In-form Stephen Eustáquio shows importance to CanMNT in clutch Leg 1 vs. Jamaica
As a big grin broke the face of the usually stoic Jonathan David, you could see what it meant to him to find the target.
Often one to celebrate his goals with a cold smile, one that seems to suggest that he’s hungry to score more, a big ear-to-ear grin uncharacteristically broke the Canadian striker’s face when he found the net on Saturday.
GOAL 🇨🇦— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 18, 2023
CYLE LARIN + JONATHAN DAVID = 😎#CanMNT open the scoring vs. Jamaica as Larin turns his defender before David taps home for his 26th int'l goal 🎯
🔴 Watch LIVE on OneSoccer pic.twitter.com/D8WT7WbFdx
Having last scored nearly two months ago, coming via a penalty kick for Lille against NK Olimpija Ljubljana in UEFA Conference League action in September, it had been a long wait for David to enjoy the thrill of a goal again, and the joy on his face reflected that.
It didn’t matter that it was probably one of the easiest goals that he’d ever score, as he tapped home a great Cyle Larin pass from about a foot away from the goal line - all that mattered was that he had found the net and that his slump was over.
Plus, given that it had come in the 45th minute of the CanMNT’s first leg Concacaf Nations League quarter-final clash against Jamaica, in what is also serving as Copa América qualifiers, it may well have been one of David’s biggest-ever goals, too, as it gave Canada a crucial 1-0 lead.
Yet, that shows why it was a big moment for both David and Larin. Having both entered this camp in poor form at the club level, leading to several questions about whether the pair would even play together, it was a big redemption game for both of them.
Having sometimes struggled to play with each other in big games, they put up one of their best collective performances as a striker duo, linking up nicely on several occasions. Instead of occupying the same spots on the field, as they can sometimes be guilty of doing, they found a way to play off the other, and it gave Canada a key outlet up front.
Here's why Cyle Larin and Jonathan David were so good together up front for the #CanMNT today— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 18, 2023
They're both good with their feet but need to find the right spaces
They did that today, knowing when to alternate their runs and show into space
It was a vintage performance for the CanMNT’s two leading all-time scorers, and it came at a perfect time for their team.
But that’s a good way of summing up their team’s performance against Jamaica as a whole, with vintage serving as a good term, as they snatched a big 2-1 win to head into leg two of this quarter-final at home with a key advantage in their pockets.
Was it Canada’s most dominant performance of the last half-decade?
Far from it, as they could’ve easily been down 3-0 before David even found the target, as some sloppy defending caught them out in the first half. Then, they had a big setback when they allowed a controversial goal to tie the game up in the second half, one where they fell right asleep at a crucial moment.
For a moment, that had fans worried, as memories of a recent 4-1 loss to Japan, a frustrating 2023 Gold Cup and then a painful 22-23 Nations League finals loss to the US all likely came pouring in after Jamaica’s goal.
But from there, Canada then did well to conjure up the sort of performance that fans had become accustomed to seeing between 2021 and 2022, when they stormed through Concacaf to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986.
Instead of wilting in the face of Jamaica’s pressure, sitting back to desperately hang on for a draw (which wouldn’t have been a bad result given that Canada had an away goal), they picked up their heads and went right after it.
Because of that, they were able to grab an 86th-minute winner from Stephen Eustáquio, who stepped up with a tidy finish off a perfect Richie Laryea run and cut back to allow Canada to take a key lead into leg two.
GOAL 🇨🇦🇨🇦— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 18, 2023
STEPHEN EUSTAQUIO SCORES LATE 💥
Richie Laryea picks out the Canadian midfielder who buries his effort past Andre Blake to take a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute – CAN CANADA HOLD ON? 👀
🔴 Watch LIVE on OneSoccer pic.twitter.com/khB9ZIZIdX
In a sense, however, it’s only fitting that Eustáquio found the winning goal, capping off another great game for the midfielder, one that further cemented his importance to this Canadian team.
He might not have the name recognition or flash of David, Alphonso Davies or Tajon Buchanan, for example, names that people might quickly refer to when asked about this Canadian team, but he continued to show that he may as well be this team’s most important player.
When he’s in the midfield, the team truly looks at its best, a stark contrast to what they look like without him, with the Japan game serving as an example of that as he missed out on that clash due to an injury.
There’s a reason why in the 29 games in which he’s gone at least 70 minutes for Canada, they’ve never allowed more than two goals, showing the value he brings to the team defensively, and as seen with this goal, his first for Canada since 2021, he’s starting to make things happen for them in the final third, too.
If it isn't clear, Stephen Eustáquio continues to be the #CanMNT's most important player— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 18, 2023
He does so much to keep the defence stable, in possession, and then as he's done here, he can also score a clutch goal, as Porto fans will know
Need to keep him healthy for Canada
That’s huge, as Eustáquio has taken up a similar role for his club, Porto, since the start of the 2022-2023 season, scoring 10 goals and adding seven assists, while providing his usual defensive value on the other side of the ball there, too.
For Canada, that defensive work has been the biggest part of his importance to the team, but if goals like this one start to follow with regularity? That sort of thing could put him into “best player in Concacaf” territory, on top of being a crucial cog on this Canadian team.
“He had a really solid game,” CanMNT’s interim head coach, Mauro Biello, said of Eustáquio afterwards. “But if you've been watching him, he’s been doing well for a while now, he's in great form with Porto.”
“When a player is coming from their club teams with that type of form, and they're able to transform it into the national team, you can see their quality, and he showed that with a great second goal, starting the play, arriving late and then finishing it off. I’m happy for him, and all of the boys for their commitment to this win.”
Now, however, the big key for Canada will be to build off this performance and get the job done in the second leg, allowing them to book their ticket to Copa América, as well as the Concacaf Nations League semi-finals.
To do that, that’ll require a confident performance in Toronto, where Canada’s hosting the second leg, to see things over the line.
Despite the big leg one result, this is still a very talented Jamaican side, one that will feel frustrated not to have won a game they’ll feel that they had the better chances, and will come out swinging in this game as a result of that.
FT #CanMNT vs 🇯🇲 thoughts:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 18, 2023
-Massive win for🇨🇦. 2 away goals, too
-Eustáquio: Big showing and goal
-Larin/David had nice chem
-Koné was solid, too
-Defending set-pieces, through balls a worry
-Davies felt out of sync. Something to watch
Onto leg 2!
Because of that, Canada’s going to need all hands on deck from this one, from Eustáquio to Davies, David, Buchanan and more.
While the fashion in which they won leg one felt vintage, their performance wasn’t, so they’ll want to change that in this game.
If they can do that, it’ll be a perfect way to cap off what has been a rollercoaster of a 2023 calendar year, putting them on the right foot heading into 2024.
“We wanted to come out of here with a result, we knew that if we were able to achieve that, it would put us in a good position for the game back in Toronto,” Biello said. “So the first phase of the mission is complete for us, but we know that we still have another difficult game in Toronto, so we’ll now switch our focus to Toronto, starting with recovery, getting the players ready, and then being focused to perform in that game.”