of the chatter about how Canada struggled to impose themselves on Jamaica as much as they should’ve, they did what they needed to do at the other end of the pitch defensively, and that allowed them to pick up the point.
To keep Jamaica to just 1 shot on target, 2 big chances and just a hair over 1 xG away from home is nothing to scoff at, especially for a Canadian team that is supposedly weak in defence, and played a rotated backline.
While that myth certainly is being dispelled this year, as Canada has now only allowed 9 goals in 16 games in 2021, to see them go and nullify Jamaica as they did just a few days after keeping Mexico relatively quiet at the Azteca is still surprising, but in an impressive way.
So even though questions need to be asked of the offence, as Canada has been held to 1 goal or fewer in 6 of their last 8 games dating back to the Gold Cup, their defence has been stellar, only allowing more than 1 goal just once over that span, keeping 3 clean sheets.
That was the case once again versus Jamaica, and that allowed them to rescue a point they probably otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, which would’ve certainly set off the panic alarms, highlighting the importance of that defensive performance.
Where are the goals?
But to return to that other question, as it’s an important one to answer, it must be asked - where are the goals right now for Canada?
Other than a 3-goal explosion against El Salvador last window, they’ve been relatively quiet offensively, scoring just 3 goals in the other 4 games that they’ve played.
It’d be one thing if they weren’t generating chances, but they’ve generated 8.25 xG over the course of 5 games this Octo, and if you remove that El Salvador game, they’ve still generated 6.57 xG across their other 4 matches, which is pretty good.
That means that they’re underperforming their xG by a whopping 2.25 goals total, and by 3.57 goals if you remove the El Salvador game, which to say the least, is concerning.
But right now, Canada isn’t getting any finishing, which is a part of their game they need to address, because if not, they’ll continue to let points that they could be earning go to waste.
On a team where you’ve got Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan and Lucas Cavallini, among others, Canada shouldn’t be struggling for goals right now, yet that’s where they find themselves through 5 games of the Octo.
So seeing that, another question then opens up - where’s it all gone wrong for Canada? Surely the quality is there, but something isn’t adding up?
And the answer is simple, as hinted above - finishing.
Canada are generating 1.65 xG per game right now, which is very good. To get an idea of how good, consider this - if Canada were an MLS team, they’d be top 5 in the league in terms of xG per game, which suggests that they’re generating enough chances to win games, especially considering they’re only allowing 1.06 xG against per game (which would also put them top 5 in MLS).
All of this isn’t to make any comparisons to MLS and the Octo, as there is nearly no correlation between the two, but by using MLS as a comparison tool, we can point out that relative to their competition (the Octo), Canada are generating and suppressing chances at an elite level right now.
So that all adds up to the idea that Canada needs to start finishing their chances right now.
Obviously, they haven’t been helped by the fact that they’ve been missing their top-scorer this year, Cyle Larin, for 3 out of those 5 Octo games due to injury (he scored 2 goals in the 2 games that he was healthy for), and have had access to just 20 minutes of Lucas Cavallini, but they’ve still had a fully healthy Jonathan David, the current co-leading Ligue 1 top goalscorer, among other options, to rely on.
And the good news is that a solution lies in David’s hands (even though a return for Larin or Cavallini wouldn’t hurt right now), giving Canadian head coach, John Herdman, plenty to work with.
In the Jamaica game, David, as he tends to do, dropped very deep to try and help make things happen. That's a great part of his game, and it’s why he’s been so indispensable for his club side, Lille, as they benefit massively from the work that he does off the ball.
But at Lille, he has a partner up front, usually Burak Yilmaz, who helps him get away with that, as Yilmaz will stay forward while David does a lot of the dirty work that he’s known for.
For Canada, that role usually falls to Larin or Cavallini, but for the last 2 games, David’s been deployed as a lone frontman, meaning that he’s had to choose from staying up front like a true #9 and isolate himself, which isn’t really his game, or to drop deep as he usually does and leave a hole up front.
As expected, he’s done the latter, and it’s made it hard for David to get involved as much in the box as Canada would like, as it’s hard for him to both drop back and lead the line as a lone striker.
Because of that, the solution is simple - find someone to play with David and occupy the space that a traditional #9 offers. If it can be Cavallini or Larin, who could return for Panama, great, but if not, Canada needs to deploy a Tajon Buchanan, Liam Millar or even a Charles Andreas Brym (heck Derek Cornelius used to be a striker), as it makes a big difference for David.
It’ll mean returning to a 3-5-2, but Canada has looked best in that formation this year, anyways, as it allows them to combine their defensive solidity along with some control in midfield, while also giving them a bit more of a presence up front.
Considering that the only game that they played a proper 3-5-2 in was the El Salvador game, it only makes more sense when you factor that in, so it’ll be interesting to see if Canada realizes that and returns to that set-up.
While the idea of finishing can be determined by form and hot streaks, it can also be as much about putting your players in areas they like to finish in, so even though Canada’s generating chances in other formations, the 3-5-2 might just be the best way for them to keep creating and find a bit of finishing touch, at least if 90 minutes of play against El Salvador is to mean anything.
With every passing game, this offensive question becomes more of a problem, so they’ve got to start trying new things to find a solution, and at the moment, other than welcoming back certain personnel (which could help), slightly adjusting the tactics seems to be the best way to go.
Canada’s Jonathan David in action against Jamaica on Sunday (Canada Soccer)
Liam Millar’s conundrum of a game:
Otherwise, returning to the Jamaica game specifically, it’s important to talk about Liam Millar’s performance, as he made his first start for Canada since June of this year, when he went 45 minutes against Aruba.
In the midst of a great run of form for his club, FC Basel, where he’s quickly become a key offensive piece for the Swiss giants after a slow start, it was a deserved opportunity, as it just felt like Millar could find a way to make something happen against Jamaica.
And to give credit to him, he did just that. With 1 shots, 2 key passes and 1 big chance created, he left a pretty good impact on the match in the 70 minutes that he played, arguably looking like the best of the Canadian attackers for the time that he was on the pitch.
But unfortunately, Millar also had a game-defining moment in the 70th minute, when he was robbed by Andre Blake despite having a point-blank opportunity in the box, failing to convert on Canada’s best chance of the game.
To be fair to Millar, it was a chance that’s a lot harder to miss than people realize, as there was a reason why it only counted as 0.28 xG, but for a Canadian team that struggled to break down Jamaica for most of the game, it felt like a golden opportunity.
So while he certainly could’ve done a lot worse than hit the target as he did, as most goalkeepers in CONCACAF wouldn’t have made the save that Blake did, it can’t be ignored how important of a chance it was to let go to waste.
At the same time, though, it’s important that the miss doesn’t define Millar’s game down in Jamaica. While it might be what people remember of this one, and will certainly define the game itself, Millar was very good otherwise, and deserves more chances to earn minutes for Canada going forward.
Herdman should recognize that, as he’s not usually one to get swayed by big moments, and that’s a good thing, because Millar showed that he can help Canada out when he plays, and for a team short on attacking depth at the moment, that’s positive news.
Seeing that he’s just 22-years-old, these things happen, and while it happened at an unfortunate moment, that shouldn’t take away from what he otherwise showed in a tough game against a solid opponent.
Looking Forward: Time to hit the panic button?
Lastly, though, it’s worth finishing off on the question that some will certainly be asking themselves after this result - is it time for Canada to press the panic button?
And the answer is absolutely not. Yes, they should’ve found a way to win, but they also managed to go into Jamaica severely shorthanded and pick up a competitive point for the first time since 1992, which is no small feat to scoff at.
Along with their point against Mexico, those are 2 very good points to have in your back pocket, and 2 months ago, you would’ve laughed at the idea of Canada being frustrated with ‘only’ drawing Mexico and Jamaica away.
So it’s important to examine these two results with the proper context.
Should Canada have probably won both games? Possibly. They most definitely could’ve.
At the same time, though, it’s hard to win away in CONCACAF, and while it’d be massive if Canada could find a way to pick up a road win or two this Octo, it’s not as easy as it seems (just ask the US).
The formula to making the World Cup was always going to be to win all of your home games and then steal as many points on the road, and with these draws, they’re so far doing the latter. Plus, if they win their game against Panama, they’ll also have the joint-best home record in the Octo, too, which would suggest that they’d get back on track towards the former should they do that.
Lastly, the points-per-game percentage to finish the top 4 was always expected to be somewhere around 1.5, with the top 3 ranging anywhere from 1.5 to 1.9 points-per-game (currently trending towards 1.5 due to an abnormal number of draws so far this Octo), so considering that Canada currently sits at 1.4 points per game, and can climb to 1.66 points per game with a win against Panama, they’re doing tracking decently there.
So while Canada could arguably have anywhere from 10 to 15 points this Octo through 5 games, 7 isn’t that bad, and they have a chance to make that a respectable 10 from 6 with a win on Wednesday.
Yes, everyone would want Canada to make things comfortable for themselves, but this Octo is far from comfortable for anyone, and a peek at some of the other results is an important reminder of that.
Because of all that, it’s important that Canada just sticks to the formula, which is to win as many home games as possible, and find a way to continue to etch results out on the road, and just go from there.
As a result of that, it’s imperative that they got take care of business in this must-win against Panama, and that should put them in a pretty good position through 6 games, which is all you could ask from them at this stage of proceedings.
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Liam Millar in action for Canada vs Jamaica (Canada Soccer)