TORONTO — A year after appearing in the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, the Canadian men took a step backwards Tuesday in a shocking second-half collapse against Jamaica in the CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal.
Canada lost 3-2 on the night with Jamaica winning the series on the away goals rule with the aggregate score knotted at 4-4.
A win and Canada would have earned a berth in the Nations League final four and, more importantly, a berth in next year's Copa America. Now the 45th-ranked Canadians are out of the CONCACAF tournament and will have to dispatch No. 99 Trinidad and Tobago in a play-in match on March 23 in Frisco, Texas, to make the South American championship with no prospect of getting the full team together until then.
"Massive disappointment, for sure," said Mauro Biello, now 1-2-0 as interim Canada coach.
"For us, there's no excuse for some of the performances in the second half … We shot ourselves in the foot," he added.
The Canadian men went into the return leg with a 2-1 lead over the 55th-ranked Jamaicans from Saturday's rain-delayed win in Kingston, Jamaica. And they upped the aggregate lead to 3-1 in the 25th minute on an Alphonso Davies goal, to the delight of the announced crowd of 17,588 at BMO Field.
The Reggae Boyz turned the series on its head in a wild second half, defeating Canada on a controversial late penalty that capped a three-goal comeback.
"We've got to sit down all together, look each other in the eyes and see what went wrong. Because this is unacceptable," said Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan. "This team, to have players like that, to do something like this, it's not acceptable.
"I'm very very angry. As a captain, I'm sorry to the nation that we didn't go to the (Nations League) semis but we have another chance in March for the Copa America and we'll try to do everything to bounce back and try to make our nation happy."
Ismael Kone scored in the 69th minute to put Canada ahead after Jamaica pulled even on aggregate on Shamar Nicholson goals in the 63rd and 66th minute.
Mexican referee Cesar Ramos then pointed to the penalty spot in the 75th minute after the ball hit Stephen Eustaquio's arm. It seemed a harsh call with the Canadian midfielder trying to get his arm down to his side to avoid contact.
The ruling survived video review and Bobby Reid slotted the penalty home in the 78th minute.
"A harsh call," said Eustaquio.
"Listen it's CONCACAF," added midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye.
Seven minutes later, Jamaica's Demarai Gray was sent off for a second yellow card, adding to the drama. The Jamaicans held on for nine minutes of stoppage time.
The Jamaican defence had trouble all evening containing Canada's strike force of Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan. But the Reggae Boyz' attack found its teeth in the second half, with defender Damion Lowe proving to be a destructive force after moving into the midfield.
Davies opened the scoring by capping a rapid-fire counterattack.
Kone drove up the field and found Richie Laryea on the left with a pass that hit a defender but still found its target. Laryea sent the ball into the penalty box to Davies whose shot was initially blocked by goalkeeper Andre Blake. But the ball bounced up, hit the crossbar and dropped in for a goal, sending Davies off to the corner flag to celebrate his 16th goal for Canada.
Blake, a three-time MLS goalkeeper of the year with the Philadelphia Union, made several highlight-reel saves in the first half to keep Jamaica in the game.
Jamaica came out for the second half with purpose and cut the aggregate lead to one goal in the 63rd minute. Lowe dispossessed Eustaquio and sent the ball to Nicholson, who hammered a shot past Borjan.
Nicholson, who also scored in the first leg, then made it 2-1, knocking home a low cross to cap a Jamaica counterattack. The Canadian players protested in vain that Jamaica had fouled Kone in winning the ball back.
Kone took his revenge three minutes later with a glancing header off a Davies cross.
The four quarterfinal winners book their ticket to Copa America with the quarterfinal losers facing off to see which two teams join them as CONCACAF' guest teams.
Jamaica joins the 11th-ranked U.S., No. 12 Mexico and No. 44 Panama in the Nations League final four, set for March, and as Copa America guest teams next June. Mexico rallied from a 2-0 first-leg deficit with a goal 11 minutes into stoppage time to tie the aggregate at 2-2 before dispatching No. 78 Honduras on penalties at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium.
"This was probably the most important game for Jamaica in a long time," said Jamaica coach Heimir Hallgrímsson, who took his native Iceland to the World Cup in 2018.
Making the Copa America field means facing elite opposition from outside CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. It's something the Canadians desperately need ahead of co-hosting the 2026 World Cup.
The 10 CONMEBOL entries at Copa America feature seven teams currently ranked ahead of Canada, including World Cup champion Argentina (No. 1) and Brazil (No. 3).
The loss snapped a record 17-game home undefeated run (15-0-2) for Canada since a 3-0 loss to Mexico in March 2016 in a World Cup qualifier at Vancouver.
Canada's record was even better at BMO Field (15-0-7), dating back to a 2-0 loss to Peru in September 2010.
It was a damp evening at BMO Field with the mercury at five degrees Celsius, feeling like two degrees, for the evening kickoff.
Biello made two changes with Derek Cornelius and Alistair Johnston coming in for Steven Vitoria and Sam Adekugbe.
Jamaica was without West Ham star forward Michail Antonio, injured in Saturday's opening leg. But Gray, who plays in Saudi Arabia for Al-Ettifaq, returned to the lineup after missing the first game through injury.
Former Canada coach John Herdman had warned of Jamaica's threat ahead of last year's Gold Cup with the Reggae Boyz mining England for players with dual citizenship.
Seven of the 11 Jamaican starters Tuesday play in England with Leon Bailey (Aston Villa) Ethan Pinnock (Brentford) and Reid (Fulham) plying their trade in the Premier League.
Sitting out the September international window and playing just once in November due to Canada Soccer's financial issues likely also didn't help the Canadian cause.
Canada came into the game with an 11-6-7 all-time record against the Reggae Boyz, clinching World Cup qualification last time they met at BMO Field in a 4-0 win in March 2022.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect record for Biello as interim Canada head coach.