Hallgrímsson unconcerned by defensive shortcomings after Boyz lose to Canada
Canada's Tajon Buchanan (left) fights for the ball with Jamaica's Ethan Pinnock during the first leg of their Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal match at the National Stadium in Kingston on Saturday. Canada won 2-1.(Photo: AP)

The Reggae Boyz were once again undone by two goals from unmarked players. This time it cost them their first-leg fixture in the Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals against Canada.

Jamaica lost 2-1 at National Stadium in Kingston on Saturday as the game was postponed from Friday night to a 10:30 am kick-off due to the tropical cyclone which affected the island at the time.

Head Coach Heimir Hallgrímsson's key change to his starting line-up on the day was centre back Di'Shon Bernard replacing Damion Lowe, who was out with the flu. Demarai Gray was also absent with injury, and although Hallgrímsson started Gregory Leigh at left back for a second straight game, he said before the game that Amari'i Bell's absence there was through injury.

But Jamaica started the game brightly and seemed to have some fluency in its passes and transitional play from attack to defence. Ethan Pinnock combined well with Bernard in defence, but a collective lapse in concentration allowed Canada's Jonathan David to arrive unmarked at the back post to tap in a pass across the face of goal from Cyle Larin to make it 1-0 a minute into first-half stoppage time.

Canada's Stephen Eustaquio (left) fights for the ball with Jamaica's Ethan Pinnock during the first leg of their Concacaf Nations League quarter-final match at National Stadium in Kingston on Saturday.(Photo: AP)

Their winner was conceded similarly in the 85th minute, with Richie Laryea sprinting into the Jamaica area and taking the ball to the byline before playing a pass back into the middle of the area to find Stephen Eustáquio. With no one marking him, he had no trouble choosing an area of the goal to place his shot and give Canada the advantage heading into the second leg.

The team has conceded many goals of a similar nature this year, but when asked about the nature of how they are let in and whether it needs addressing, Hallgrímsson said it's not that concerning to him.

"I don't have any concerns on the far post," he said during the post-match press conference. "We have clear rules on defending the far post, but that's normal at this level. If you look back at whatever league, there are a lot of goals scored from the far post. Today, the second goal was just three guys in a row being two steps too late and we were probably losing focus at the end of the game. So one mistake led to another one. It was a little bit too late, et cetera, et cetera.

"They used a little bit of a switch off — one step too late. We are talking about two meters too late when that [second] goal happened, so it's just that at this level this can happen."

Jamaica's goal came from quick thinking by midfielder Daniel Johnson, who provided the assist. After winning a free kick just outside the centre circle, he quickly played a long defence-splitting pass to Shamar Nicholson, who used his speed to evade the Canadian backline, break into the box, and fire at the far corner for the equaliser in minute 58. The celebration was delayed until referee Tori Penso allowed the goal after checking for herself whether it was offside from the video assistant referee screen at the side of the field.

But Jamaica had at least three chances to score early in the first half that were all missed by Leon Bailey, who played on the left wing in this game. In the fifth minute, he had a one-on-one with Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan but chipped his shot wide of the post. He was played in with a lob by striker Michail Antonio 10 minutes later and fired his shot narrowly wide of the far post from around six yards out, although from a tight angle.

He completed his hat-trick of crucial misses in minute 39 when he arrived at the backpost during a corner kick to put his shot wide of the mark. Hallgrímsson says the performance may have been due to his recent recovery from injury.

"In fairness to him, he had a bad injury last game for Aston Villa, so he had stitches in his legs and played through that pain," he said. "He's also sick, same as Damion Lowe, so it was some changes we needed to do at the last minute, but I think Leon did really well considering his condition. He creates chances, that's what he does. Unlucky for us, he didn't convert today, but he's the guy that's always is and around our chances."

But with the second leg still to come, Hallgrímsson says the team is treating the first leg as the first half of the overall contest.

"The only thing I told them after the game is that it's half-time," he said. "How we would like to prepare for the next game or the second half, which is in Canada, that starts now. That's the only thing we can do now, is focus on the next one. This one is finished. Of course, everyone is disappointed to lose at home — everyone is. People show it in different ways, but we just need to focus now on how we can get ready for the second half, which is in Canada."

Both teams have now departed for Toronto, Canada, where the second leg kicks off from BMO Field at 7:30 pm on Tuesday.

BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator

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