On Tuesday, Canada’s men’s soccer team will return to Toronto for the second leg of its CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal against Jamaica. The stakes are high, especially for interim coach Mauro Biello.
Saturday’s 2-1 victory was Canada’s first in Jamaica since 1988. A commanding victory at BMO Field, where the men memorably beat Jamaica 4-0 in 2022 to qualify for their first World Cup in 36 years, would seal a invitation to the prestigious Copa América next summer.
It would also strengthen Biello’s case if he took them there.
“It means a lot to me – I’m Canadian – to represent this group, to work with this group. That’s still the focus,” he said Monday.
Biello was tapped for the top job, at least temporarily, after former coach John Herdman resigned in August to take charge of Toronto FC. Biello, 51, a Montreal native, had been Herdman’s assistant for five years and was the obvious choice to alleviate the problem.
“My whole life I worked for this moment,” Biello said at the time.
Former Montreal Impact player and coach, now CF Montreal, has been open about his desires since then: He wants to take the national team to the next men’s World Cup, which Canada will co-host with the United States and Mexico in 2026.
SEE | Biello talks about the desire to take Canada to the World Cup:
But Canada Soccer, mired in its own leadership crisis, added the word “interim” to its title with considerable resolve.
The governing body is looking for a new general secretary to replace Earl Cochrane, who resigned in April. (Former captain Jason deVos currently holds the position, also on an interim basis.) That hiring is expected to take place before the end of the year.
A permanent head coach will not be named until after that appointment, leaving Biello in the middle of a nervous public audition.
His debut on the wing during an October friendly against Japan did not go well: Canada lost 4-1 in Niigata. The Japanese scored in the second minute, leaving Biello as distraught as he was jet-lagged, a man whose lifelong dreams had seemingly evaporated in 76 nightmarish seconds.
Saturday’s historic victory marked a reaffirmation of his self-confidence.
Jamaica is not in the category of Japan, but the conditions were perhaps equally challenging. The game was due to start on Friday night. Dire rain delayed the start until the following morning, when temperatures approached 30C and the pitch was soft and sticky.
SEE | Eustáquio leads Canada past Jamaica:
Even before the rain, Biello had predicted that the match would be a test of wills rather than a chess match, and relied on a lineup of veterans who played basic, grounded football.
Despite a couple of defensive lapses (set pieces remain a concern), the Canadians emerged victorious, with a pair of goals from Jonathan David (courtesy of a fantastic turn and pass from Cyle Larin) and Stephen Eustáquio.
Now comes Tuesday’s game. It is both Biello’s first time playing at home and perhaps also his last chance to impress his numerous judges, the most important of whom remains, for the moment, anonymous.
“I don’t know what awaits us,” Biello said. “For now we will focus on winning tomorrow’s game.”
Must take care of business
The weather forecast is grim, especially for visiting Jamaicans. Cold and potentially heavy rain is expected initially, after temperatures rise to just north of freezing.
Jamaica will also be without its star attacker Michail Antonio, who injured his knee in the opening match.
However, given Biello’s desire to coach those games and more, a draw at home against a frozen and depleted Jamaica would be a blow to his aspirations. A lopsided loss: A 2-1 loss would result in overtime; anything worse would eliminate Canada; It would be disastrous.
Born in England, Herdman became something of an icon as a head coach: a passionate, charismatic and obsessive leader who guided Canadian national programs to unimaginable heights.
Biello is not a gifted speaker. He is neither an iconoclast nor a businessman.
He is a Canadian man in love with a simple game and has only one hope: to be loved too.
Mauro Biello has to win.