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Coach Octavio Zambrano says Canada has more in the tank and wants to show it


TORONTO — After time in the soccer doldrums, Canada turned heads with its confident, even adventurous play at this summer's Gold Cup.

But new coach Octavio Zambrano says the Canadian men have more in the tank as they prepare for Saturday's BMO Field rematch with Jamaica, the team that eliminated them at the CONCACAF championship.

"I have mixed feelings to be honest," the Ecuador native said of a Gold Cup run that saw the Canadians beat French Guiana and tie Costa Rica and Honduras before falling 2-1 to the Reggae Boyz in the quarter-finals. "Because I really thought we could have and should have gone further.

"So from that standpoint, I can't help but be disappointed. Nonetheless the way we play at times, the style, the idea that we try to instill into this guys was actually reflected in the matches." 

Given Zambrano's short time with the national team — he was at the helm for just one match before the July tournament — the progress was gratifying nevertheless.

"Mixed feelings but in the end we are just beginning this process," he added.

 And Zambrano gives his charges high mark for effort.

"You couldn't ask for more from the guys," he said. "They gave it their all. They played their hearts out and we just came up a little bit short."

Zambrano preaches offence, looking to the likes of Junior Hoilett, Tesho Akindele and teenager Alphonso Davies to prime the pump for strikers Cyle Larin, Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Tosaint Ricketts.

At a practice this week north of the city in Alliston, Zambrano didn't mince words during attacking drills. "Got to finish," he yelled whenever a goalkeeper made the save.

The Canadians have been bolstered by the return of star midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, set to earn his 78th cap Saturday. The 34-year-old Hutchinson, who plays for Turkish champion Besiktas, took a yearlong hiatus from the national team after the latest failed World Cup qualifying campaign.

While Saturday's game has nothing but bragging rights on the line, players like Hoilett have not forgotten the Gold Cup loss.

"This is more than friendly for me," said the Cardiff City winger, who like Hutchinson is a native of Brampton, Ont.

Zambrano is also keen to have his team make an impression in his first game as coach in Toronto.

The Jamaican roster includes former Montreal Impact first-round pick Romario Williams, currently on loan from Atlanta United to the Charleston Battery.

Other MLS talent includes star goalkeeper Andre Blake (Philadelphia), Oniel Fisher (Seattle), Shaun Francis (Montreal), Kemar Lawrence (New York Red Bulls), Alvas Powell (Portland), Jermaine Taylor (Minnesota) and Je-Vaughn Watson (New England).

Blake, MVP at the Gold Cup, was a late addition to the squad after returning from a hand injury that forced him out of the CONCACAF championship final in the first half. Blake missed eight weeks before returning in a 3-0 loss to Toronto FC on Aug. 23.

Jamaica was a surprise finalist at the Gold Cup, dispatching Mexico 1-0 in the semifinals before losing 2-1 to the U.S.

The Jamaica roster for Canada includes nine of the players who started in that final. Missing are former Vancouver Whitecap Darren Mattocks and Dwayne Gordon.

Both countries rose in the rankings after the Gold Cup with Jamaica jumping 19 spots to No. 57 while Canada moved up five places to No. 95.

The Canadian men were ranked 117th when Zambrano was named coach in March.

Canada is 8-6-6 all-time against the Jamaicans but has lost the last two meetings and five of the last eight (2-5-1). Canada won the last time they met at BMO Field, a 3-1 decision in a 2014 friendly.

Former Canadian captain Paul Stalteri will be honoured at the match for his induction into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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