The Canadian Press
Canada got a point and a slap on the back from opponent Jamaica for its efforts Wednesday night. Kissing a sister may be next.
Still, Canadian coach Dale Mitchell tried to see positives from a 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifying soccer match before 21,978 at BMO Field in Toronto. Away from the cameras, however, he looked pained at dropping two valuable points at home.
"We have a point on the board. We'll take that as a positive and move on," Mitchell said.
The Canadian men have five matches remaining - three of which are away - in this penultimate round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region and can ill afford to squander points on home turf.
The bottom line Wednesday was that Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made the saves and the normally-reliable Pat Onstad flubbed a corner, knocking it into his own net.
Jamaica secured the tie in the 52nd minute on a bending Andrew Williams corner that handcuffed an off-balance Onstad. The 40-year-old keeper accepted the blame, but said Jamaican striker Deon Burton was tugging on his shirt at the time.
"Pat's an experienced player, he's an experienced 'keeper," Mitchell said of the Houston Dynamo veteran. "There's nothing really to be said for myself other than keep your head up, which you say to everybody. That was the message to the whole group, really."
Asked for his assessment of the goal, Jamaican head coach Rene Simoes laughed and said: "I enjoyed it."
"Andrew is a terrific free kicker, also on corners. This is not the first one he scored," added the quirky Brazilian. "I think there was some luck, but...it was not surprising he scored because he practices a lot. It was not by accident."
It was Onstad's 56th appearance, tying him on the all-time list for Canadian goalkeepers with Craig Forrest. It is one he will not remember fondly, thanks to one split-second.
Canada came on strong in the final third of the game, but could not convert its chances.
"It was great desperation defending by them," said Onstad. "We had them on their heels and unfortunately, we kind of let them off."
Simoes, who almost got the coaching job that went to Mitchell, was generous in his praise for the Canadian coach, team and Canadian fans.
"The team plays football, they tried to play football," said Simoes. "Before I didn't like (what I saw). They play only by long ball, long ball. Now they put the ball down and try. That's beautiful to see, football in a country like Canada improve like that."
Mitchell was less flowery about Jamaica's tactics.
"Teams go on the road to get a result and I think that's what Jamaica did," he said. "They came here with a plan which was to get everybody back in behind the ball."
Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman opened the scoring in the 47th minute when he hammered the ball home after Tomasz Radzinski sent a feathered header his way from a high cross that Ricketts could not reach. The diving Jamaican keeper got a hand to de Guzman's shot, but only directed it into the corner of the net.
Mitchell brought on Iain Hume in the 65th minute to add to the Canadian attack. There were back-to-back chances in the 71st minute, but Ricketts pulled off a pair of outstanding reflex saves on Dwayne de Rosario and Radzinski. He did it again, denying a Rob Friend header off a corner minutes later.
There were more Canadian scoring opportunities in a frantic finale, but none were converted. De Guzman hit the post in the 87th minute with a long-range rocket. De Rosario then had an open goal, but had his shot blocked by a desperate Jamaican defender in the 90th minute.
Neither team fashioned much in an uneventful first half that saw Canada dominate possession early and Jamaica come on as the half progressed, winning the battle in midfield. De Rosario had the best chance in first-half injury time, driving a free kick from outside the box just over the crossbar.
The draw capped a successful sporting day for Jamaica. Earlier in Beijing, China, Usain (Lightning) Bolt confirmed his status as the world's fastest man by winning the Olympic 200 metres in a world-record time of 19.30 seconds.
"It was great, a great inspiration," said captain Ricardo Gardner. "We just wanted to go out there and make Jamaicans proud also and make ourselves proud."
Mitchell, in his third competitive game as Canadian coach, fell to 1-4-3 at the Canadian helm. The lone win came over Martinique.
It was 59 matches and almost eight years since the last World Cup qualifying match in Toronto.
The stands were mostly red with Canadian supporters but small, vocal pockets of Jamaican fans in yellow, green and black made their presence felt.
Canada, ranked 79th in the world and fifth in CONCACAF (which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean) finds itself in the toughest of the three third-round groups with number 32 Mexico (number two in CONCACAF), number 61 Honduras (number three in CONCACAF) and number 108 Jamaica ( number 11 in CONCACAF).
The teams will play each other home and away, with the top two advancing to the final round of qualifying in the region. Three of those six finalists will book their tickets to South Africa in 2010, while the fourth-place finisher will take on the fifth-best team in South America in a playoff to see who joins them.
Poor play at home cost the Canadian men dearly in their qualifying run for the 2006 tournament in Germany. Canada opened group play in 2004 with a 2-0 loss to Guatemala in Burnaby, B.C., before tying Honduras 1-1 in Edmonton and losing 3-1 to Costa Rica in Burnaby. The Canadians managed just one point out of nine at home and finished last in their qualifying group with a 1-3-2 record.
In its run for the 2002 finals in Japan and South Korea, Canada opened the same stage in 2000 with a 2-0 loss to Trinidad & Tobago in Edmonton before beating Panama 1-0 in Winnipeg (after Canada had already been ousted from contention) and tying Mexico 0-0 in Toronto for four points out of a possible nine at home. The Canadians finished third in the group with a 1-3-2 record, scoring just one goal in six matches.
"It's a better start than we had the last two times," said Mitchell, looking for a silver lining. "And I think it's the same start as we had in '86 when we qualified. That's what we told the players after. And I think if we play five more games like that, we'll have a chance in every single game."
Canada hosts Honduras next on September 6 in Montreal. Honduras lost to Mexico 2-1 on Wednesday night.
18.Pat Onstad; 3.Mike Klukowski, 5.Richard Hastings, 15.Adrian Serioux, 7.Paul Stalteri; 6.Julian de Guzman, 8.Patrice Bernier (17.Iain Hume 65'), 9.Tomasz Radzinski, 13.Atiba Hutchinson; 14.Dwayne De Rosario, 16.Rob Friend (10.Ali Gerba 77')
Subs not used: 1.Greg Sutton, 2.Daniel Imhof, 4.Kevin McKenna, 11.Jim Brennan
1.Donovan Ricketts; 2.Obrian Woodbine, 4.Jermaine Taylor, 5.Ian Goodison, 7.Evan Taylor, 9.Andrew Williams (11.Luton Shelton, 63'), 12.Demar Phillips (10.Jermaine Hue 90+2'), 14.Wolry Wolfe (16.Omar Cummings 87'), 15.Ricardo Gardner, 17.Rodolph Austin, 18.Deon Burton
Subs not used: 3.Demar Stewart, 6.Keneil Moodie, 8.Davian Thorpe, 13.Shawn Sawyers