On Tuesday, the Canadian men’s soccer team will return to Toronto for the second leg of its CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal matchup against Jamaica. The stakes are significant, especially for interim head coach Mauro Biello.
Saturday’s 2-1 win was Canada’s first in Jamaica since 1988. An emphatic follow-up 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 an invitation to next summer’s prestigious Copa America.
It would also cement Biello’s case to lead them there.
“It means a lot to me — I’m Canadian — to represent this group, to work with this group. The focus remains that,” he said Monday.
“At the end, there’s a process. I respect that. And I’ll be ready afterwards.”
Biello was tapped for the top job, at least temporarily, after former head coach John Herdman resigned in August to take over Toronto FC. The 51-year-old Biello, a Montreal native, had been Herdman’s assistant for five years and was the obvious stop-gap choice.
“My whole life I worked for this moment,” Biello said at the time.
A former player and head coach with the Montreal Impact, now CF Montreal, he has been open about his wishes since: He wants to take the national team to the next men’s World Cup, which Canada will co-host with the U.S. and Mexico in 2026.
WATCH | Biello discusses desire to lead Canada into World Cup:
Featured VideoCBC Sports’ Devin Heroux speaks to CANMNT interim head coach Mauro Biello about what he hopes he can bring to the job.
But Canada Soccer, mired in a leadership crisis of its own, affixed the word “interim” to his title with considerable resolve.
The governing body is searching for a new general secretary to replace Earl Cochrane, who resigned in April. (Former captain Jason deVos currently occupies the role, also on an interim basis.) That hire is expected to be made before the end of the year.
A permanent head coach won’t be named until after that appointment, leaving Biello in the middle of a nervy public audition.
His touchline debut 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 looking as stricken as he was jet-lagged, a man whose lifelong dreams had seemingly evaporated in 76 nightmarish seconds.
Saturday’s historic win marked a reassertion of his self-belief.
Jamaica isn’t in Japan’s class, but the conditions were perhaps equally challenging. The match was meant to kick off on Friday evening. Calamitous rains pushed the start to the next morning, when temperatures approached 30 C and the pitch was soft and sticky.
WATCH | Eustáquio leads Canada past Jamaica:
Featured VideoThe Canadian men’s soccer team claims a 2-1 away win over Jamaica in the opening match of their CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal series. Stephen Eustaquio scores the game-winning goal in the 85th minute. The teams will wrap up the two-game, aggregate series on Tuesday in Toronto.
Even before the rain, Biello had predicted that the game would be a test of will more than a chess match, and he relied on a lineup of veterans playing basic, grounded soccer.
Despite a couple of defensive lapses — set pieces remain a worry — the Canadians emerged victorious, with a pair of proper goals from Jonathan David (courtesy of a terrific turn and pass from Cyle Larin) and Stephen Eustáquio.
Now comes Tuesday’s game. It is at once Biello’s first at home and also perhaps his last chance to impress his many judges — the most important of whom remains, for the time being, unnamed.
“I don’t know what lies ahead,” Biello said. “For us, right now, we’ll focus on winning the game tomorrow.”
Must take care of business
The weather forecast is ugly, for the visiting Jamaicans in particular. Cold, potentially heavy rain is expected at kickoff, after temperatures climb just north of freezing.
Jamaica will also be without star attacker Michail Antonio, who injured his knee in the opening match.
The quarterfinal winner is decided by aggregate, so Canada will advance to the Nations League finals in March with only a draw. The victor will also receive that prized automatic berth to June’s Copa America, offering a rare chance to play the likes of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
Given Biello’s desire to coach those games and more, however, a home draw against a frozen and depleted Jamaica would feel like a blow to his aspirations. A lopsided loss — a 2-1 defeat would result in extra time; anything worse would eliminate Canada — would be disastrous.
The England-born Herdman became something like iconic as a head coach: a fiery, charismatic, obsessive leader who guided the Canadian national programs to unimagined heights.
Biello’s not a gifted orator. He’s not an iconoclast or an impresario.
He’s a Canadian man in love with a simple game, and he has only one hope to be loved back.
Mauro Biello has to win.