MITCHELL TIERNEY, DIGITAL CONTENT PRODUCER (@MITCHELLTIERNEY)
Final Score: Cavalry FC 2-1 Vancouver FC
Goalscorers: Bevan (pen.) 36′, White (Own Goal) 70′; Garcia 90+2′
Game of the 2023 season: 96
CPL match: 463
Match in a minute or less
Top-of-the-table Cavalry FC needed a penalty kick and an own goal to defeat a determined Vancouver FC side 2-1 on Saturday evening at ATCO Field. As a result, Vancouver FC became the first side this season eliminated from playoff contention.
Myer Bevan opened the scoring from the penalty spot with his tenth goal of the season, before Cavalry found another in the second half through an own goal from Vancouver FC defender Anthony White in the 70th minute. Veteran Vancouver midfielder Renan Garcia scored his first CPL goal in stoppage time on a brilliant long-range effort, but it wasn’t enough to save his side’s season.
Cavalry are now undefeated in their last six matches, five of which have been wins. They now need just four points from their remaining three matches, two of which are at home, to clinch the regular season title regardless of results elsewhere.
Cavalry’s ability to shift offensive pieces mid-match eventually unlocks Vancouver FC
Even if it wasn’t their best performance of the season, Cavalry FC gave a number of clues as to why they are the top team in the league on Saturday afternoon. One of the biggest was their ability to shift their attacking setup midmatch to get their best players in positions to succeed.
Cavalry started the match lined up in the 4-2-3-1 with a front four that saw U-21 Canadian duo Maël Henry on the left and Gareth Smith-Doyle on the right, with Ali Musse playing as a number ten and Myer Bevan leading the line up top.
For the first part of the opening half, this saw Musse largely operate on the left, looking to overload that flank with Henry. However, Vancouver contained the talented Cavalry attacker through good work from Kadin Chung and Elliot Simmons. When Musse did get some space, in the 19th minute through a clever ball played by Daan Klomp, but tried to shift it to his left foot and the chance went away.
At the drinks break stoppage on a hot day in Cavalry, however, coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. made a critical attacking shift, pushing Musse out wide to the right and bringing Smith-Doyle centrally. Musse was instantly able to find more space on the right, which became the point of emphasis in attack for the rest of the match.
“We knew that there would be a drinks break coming, we knew there was an opportunity to change something and give a different perspective,” said Wheeldon Jr. “Musse is great when he comes in on his left foot as well, we knew him and Maël would do something for the first 30, [Smith-Doyle] was great working his socks off, but in [moving Musse] you’ve got a couple of dribblers on both wings now going into halftime and Musse does what Musse does.”
In the 35th minute, that move fully paid off as Musse was able to dribble past Vancouver fullback James Cameron, before being brought down by Vasco Fry in the box for a penalty. Myer Bevan stepped up and opened the scoring from the spot.
“He’s probably one of the best one-v-one players in the league, so putting in out in a position where he is going to get more one-v-ones you saw what happened,” said Bevan. “I think it was not too long after we shifted him there he won the pen.”
Overall, Musse created two chances, had six attempted dribbles and seven touches in the Vancouver box as he was able to get into dangerous positions throughout Saturday’s match, especially once he was moved to the right flank.
Vancouver FC show clear progress despite being first side eliminated from playoffs
The last time Vancouver FC took on Cavalry, on July 22, was one of the uglier moments in the expansion club’s season. A 5-1 loss, complete with red cards for both sides, at the Langley Events Centre saw them outclassed by a Cavalry side who were very much on the verge of their current dominant run.
Saturday’s match, however, hardly looked like the league’s top team against the one at the bottom, and it was a well-contested affair with a result that wasn’t decided until the final whistle.
Vancouver, who were without head coach Afshin Ghotbi on the touchline through suspension and key attacker Gaby Bitar, took the game to the league leaders at times, outshooting them 10-9 and showing some real quality in their ability to possess the ball and play through the Cavalry press.
“I’m an optimist, that’s just who I am and I was really happy, really happy with the performance,” said Mark Village, who was named as Vancouver’s head coach for the match with Ghotbi suspended.”Especially with all the circumstances that were upon us, especially with Afshin not being there, Gaby Bitar not being there, just because of suspensions, you can’t fault the tenacity of this group. In this group, nor the four games that we played Cavalry.”
The match was a special moment for Village, who debuted in the league in 2019 as Pacific FC’s first-ever goalkeeper signing. He then joined the club as its goalkeeping coach, before making the most to Vancouver FC to fill the same role this past season.
Unfortunately, while it was a strong performance, the loss ultimately means Vancouver are the first side to officially bow out of the CPL playoff race. Still, they managed to stay alive for 23 of the 26 match weeks this season, and were eliminated with just four matches remaining in their season.
This performance, plus some recent big wins for Vancouver especially at home, however, will galvanize the group as they see out their inaugural season.
“We have a very strong group mentally,” said Village. “I think they will always fight until the very end, and the way Afshin sets up the team we are going to fight until the very end and we are going to give it everything.”
Eryk Kobza and Shamit Shome double-pivot key to Cavalry controlling the midfield
With Jesse Daley suspended, and veteran Charlie Trafford unavailable through injury, Cavalry once again shifted their midfield personnel, and formation, on Saturday. This time, Shamit Shome and Eryk Kobza played as a double pivot, something that had initially been seen late in the match against Halifax midweek.
On Saturday, Shome and Kobza were again critical to Cavalry controlling the middle of the park as their double-pivot provided solidity both on and off the ball. The pair finished with 88.7 and 88.3 per cent passes completed respectively, while connecting the attack all over the pitch.
Defensively, they were key in making sure Cavalry were difficult to play through centrally, and winning balls back in the middle of the park. It was yet another display of the positional depth this team has fostered this season.
“We’ve talked a lot about this, if you are going to compete for the regular season and finish at the top of the pile you’ve got to share the energy,” said Wheeldon Jr. “Everybody has got to contribute…I think that’s what I’m thankful for is these players who are willing to share the energy.”
Both Kobza and Shome have perhaps been underrated members of this Cavalry FC side this season, especially due to their ability to selflessly play any position required by Wheeldon Jr. Both have appeared on the backline this season, as well as in midfield in multiple different roles.
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Eryk Kobza, Cavalry FC
After several matches spent playing as a central defender, the 21-year-old Kobza was back in the middle of the park on Saturday and put in a strong performance. He won seven of ten duels, made four tackles and completed 47 of his 53 attempted passes.
Cavalry head to York Lions Stadium for their final road match of the 2023 season, looking to avenge a 1-0 loss they suffered away to the Nine Stripes earlier this season on Saturday, September 23 (11:00 a.m. MT/1:00 p.m. ET). Vancouver, meanwhile, remain in the prairies midweek as they travel to IG Field to take on Valour on Wednesday, September 20 (5:00 p.m. PT/ 8:00 p.m. ET).
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